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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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As a liberal-arts major working in a field unrelated to said major, I second Alex Tabarrok’s advice. Well said! Many of my colleagues constantly lamented the poor pay of an academic and considered it an indictment of our society—but one of many so considered I assure you—that historians’ works didn’t sell better and that their influence was so marginal. I was always glad for it, knowing their views and opinions, but it always struck me how envy-ridden they were.

I’d wager that it’s precisely because they didn’t have real jobs outside of their teaching assistantships and probably never had. Insulated in the ivory tower, it’s easy to construct castles in the air and weave unreal theories. You get paid whether your ideas are ludicrous or sound. In fact, you just may get paid more for more controversial and “avant-garde” espousals. The real world (by which I mean the business world) just isn’t like that.

Many of my fellow academics were positively riddled with disdain for their students. They saw the lack of acceptance of their ideas among their pupils as a sign of the students’ mental deficiencies, hidden racism, or conservatism. Never once did it occur to them that their views were preposterous or that their premises inconsistent with reality. I’m not suggesting that they were crazy because they disagreed with me, but they were just so unfounded and derivative—unfounded in reality and derivative of the scholars they read.

I, for one, would love to start a business around history. The melding of my interests and the entrepreneurial spirit of the venture would suit me well. But the difficulty is that I can’t come up with any good businesses. I’ve got some great ideas, but I can’t figure out how to make money at them. And I’m not going to do the one without getting the other straight.

Just think about who would pay for historical work to be done and you’ll see my trouble. Corporations have a lot of money but producing historical accounts of them would probably take more time and money than they’d be willing to spend. Plus, the research might unearth unpleasant facts or be heavily restricted due to the necessity of protecting trade secrets. Individuals pay for history quite frequently, but that’s in purchasing books. How to get them to pay more generally is a tough nut. I’ll crack it in due time, but it’s going to take thought.