Autobiographical Essay: interview in Insights Magazine,
My perspective on my MIT education, 50 years later: Lessons MIT Did Not Teach Me
This is a place-holder - a temporary about-me page for Medium, while I think of how to do a better job of briefly revealing relevant personal information. This writeup is basically an annotated CV, borrowed from the about me page of my personal website: asadzaman.net. I also blog at WEA Pedagogy Blog, and at An Islamic Worldview Blog
EDUCATION: I finished high school in Karachi in 1971, and left my home & family for MIT, Boston at the age of 16. I finished my BS in Math in 1974. I took an undergraduate Macroeconomics class with Robert Solow, and we covered Henderson &Quandt in my Microeconomics.Although I was not aware of it at the time, the social and cultural education I received had a far more powerful impact on me than the intellectual one. Some aspects of this education are discussed in Social Revolutions.
I finished my Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford University in another three years from 1974 to 1977, picking up a Masters in Statistics along the way. Joseph Stiglitz, Kenneth Arrow, and Robert Aumann were among my teachers. I was unique in taking first year graduate sequences at Economics, Mathematics, and Statistics simultaneously.This was because I planned to do my doctorate in Econometrics, which required knowledge of all three fields. Bradley Efron tried to tempt me into switching to Statistics, but I felt the Economics had broader applicability. Like most of my fellow graduate students, I was an idealist and wanted to use economics to change the world for better. However, the Ph.D. training turned us into materialists, valuing careers and professions over social relations. Only much later, with a lot of guidance and life experience was I able to unlearn this lesson – see The Power of Ideas.
I did a post-Doctoral year at the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE), at the UniversiteCatholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium from 1977 to 78. Economic theories say that the value of our labor depends on how the market prices the product.The vaunted European culture, sophistication, savoir-faire and savoir-vivre did not suffice to teach me that this is wrong: it was only much later that I learned The Value of Human Lives.
Roberto Mariano was instrumental in my getting a Tenure Track offer from the Economics Department at University of Pennsylvania. I was lucky enough to have as colleagues superstars like Lawrence Klein, Richard Easterlin, Robert Shiller, Karl Shell, Robert Cass, Robert Summers (brother of Paul Samuelson, and father of Larry Summers), and many others, who have become famous in their own fields. During my stay at U.Penn. I was invited to spend a year as a Visiting Professor at California Institute of Technology. Later, Hafeez Pasha offered me the post of National Visiting Professor at Applied Economics Research Center in Karachi, where I stayed for another year. Although we had social contact, I was not familiar with the pathbreaking research on happiness that Easterlin was engaged in at the time – see Can Money Buy Happiness? Similarly, Shiller was doing pathbreaking work on how stock prices were not rational – contrary to dominant belief among economists. This work enabled him to predict the global financial crisis of 2007-8, which took the vast majority of economists unaware.
After six years (78-84) at U.Penn., I received an offer (courtesy of Phoebus Dhrymes) from Columbia University, where I was promoted to Associate Professor. Although I had many distinguished colleagues, including Edward Said in the English Department, there was not much interaction, perhaps due to my own loner tendencies. In 1991, Ali Khan was very helpful in getting me an offer from Johns Hopkins, where I stayed from 1991 to 1993. Around this time, I decided that it would be useful if my children were brought up in an Islamic environment, with more emphasis on family and society. On the importance of providing a good environment for character development, see Building Character to Build Nations.
Coincidentally, one of my Turkish students, Erdem Basci, persuaded Ali Dogramaci, rector of Bilkent University in Ankara, to make me a good offer. Taking this as a sign, I moved to Bilkent, where I taught at the economics department from1993 to 1999. The warmth and hospitality of our Turkish colleagues and friends made these years very memorable. While in Bilkent, I finished my econometrics textbook: Statistical Foundations for Econometric Techniques. For this book, I decided to illustrate the advanced techniques exposited in each chapter by a real world example of application. After substantial work, I was led to realize the vast gap between our theoretical assumption and real world characteristics of data sets. Similarly, a reading of Bairoch’s Economic History: Myths and Paradoxes led me to the understanding that historical experience went strongly against the economic theories we had learnt in graduate school – see The Current Crisis in Economic Theory for an exposition.
Our children had reached high school ages at this point, and we realized that their educational requirements would be much better met in Pakistan. So we moved in 1999 to LUMS – Lahore University of Management Sciences – which was an analog of Bilkent in Pakistan: a private university with high standards of academic excellence. Unfortunately, educational institutions like LUMS foster an unthinking and uncritical acceptance of western ideas – see The Ways of the Eagles, for an antidote.After about three years at LUMS, I received an offer to head the International Institute of Islamic Economics (IIIE)from International Islamic University in 2002, which I accepted.
The late Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi and one of my first Ph.D. students Dr. Waqar Masood Khan were instrumental in bringing me to IIIE. I felt that the ideal of service to Pakistan and the Ummah could better be achieved by providing a good education to middle and lower class students, rather than the upper class elites catered to by LUMS. Over the past ten years, there has been a dramatic improvement in the quality of research being done by students and faculty at IIIE, and it is satisfying to know that I have played an important role in this process. Moving to IIIE gave me the time and opportunity to reflect on a genuine Islamic approach to Economics and Econometrics, which has led to substantial develoments in these directions. For a short and preliminary essay on this topic, see On Islamic Economics. I have also been able to prepare a new approach to teaching Statistics based on using an Islamic methodology for education, as well as Islamic ideas about useful knowledge. This is exposited in a set of lectures on Introduction to Statistics for Muslims.