I was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1954. I started out very sickly. My mother was Rh-negative, and I was Rh-positive. Doctors had just discovered this as a problem, and when I was born the treatment was a complete blood transfusion, which gave me scars on my upper legs that I still have. Because the RHIg shot had not yet been developed, my parents could not have any more children. Aside from the transfusion, I had digestion problems, and I spent a lot of my first two years in a hospital.
My father, Merle Kling, was a professor of political science and later a Dean and Provost at Washington University. He enjoyed a lot of respect as a colleague and a teacher, although his publication record was not outstanding. My mother, Ann Ruth Yasgur, obtained an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. They were introduce to one another through my father's sister Sarah, who knew Ann Ruth through the Communist movement. In 1957, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which undertook investigations of former Communists, came to St. Louis and called my mother to a hearing.
I was an early reader. I attended University Forest Elementary School in University City, Missouri. Near the end of my kindergarten year, they discovered my reading and promoted me to first grade. I went on to second grade the following year, so that I basically skipped first grade.
Later in elementary school, I developed body self-esteem. I learned how to do handstands very well. I could walk on my hands for many steps, and I learned some other modest tumbling tricks, such as handsprings. Our gym teacher organized a tumbling group, and I was in it. We performed a show one evening after school, and it was something that made me and my parents proud. Some of the boys I admired could climb to the top of a 20-foot rope without using their feet, and I practiced until I could do so as well.
Otherwise, however, my short stature was to become a constant source of frustration for me. Perhaps because my father was almost 6 feet tall, I was acutely aware that I was small.
My sixth grade year, my father enjoyed a sabbatical at Princeton University. That was a difficult transition for me, because I was thrown into an environment in which other children knew one another and I did not.
When the sabbatical was over, we moved back to the St. Louis area. A friend of my mother's insisted that we should move to Clayton, a wealthy suburb with highly-regarded schools. Again, I found the transition difficult. This was the time of my life where I felt my shortness most acutely. My fellow students thought of me as an under-aged genius (I was almost two years younger than many of them, and I had not yet reached puberty).
Two years later, during my freshman year of high school, two twins encouraged me to go out for the wrestling team with them. The lowest weight class had an upper limit of 95 pounds, and I was about 10 pounds under that. However, I was a terrible wrestler.
Life at Clayton High School took a very positive turn for me my junior year, when I was invited to work on the school newspaper. I finally felt accepted, and I had friends to hang out with.
I attended Swarthmore College from 1971-1975. Influenced by what someone had written in my high school yearbook, I made a conscious decision not to think about my short stature. I had a very enjoyable freshman year. I found Swarthmore intellectually stimulating and I had a nice group of friends. In subsequent years, I continued to benefit from great professors, but I had some health problems that made my senior year the worst year of my life.
After spending a year in Washington as a research assistant, I attended graduate school at MIT in Cambridge. In the fall of 1977 I met Jackie, and we started going out together soon afterward. I received my Ph.D in January of 1980, and Jackie and I were married that March.
I spent six years working at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. Late in 1986, I took a job in the Financial Research department at Freddie Mac. There, I oversaw the development of option pricing models for mortgage default risk and prepayment risk. Later, I helped undertake research into automated underwriting, where I encouraged the company to adopt the use of credit scores and statistical methods for house appraisal.
In April of 1994, I left Freddie Mac to start one of the first commercial enterprises on the World Wide Web, called homefair.com. When it was sold five years later, at the peak of the first Internet bubble, I had enough money so that I was not obliged to earn a regular salary any more.
From 2001-2016, I taught as a volunteer at the Berman Hebrew Academy, a private high school catering to modern Orthodox Jewish families. I mainly taught AP economics and AP statistics. During that same period, I took up blogging, and I have written hundreds of essays and several books.
I was an early adopter of two Internet phenomena: the World Wide Web; and blogging.
A short narrative of my Web-based business, homefair.com, can be found in A Sequence of Miscalculations. A longer version can be found in my first book, Under the Radar: Starting Your Internet Business Without Venture Capital.
My first blog was called The Internet Bubble Monitor. For a period from late 1999 to early 2001, it offered a satirical take on Wall Street's love affair with dotcom stocks. It built on some ideas I had spelled out in Arithmetic in a Bubble, written in July of 1999. Hal Varian, who went on to become chief economist at Google, read that essay, and later in a column in the New York Times on those who had seen the bubble, he included me.
My next blog, undertaken in 2002, was called Five Great Questions of Economics. Russ Roberts liked that blog and in 2003 he had me bring it to the Liberty Fund web site, where it became EconLog. I left EconLog in 2012 in order to attempt an education web site, called vHandouts, which was a failure on many levels. I revived my blogging on my own site later in 2012, at askblog, (arnoldkling.com/blog).
Late in 1980, I discovered the board game, Othello. About two years earlier, a small group of tournament players had gotten started. They had a journal, called Othello Quarterly, edited by George Sullivan and Jonathan Cerf. I took up the game avidly. I became one of the top 5 players in the U.S. rankings, and I contributed many articles to the quarterly. In 1987, I came in fourth at the U.S. Nationals. That year, the world championships, held in Milan Italy, were expanded to include a team competition, and the U.S. sent three players. Because one of the other players could not attend, I became our third player. We won, and I came in 6th overall. (The rules at the time precluded players from each country playing against one another, so my list of opponents was weaker than that of most other players).
My Othello career declined rapidly after that. As computer chips became more powerful, Othello programs started to outperform humans. One opponent ran all of my openings through his computer program and found lines of play to refute them. It seemed to me that tournament play from then on was going to require a lot of computer-assisted preparation and memorization, and I was not up for that.
My freshman year of college, my closest friends, including my girlfriend, were all dedicated folk dancers. They liked Balkan dancing and Irish dancing. I avoided dancing. I was afraid of looking silly.
After college, when I spent my year working in D.C., I was lonely and eventually I tried square dancing/contra dancing. I did not meet anyone, but I tolerated it well enough.
When I moved to Cambridge for graduate school in 1976, I continued square dancing and contra dancing. I also tried international folk dancing, with Connie and Maryann Taylor as well as at MIT, which had an enormous group that met Sunday nights in the student center.
Some time early in 1977, Ken Rogoff (then in grad school at MIT with me, now a well-known economist) said that he preferred Israeli folk dancing on Thursday nights to international dancing. I tried Thursday nights as well. Eventually, I went exclusively to Israeli folk dancing.
The dances in those days were what we now call the "classics." Many of them were energetic, but from today's perspective they seem somewhat monotonous in terms of music and dancing steps. One of my favorite dances was called Ad Or Haboker. It was not done much outside of Boston, and it may have been originally a performance dance, not a "regular" folk dance. We liked to dance it in tight circles of about 8 people. When you do it that way, the dance builds up a lot of momentum, and you must not drop hands, or the person next to you will get sent dangerously careening out of the circle.
Sometimes, the student center room was reserved, and dancing had to be moved to a different room. One of the science buildings, Building 13 (MIT's buildings all had numbers, not names), was where I first met Jackie Lynn Schleifer. Together, we learned a partner dance, called Bat Yiftach. We were one of many folk-dance couples to come out of that milieu. We were married in 1980.
In the 1980s, Jackie and I danced only sporadically. There was dancing at the suburban Jewish Community Center, but it was crowded, and they did too many dances that for us seemed new and unfamiliar. There was also dancing downtown at the George Washington University student center, but that was a long way to go. Also, our daughters were born in 1983, 1985, and 1989, respectively, so dancing was not a priority.
Some time in 1990, an Israeli emigre, Moshe S, started an Israeli dance session at a synagogue in Rockville. We heard about it and tried it out. He was a very charismatic session leader, with his own enthusiasm for dancing highly contagious. Jackie and I let go of our attachment to "the classics" and went along with learning new dances.
About a dozen years later, Mona G started two new sessions, one on Monday night and another on Tuesday night. Jackie and I often attended those sessions, also. Then a few years later, Mona and Moshe both stopped leading sessions. Mike F took over the Tuesday night session, and Ken A took over the Monday and Thursday sessions. Jackie and I have gone to all three sessions quite regularly. In addition, there is Sunday morning session led by Sarah K, which we often attend. A Sunday evening session, mostly for younger people and led by Noah G, is one that we have attended only a few times--it is a great session, but a pain for us to drive to.
In addition to the regular sessions, we have attended workshops. For about 10 years, Shmuel B organized a workshop in the DC area around Memorial Day. Mona and others have recently started a workshop the weekend before Labor Day in northern Pennsylvania. We have also gone to workshops in Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. On vacation in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and in Israel, we have attended regular dance sessions.
All three of our daughters have danced. They each danced in a local high school performing group, named Yesodot. One of our daughters met her husband dancing.
I have tried using dancing to accompany various economics talks that I have given. Sometimes it has worked better than others. I think that dancing uses some of the same parts of the brain that I need for lecturing, so it is a challenge.
Some dances are done in circles, some are done in lines, and some are done with a partner. I find circle dances the easiest to learn. There are only a few circle dances that I cannot get. With partner dances, you have to keep track of your hands as well as your feet, and you might change your orientation many times in each dance. Line dances can be hard, too, because choreographers like to borrow moves from hip-hop. Also, there popular line dances that do not get played much at the sessions we attend, so they are very unfamiliar to me.
Another regular dancer once told me that he thinks social life at dancing is a bit like high school, with various cliques. On partner dances, you can see that, as many dancers are picky about who they will dance with--they act as if they fear that dancing with the wrong person will cause a loss of status. Thankfully, I do partner dances with Jackie, so I do not have that stress.
I am afraid, though, that I am part of a clique, which I think of as the "mean girls." We often dance in the center of the circle, and we sometimes deliberately do something that differs from the original choreography. Sometimes, I can see other dancers getting thrown off by our antics.
Many dancers socialize, but not me. I never sit out a dance in order to talk to someone. The closest anyone comes to being my friend at dancing is Inbar, an Israeli who moved to the area around 2011. We will sometimes exchange opinions about dances, and when one of us is going to miss a session, we let the other one know. We appreciate each other's dedication to dancing (she is a much better dancer than I am), but we have never made an effort to get to know one another otherwise. Here is a short video, mostly of Inbar but with a bit of me, taken at a Saturday night dance party in 2017.
On YouTube, one can find some videos with Jackie and me dancing. For example, when Mona choreographed Ohevet Ozevet, (still a popular line dance), we appear on an early demo video. Also, at the gvanim 2013 workshop, Chen Shporen taught Ya'ale Ve-Yavo, and we can be seen trying to dance it in the background. (Subsequently, Noah guest-taught it at Mike's session, and now I know it.) For my 60th birthday, I gave myself a folk dance party.
I was in high school at the height of the Vietnam War. I was an anti-war radical in those days, blaming the war on "the system," which included capitalism.
However, when I got to college, the people on the left did not impress me. The most intellectually interesting professor for me was economist Bernie Saffran, who was a moderate conservative. Late in my college career, I read David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, which took a different view of Vietnam. It was more the product of a misguided elite mindset than a capitalist-imperialist outgrowth.
While I was in graduate school, the "macro wars" broke out, with the left-leaning coastal economics departments championing Keynesian views and the right-leaning "freshwater" departments championing "rational expectations." The more successful MIT professors and graduate students found an intermediate course that embraced both rational expectations and some Keynesian macroeconomics, but I stuck with the approach of Robert Solow, who made fewer concessions to the freshwater school. I still think that he was a better macroeconomist than the younger professors, but my decision was very adverse for my academic career.
After that, however, my views gradually evolved toward the right. The Presidency of Jimmy Carter nudged me in that direction. I disliked his righteous religious outlook from when he first campaigned for the Presidency. In foreign policy, his weakness and hostility toward Israel turned me off. By 1980, I was happy to see Ronald Reagan win the election. However, I was still loyal enough to the left and to Swarthmore to vote for Swarthmore alumnus Michael Dukakis in 1984.
I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and again in 1996. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, but his challenge of the Florida election results made me wish that I had not. By this time, I was probably ready to move to the right.
The September 11 attacks pushed me into the conservative fold. I became convinced that Islamic radicalism is dangerous.
I was in favor of the Iraq war of 2003. In hindsight it was a major mistake. The idea that we could turn that country into a democracy was naive. Also, in hindsight, Iran was the more ambitious Islamic power.
For the past decade or so, I have called myself a libertarian. I think that the libertarian skepticism of government interventions in the economy and in foreign countries almost always turns out to be right. But I believe that there are some important tensions in libertarian thought. Perhaps the most important tension is that while we wish to respect the dignity and freedom of each individual, humans are very much social beings. We get our beliefs and our behavior patterns by copying others. We learned to enforce social norms tribally. Trying to rid humanity of all traces of tribalism is as futile a hope for the libertarian as it is for the Communist. So I end up somewhere between libertarianism and conservatism. Like a conservative, I believe that existing social institutions should not be casually tossed aside. Like a libertarian, I would like to see the state be much less ambitious.
I was an early adopter of the Web and YouTube for my high school statistics and economics courses. Some links: