A TENURED PROFESSOR by John Kenneth Galbraith
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Times have changed since Harvard economist Galbraith produced his last novel (The Triumph, in 1968), and he captures many of the trendier shifts in this delightfully wicked New Age fable. When Harvard recruits Montgomery Marvin as a junior economics professor, it snares an upwardly mobile young man with impeccable credentials, including a celebrated if mystifying doctoral thesis on refrigerator pricing. The university also gets a good deal more than it bargained for. Marvin (a quiet, almost dim sort outside his field) arrives in Cambridge (from Berkeley) with a resolutely progressive wife (Marjie) and an experimental forecasting model dubbed the Index of Irrational Expectations. Designed to help the prudent investor identify speculative follies, IRAT proves to have uncanny predictive value. Applying his contrarian system to the casino-like stock market, Marvin (who soon gains tenure on the basis of professional achievement) amasses millions of dollars in trading profits. Marjie persuades him to commit much of the money that rolls in to worthy liberal causes--e.g., forcing major corporations to disclose (via product labels) the census of women in their executive ranks; underwriting peace chairs at the nation's military academies; and acquiring securities putatively tainted by issuers' South African ties from the Harvard endowment fund at above-market premiums. Marvin's extracurricular Financial activities (which extend to the takeover of a defense contractor) eventually attract unwelcome attention from fellow faculty members, regulatory authorities, journalists, and lawmakers. Beset on all sides and aware that IRAT is losing its discriminatory powers (due mainly to copy-catting in the brokerage industry), Marvin beats an orderly retreat to his ivory tower--in a twisty denouement that puts paid to any notion that free enterprise is about anything beyond accommodating collegial establishment interests. A well-told and cautionary tale that pokes gentle--albeit pointed--fun at a wealth of sociopolitical institutions.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1989
ISBN: 0547595611
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin