Robert E. Lucas - autobiography

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Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
I was born in 1937, in Yakima, Washington, the oldest child of Robert Emerson Lucas and Jane Templeton Lucas. My sister Jenepher was born in 1939 and my brother Peter in 1940. My parents had moved to Yakima from Seattle, to open a small restaurant, The Lucas Ice Creamery.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
The restaurant was a casualty of the 1937-38 downturn, and during World War II our family moved to Seattle, where my father found work as a steamfitter in the shipyards and my mother resumed her earlier career as a fashion artist. My brother Daniel was born in Seattle in 1948.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
My parents were admirers of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. Their parents and most of our relatives and neighbors were Republicans, so they were self conscious in their liberalism and took it as emblematic of their ability to think for themselves. The idea that one could decide for oneself what kind of person to be, and that one ought to think about these decisions, was not limited to politics. I remember discussions, with my mother especially, of religion (she was a liberal protestant), of decor (she favored hardwood floors and oriental rugs), even on how to choose what kind of cigarette to smoke.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
After the war, my father found a job as a welder at a commercial refrigeration company, Lewis Refrigeration. He became a craftsman, then a sales engineer, then sales manager, and eventually president of the company. He had no college degree and no engineering training, and learned the engineering he needed from the people he worked with and from handbooks. I remember many technical and managerial discussions with him, as well as our ongoing political arguments. When I took calculus in high school, he enlisted my help on a refrigeration design problem he was working on-and actually used my calculations! It was my first taste of real applied mathematics, and an exciting one.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
I attended Seattle Public Schools, graduating from Roosevelt High School (where my parents had graduated in 1927) in 1955. I was good at math and science, and it was expected that I would attend the University of Washington in Seattle and become an engineer. But by the time I was seventeen I was ready to leave home, a decision my parents agreed to support if I could obtain a scholarship. MIT did not grant me one but the University of Chicago did. Since Chicago did not have an engineering school, this ended my engineering career. But when I began the 44 hour train trip "back east" to Chicago, I was pretty sure something interesting would turn up.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
What to do instead? I took some mathematics at Chicago, but lost interest soon after my courses got past the material I had half learned in high school. I did not have the nerve to major in Physics, which is what you did at Chicago in those days if you thought you could make it. The real excitement for me was in the liberal arts core of the Chicago College, courses from the Hutchins era with names like History of Western Civilization, and Organization, Methods, and Principles of Knowledge. Everything in these courses was new to me. All of them began with readings from Plato and Aristotle, and I wanted to learn all I could about the Greeks. I took a sequence in Ancient History, and became a history major. Though I had no real idea what a professional historian does, I had learned that one can make a living by pursuing one's intellectual interests and writing about them. I began to think about an academic career.

Robert E. Lucas - autobiography
I obtained a Woodrow Wilson Doctoral Fellowship, and entered the graduate program in History at the University of California. With no Greek or French and minimal Latin and German, I was in no position to pursue my classical interests, so I began work at Berkeley with little more than an open mind. The most exciting modern historian I had read at Chicago had been the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne, whose account of the end of the Roman era stressed the continuity of economic life in the face of major political disruptions. For me, Pirenne's shift of focus away from emperors and dreary Merovingian kings and on to the daily lives of private citizens was novel and exciting, and fit my sense of what was important.

At Berkeley, I took courses in Economic History and audited an economic theory course. I liked economics at once, but it was obvious that to apply it with any confidence I would need to know much more than I could pick up on the side as a history student. I decided to move into economics and, since there appeared to be no hope of financial support from Berkeley's Economics Department, I returned to Chicago. During the rest of that academic year I took some undergraduate economics at Chicago and one or two graduate courses, to prepare for my real start as a graduate student the next fall.

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