Making $400/hour look cheap

Ever wanted to have Gary Becker advise you on the costs and benefits of committing embezzlement? Or Steve Levitt recommend whether you should walk or drive home after a bottle of wine? Now you can.

A new business, Expert Insight, lets you hire world-famous intellectuals by the hour to advise you on whatever you want (Slate writeup here). Nice idea and interesting to browse the rates that everyone thinks they’re worth (Becker is $5000, Levitt doesn’t publish his but hints that it’s higher).

Cute story but it has two (perhaps intentional?) side-effects.

The first is that I now think Jeffrey Miron is incredibly good value at $400/hour. Without seeing Becker’s price first, I’d have said that was unrealistically expensive.

The second, unexpected, effect is to reveal how cost-effective the New College of the Humanities is! You get (maybe) 100 one-hour lectures a year from people who, on Expert Insight, would cost several thousand dollars an hour. Instead of paying $300,000 for that hundred hours of insight, you pay just £18,000 a year! And with a degree qualification thrown in at the end! What a bargain.

Now you may notice that there’s a difference between these services. Hiring Niall Ferguson, AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins on Expert Insight entitles you to ask whatever questions you want. In NCH, you need to take the lectures you’re given. Does that make NCH less valuable?

Not necessarily. If Gary Becker and Richard Dawkins are so much more expert than you, wouldn’t they be better than you at figuring out the right questions to ask? Maybe an NCH lecture is more valuable than a personal hour of you quizzing the professor.

In conclusion: Expert Insight is too expensive (except for Jeffrey Miron) – or NCH is too cheap – or Expert Insight has been set up by AC Grayling to show how cheap NCH is.

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