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A Harvard economics professor picked up a memorable birthday gift for himself last Friday: a truckload of stolen manure and an arrest, in a small-town controversy that has made a big stink among locals.
Monrad Professor of Economics Martin L. Weitzman was involved in a market failure of his own, caught on his birthday attempting to steal manure from a privately owned farm in Rockport, Mass. He is accused of stealing over 100 cubic yards of manure off of town property.
“He’s been stealing the manure for some time,” said Miriam E. Lane, owner of the farm.
Lane said Weitzman has stolen over $600 worth of manure over the past few years before being caught in the act by her nephew, Phillip Casey.
“The farm owner’s nephew was there and kept him from leaving the premises,” said Michael Marino, spokesman for the Rockport Police Department. “He offered to pay for the product after he had it in his vehicle, but at that time, it was too late.”
The 63-year-old Weitzman, a resident of nearby Gloucester, first offered Casey $20. When Casey refused, he upped his offering to $40.
“Phillip wouldn’t take that,” Lane said. “He said ‘No, the police are on their way.’ [Weitzman] got mad.”
News of the excrement theft has remained fresh in both Gloucester and Rockport during the past week, locals say.
“It’s an offense against the community that a Harvard professor should have so little regard for the place he lives in,” said Valerie I. Nelson ’69, a resident of Gloucester. “The other thing is that the whole imagery is hilarious. A Harvard economics professor refusing to pay a modest amount of money—it’s a sort of arrogance.”
Rockport police say Weitzman—who teaches a course on “Environmental and Natural Resource Economics” in the fall—told them that he was a professor during booking.
“He was a professor at Harvard. Isn’t that something? And he lives in Gloucester, where all the moneyed people live,” said Lane.
She added that Weitzman took a back road when he went on these excursions for manure, and she speculated that he sold the copious amounts of excrement in the market.
“These damn economists,” said Nelson, who concentrated in economics while at Harvard. “Always makes you wonder about the moral foundation of that profession.”
Weitzman has also been connected to the theft of manure from town property last winter.
Eric W. Hutchins, chairman of the Rowe Parcel Committee in Rockport, oversaw the management of a small field of eight acres the town bought for watershed purposes and as an open space for recreation. Hutchins said he noticed during the winter of 2003 that the manure pile kept on the field was being gradually depleted and is now nearly gone.
Police say Weitzman has admitted to taking manure from the field in the past, according to the Gloucester Daily Times.
“People laugh at it a little bit, ‘oh it’s just horse shit,’ but we were going to use it,” Hutchins told The Crimson yesterday. “This guy has been taking compost from the town he’s not even a resident.”
“I know the compost is worth a lot of money,” said Hutchins. “If you went to go buy composted manure and had it delivered to your house, it would be about $35 a [cubic] yard....It perplexes me because I can’t imagine anyone wanting this amount of compost for a yard.”
Weitzman was arraigned that same Friday on charges of trespassing, larceny, and malicious destruction of property.
—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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