Friday, October 28, 2011

Asperger Syndrome and Economics

Asperger Syndrome is a mild version of autism, and as such it is technically a developmental disorder.  While the diagnosis has not been standardized, the disorder involves an obsessive tendancy towards one or a small number of topics along with difficulty communicating and picking up non-verbal cues.  The cause of Asperger Syndrome is not completely understood, but it is thought to be a genetic variation in the brain.

Vernon Smith (photo: David Farrer)
Two of George Mason University's most famous professors have spoken publicly about their relationship with Asperger Syndrome.  Vernon Smith announced in an interview with CNBC in 2005 that he has the condition.  He announced it after winning the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002, the highest honor in the profession.  He worked at George Mason University between 2002 and 2008 and became famous for writing the book on experimental economics.

Since that interview, George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen wrote a book, Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World, that explains how advantages of autism can be artificially created using the computers and the internet to better understand our world.  Cowen has never been diagnosed with it, but has reflected that he fits the profile pretty well.

Autism, along with Attention Deficit Disorder and other so-called cognitive disorders have also been called cognitive profiles.  The term disorder communicates that there is something wrong with individuals that fit this profile, rather than advantages to their specializations.  Yet, as Cowen and Smith demonstrate, there are professions in which individuals with Asperger Syndrome can thrive.  I hope that modern science and medicine works to find ways to enable these individuals towards success rather than labelling them as disordered individuals.  The examples of success are right here.

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