"Edward Castronova had hit bottom. Three years ago, the thirty-eight-year-old economist was, by his own account, an academic failure. He had chosen an unpopular field—welfare research—and published only a handful of papers that, as far as he could tell, “had never influenced anybody.” He’d scraped together a professorship at the Fullerton campus of California State University, a school that did not even grant Ph.D.s. He lived in a lunar, vacant suburb. He’d once dreamed of being a major economics thinker but now faced the grim sense that he might already have hit his plateau. “I’m a schmo at a state school,” he thought. And since his wife worked in another city, he was, on top of it all, lonely."