THE BLOG
10/10/2012 06:57 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2012

Polishing One Very Rough Stone

Los Angeles-based Stanley K. Sheinbaum was, in his "younger years," referred to as the head of the Malibu Mafia, a self-styled group of L.A. Westside liberals active in Democratic politics which included his wife, Betty Warner Sheinbaum. He was also a key player in the original negotiations with then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat -- negotiations that eventually led to the Camp David Agreements. The following is a compilation taken from his recently published memoir, Stanley K. Sheinbaum: A 20th Century Knight's Quest for Peace, Civil Liberties and Economic Justice. In this compilation, Sheinbaum describes his early years growing up in New York City.

I screwed up so badly in my New York high school that the only college that would consider me of the dozens I applied to after WWII, was a then-obscure agricultural college, Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). However, my grades after a year at A&M, were so good that Stanford was forced to honor a promise to admit me if I did well somewhere else. So, like tens of thousands of Okies before me, I headed off to California.

When I entered Stanford, I still held tightly to my faith that there was certainty in numbers, in precision, in mechanical things. However, in Palo Alto, I was immediately exposed to students and teachers who were not primarily concerned with practical matters, people who cared about art and literature and politics and philosophy.

My closest friend was Al Ruben, who is still a very dear friend 60 years later. He was my political mentor for everything left of mainstream, and that was necessary because I was very, very naïve about politics. I remember once we were sitting and talking in a Palo Alto café and I told him that there was this old Russian guy who lived in the same boarding house where I was living, and that this Russian seemed to have been someone important when he was younger. "What's his name," asked Al.

"I don't know, Kerenhov, Kerensky, something like that. His first name is Alexander. We talk in passing..."

Al almost fell off his chair. "Alexander Fedorovich Kerensky! You live in the same house with Alexander Fedorovich Kerensky, one of the most important figures in the Russian revolution except for maybe Lenin, oh, and I guess Trotsky. He was the first prime minister after the revolution. Wow! So what do you guys talk about?"

"Nothing much. The weather. The food. I guess I should try to spend more time with this Kerensky, huh?"

Every day I was learning more about my new world. For example, I had always been interested in music since I discovered Benny Goodman as a teenager, but many in our group at Stanford were involved with classical music and dance to which I had little or no exposure.

I remember there was one dark-haired beauty who played the cello. We dated, for a while, and I even took cello lessons to the point where I could play at a very basic level. So I did learn to appreciate classical music, especially string music. And of course, much later in my life, I became a big supporter of the Los Angeles Symphony.

I also learned to appreciate ballet, about which I knew absolutely nothing before I came to Stanford. Of course, there's another young woman behind that story too, but again, those romances of my youth led me into new directions that have lasted a lifetime. In the case of ballet, I was for a while, sort of the czar of ballet in Los Angeles when I was the chairman of the Music Center of Los Angeles County dance presentations.

And yet, the most important change came in my academic life. I still loved mathematics, but was bored with engineering. I determined that a good mix of social science and numbers might be found in economics, so I decided to take Economics 101 as one of my electives during my senior year.

I was immediately enthralled. Then, during the final exam, there was an essay question that I answered as best I could, and after I turned in my exam, I forgot about it. A few days later, my professor, Elmer Fagan, stopped me.

"Are you familiar with Evsey Domar and Roy Harrod, Mr. Sheinbaum?"

I panicked. I had absolutely no idea who they were. "Not really. I uh..." I took a stab at it, "... they're Keynesian economists, aren't they?"

"Very famous and important Keynesian economists, Mr. Sheinbaum. They've just published a significant book describing the Harrod-Domar model of economic growth that assumes fixed proportions in production. Interestingly, your argument in answer to the essay question is the basic gist of what they are arguing in their book."

"But honestly, I never..."

"I know, Sheinbaum. You're not clever enough to plagiarize a brand new theory that none of us altogether understand. Your two-page answer can't touch their work. But you do propose some of the same reasoning."

"Thank you... I think."

"So, what are you studying, Sheinbaum?"

"Engineering."

"Engineering. Hmm. Why are you in engineering, Sheinbaum?"

"I'm here on the G.I. Bill. I need a good job."

"So... you're not going to graduate school?"

"I hadn't really thought about it, sir."

"Well, you should think about it. And you should think about economics. You seem to have a knack for it."

And that's how I ended up becoming an economist -- one answer to an essay question that happened to catch the eye of a professor who cared.

Eventually the great Hungarian-born economist Tibor Scitovsky also took an interest in me. Under Scitovsky's influence I became more and more interested in international economics and international relations.

So, just as things are rolling along nicely after three years in the Stanford graduate economics program, I was meeting with Elmer Fagan. "You're getting stale, Sheinbaum," he said, "Time to clean out the pipes!"

"What? Look, I need to get my Ph.D. and start my career."

"Nonsense! You need to travel. When was the last time you were in Europe?"

"Europe? I've never been to Europe."

"Well, you're going now. We'll get you a Fulbright and off you'll go. You can take your orals when you get back."

So that fall, I landed in Paris and found a small in a house on the Rue d'Anjou with a woman and her four daughters. Talk about culture shock. Stanley Sheinbaum in Paris? I wasn't sure what I was really doing there as I wandered around the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées, Notre Dame. I fell in love with the city. I couldn't help it. Paris is just so seductive.

Well, I wasn't there more than a few weeks, when I ran into Tibor Scitovsky. He was as shocked as I was.

"So, Sheinbaum," he asked in his thick Hungarian accent, "what are you doing in Paris?"

I told him I had taken a small room with a woman and her daughters, but I assured him I was working hard and doing my research.

"Ach," said Scitovsky, "you come to Paris and live with a French woman who has four daughters and all you do is work? Please, Sheinbaum, are you crazy?" He held up his wine glass by the stem.

"Stanley, you are like a vine that has the potential to produce good wine because you have good, strong roots. But you have spent so many years in fallow fields, untended, undernourished. This is your time. Trust me. Enjoy this. Travel all over Europe. Soak in everything! Everyone! Now is the time, Sheinbaum. Now is the time."

Well, the four daughters were safe; they were much too young. And my landlady was very nice and kind, but also very unattractive. However, I took the remaining advice from my mentor Scitovsky, and pretty much left my dissertation sitting on a small table in the Institut de Sciences Mathématiques et Économiques Appliquées and walked all over the City of Light.