Another Harvard economics scandal

by Daniel on April 7, 2005

Brad DeLong once wrote “Marty Weitzman is smarter than I am”. And he probably is; his paper on the equity risk premium was a gem, and in the couple of email exchanges I had with him he seemed like a hell of a nice bloke too. But it just goes to show that there are all sorts of different kinds of intelligence; I’d struggle horribly in any one of Weitzman’s economics seminars, but having grown up in the country, I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to nick a trailer load of horse manure I’d have been over the hills and far away with it, no trouble, before you could say “what a way to earn a living”. Nicking agricultural waste seems to me like one of those Hayekian “tacit knowledge” fields, where street-smarts and experience are probably a bigger driver of success than book-larnin’.

You wouldn’t have thought that someone who spent most of his working days in the Harvard Economics Faculty would be short of horseshit[1] but apparently so. On a more serious note, if there are any disciplinary consequences for Weitzman, at all, then I for one will be kicking up a hell of a fuss and encouraging him to sue. I mean, talk about a bloody double standard. Best of luck, Marty. Btw, what a pity it wasn’t Bullshit[2], or the rhetorical irony would have been complete.

[1]I plagiarised this from Doug Henwood
[2]Yes yes, fellow bumpkins, I know; nobody would bother to collect cow manure or steal it because cow manure isn’t all that good a fertiliser. Since I moved to the city I discovered these things called “jokes” and that was one of them.



paul 04.07.05 at 3:06 pm

It does say a little about the descriptive-vs-prescriptive nature of academic economists. If one were standing up in shock and horror, one might even suggest that this is the kind of thing that gives all those bright young MBAs the idea that pulling an Enron is merely a failure of execution.

But really, how street-stupid do you have to be to continue doing something for years that the rightful owner of a piece of property has told you not to do?


abb1 04.07.05 at 3:08 pm

You have to know the area: Rockport, MA is pretty much the last place on earth you’d go looking for horse manure. Baked stuffed lobster – sure, but horse manure? This is one absurdist story.


Dan Simon 04.07.05 at 3:54 pm

Seems like Harvard professors have been stealing other people’s horse manure a lot lately….


Dan Simon 04.07.05 at 3:56 pm

Oops–linked to some random Googled page, rather than the home page. Sorry.


Russell Arben Fox 04.07.05 at 4:33 pm

Sorry Daniel, but I hope Harvard throws the book at Weitzman. As you and all us rural dwellers know, that shit’s valuable.


Luc 04.07.05 at 5:29 pm

Daniel suggest – “I’d have been over the hills and far away with it”

And the rural dweller says –
“that shit’s valuable.”

Now, as a EU city person I’d say that’s serious shit!

It could land the farmer in jail. Deposing of manure requires permits and a solid administration. Failing to keep that administration for years, and handing of that manure illegaly to a passerby, who then disposes of it illegally, is a serious environmental delict.


CalDem 04.07.05 at 6:30 pm

I guess I’m confused and slow, is this a real article or fake? It just doesn’t seem like Weitzmann.


John Emerson 04.07.05 at 8:33 pm

If we’re talking about felon economists, the Nobelists Myron E. Scholes and Robert C. Merton come to mind. How odd that these aren’t household names.


John Emerson 04.07.05 at 8:45 pm

Regarding bullshit, Kenneth Rexroth reported that growing up ca. 1915 he thought that “booshwa” [bourgeois] meant “bullshit”, and I heard that same usage in the 50’s when I was growing up.


dsquared 04.08.05 at 3:03 am

Caldem: It’s the real thing, I’m afraid. The bloke who’s had his collar felt is the same one who wrote “A Unified Bayesian Theory of Equity Puzzles”, unless Harvard has two Ernest E Monrad Professors of economics.


Conchis 04.08.05 at 4:03 am

A minor nitpick with the article…

“Weitzman did not immediately return calls to his home or office on Wednesday morning. His attorney also did [sic] immediately return a call on Wednesday.”

Is it just me, or does this imply that Weitzman eventually returned the call and they couldn’t be bothered telling us what he had to say? If not, why on Earth is the “immediately” there?


dsquared 04.08.05 at 4:07 am

Nah, nothing to see here. The story came out on AP on Wednesday (it’s dated 6/4/05), and this is just boilerplate put in there to explain why there’s nothing in there giving Weitzman’s side of the story; they called him but he didn’t get back to them by the time the story was ready to go. “The attorney also did return calls” looks like a simple error.


Steve LaBonne 04.08.05 at 9:39 am

I’ve always had suspicions about where social scientists get the raw material for their publications… ;)


Jeff 04.08.05 at 11:13 am

Rockport, MA is pretty much the last place on earth you’d go looking for horse manure.

Maybe not Rockport, but Hamilton, Topsfield, Manchester-by-the-Sea, most definitely.


Tom Parmenter 04.08.05 at 5:36 pm

Yes yes, fellow bumpkins, I know; nobody would bother to collect cow manure or steal it because cow manure isn’t all that good a fertiliser.

Well, if composted heavily, horse manure is slightly better than cow manure, but both are primarily valued for adding organic matter to soil rather than for their chemical fertilization characteristics. See

Commercially, cow manure is much more common. As you may recall, cows have four stomachs, while horses have only one. Cow manure is significantly composted while inside the cow while horse manure is not. The result is that horse manure is full of seeds, and thus not particularly suited for plant use until the seeds have been killed. The cow, obligingly, kills the seeds before depositing the manure.

The expression, “for the birds”, is a euphemism for horseshit, as birds are greatly attracted to the seedy pleasures of horseshit, while bullshit is notoriously non-nutritious.


Daniel Crossman 04.09.05 at 12:31 am

The LATEST THEORY on Dr. Marty’s POOP Obsession –
Excerpted from —


Suddenly they’re everywhere. From William James Hall to the Carpenter Center, Harvard students, all of them wearing white t-shirts with “no shit” symbols on them, are massing in protest against the university’s silence on what’s become known as “the Marty Matter.”

Harvard Economics professor Martin Weitzman (“Marty” to his friends) is a man of means. But for months he has been stealing horse manure from a struggling local farmer in Gloucester, a man who only recently was able to capture Weitzman in the act and have him arrested.

The students, who have been joined in their protests by Manure Movers of America, are demanding that Harvard make a public apology and offer financial compensation to the farmer for Weitzman’s thefts. “It’s shameful that Harvard is harboring – even honoring – a person on its faculty capable of this sort of behavior,” said one student organizer. “We’re all embarrassed. It’s time for the university to speak up and do something about it.”

Although Professor Weitzman has so far refused comment, one of his teaching assistants has released to the press a centuries-old American cookbook she found in Weitzman’s office. “Everyone assumes Marty was using the dung as fertilizer,” the student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “But the book suggests something far different. He had it open to this page, whose recipe for ‘Ham dres’fd without fire or water’ includes the phrase ‘then bury it in Horfe dung for forty hours.’ It’s my theory that Professor Weitzman was dressing hams.”


The question NOW is — Are there any hams on the lam? Could there be bacon ‘bakin’ in the Marty’s backyard?
Does Marty’s “back fourty” smell like a wierdo combo of Porky The Pig and Trigger ??

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