Economics professor Keith Schwer died Dec. 3 at age 66. National media outlets and local business leaders often called Schwer first for insight on the community's robust growth and dramatic downturn over the last two decades. One of his greater accomplishments, however, was helping to give voice to Nevada's children through the Kids Count program, a national program to track the well-being of children. The data provides policymakers and the public information for developing sound programs.
This interview was conducted in September. At the time, Schwer was undergoing cancer treatment but kept that battle private.
Language of Decisions
Economics is a field that does not give you a lot of simple answers. But it does give you a common language. It's the language of making decisions.
You can't talk about the key issues of the day - health care, the environment, unemployment, education - without economics. It's about putting resources, which are always limited, toward what you need to do. The decisions on what to bomb in World War II were made by economists. The liberty ship strategy came from economists.
I don't mind stating my point, but there's a limit. There's a danger in researchers taking on too much advocacy. Our role is to make sure we know what's going on as best we can and to bring those facts and analysis into the discussions - to make sure policies are made with the best information available.
I don't have an emotional attachment to numbers, but that doesn't mean I don't care about what they show. When the unemployment rate is in the double-digits, you know there are children out there who didn't have breakfast.
Baseball and Vacuum Cleaners
If I could've hit a curveball, I'd still be in baseball.
I admire certain people for certain things. Ted Williams fought in two wars and was the last guy to hit .400. Parts of his life were complete disasters, but I've always admired his ability to focus with great intensity.
I started out to be an architect but found my artistic talents were limited. I shifted to statistics and by my senior year became intrigued with economics.
It's very nice to be an age at which it doesn't take much money to be indulgent. I buy a lot of books.
My most imprudent purchase? Probably a vacuum for my wife. It's a classic example.
My wife pretty much buys what she wants. She has a different perspective; though I have to say she's become more conservative with time.
Money is one of the top reasons couples fight; we've been married 47 years.
Clouding the Forecast
The job of economists is made difficult by instant news analysis and the need to fill a lot of airtime. There's too much overstatement. There's outright lying. It's probably not fair to say that Walter Cronkite was always more objective but - well, actually it is fair. He was.
Economists evaluate the current environment. The difficulty in that is we can never have all the information we need. You go back and discover the rocks in the river that were not revealed to you.
Las Vegas couldn't defy the laws of economics.
When housing prices jumped 50 percent, there were warnings out there. Economists like me said that, at best, we'd have to grow into the excess; the national economy just did not allow us to do that.
A lot of people may have predicted the downturn, but they completely failed in the upturn.
In Southern Nevada, one thing that shadowed our outlook the wrong way was the magnitude to which building on the Strip was going forward without financing in place. When the housing market crumbled and financing dried up, projects like Fontainebleau and Echelon got into trouble.
The acceptance of mediocrity troubles me more than anything.
Maybe it's a sign of the times, but students now realize that college is something more than an adult preschool. They're facing a tough job market, and they know that years of social promotion in the schools haven't served them well.
Anyone who gets a degree without a foundational course in economics is not an enlightened individual. My opinion. I'd be as deeply concerned if they have no knowledge of science.
I'm happy in life because I found out what I like to do, and I'm appreciative that I get to do it. I pity those who struggle and never find that happiness.
My wife would say I see the glass as half empty, that I worry too much. I think I'd say it's fifty-fifty.