Monday, March 16, 2009

Hoisted from the comments!

Anonymous writes:
You seem like you have common sense....why are you in an economics program again?

There is better stuff coming out of the post-Keynesian school - the one that doesn't think that all of the world can be boiled down to 'efficiency' in markets (e.g. the world isn't solved like an algebraic equation).

I'd be interested to hear what you'd like to see taught as economics. I happen to like a book like Jonathan Kirshner's Currency and Coercion (an IR book, but an IR book that deals with the real world and the economy, at the same time!), but I'm also interested in Joan Robinson's work, among others. Besides that, economics students should be forced to be traders for a year as a class so that they are forced to better understand how markets work (or don't work) or don't make sense so easily.

First, why am I in an Economics program (to take that question seriously...) -- merely for the certificate. Times like this, the President feels he needs to trust somebody who's CV says "Economist" even if that person's (Larry Summers) formal academic training is utterly unrelated to the (poor!) decisions he is making now...

Re: "There is better stuff coming out of the post-Keynesian..." Oh, of this I have no doubt. There are good papers out there, certainly. Temin's Treaty of Detroit paper is generally quite solid, as is his "Two Views of the IR", Kremer's long run growth paper is good, Krugman's book on Economic Geography is fantastic, as is Greg Clark's recent book on the Industrial Revolution (or, at least most of it)... These all come to mind, and there are probably lots more good papers out there, just waiting to be read. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 published (if not 19/20), peer-reviewed Econ papers i pick up prove to be an almost complete waste of time. (And, due to the hard math, that's a lot of time...)

Hmmm... I'll have to check out Joan Robinson & Jonathan Kirshner... Not familiar with either...

What would I teach as economics? Well, I would bring back both reading and writing in the first year curriculum. No real learning goes on by doing mere algebra. I would also bring back discussion section/debate into the classroom. Economics is not mathematics, and shouldn't be taught like it. Would bring back Economic History -- every student should learn about the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression at a bare minimum. I would keep teaching theory (and still do lots of math!), of course, but it would be supplemented. Presentations, Term papers, projects, class participation and essay questions should be used to gauge student ability in addition to timed math exams. For the second year courses, once students have proved their meddle in the first year, more exams are just redundant. At this point, the professors should just get out of the way and let their students do research on topics of interest to them -- whereas in my program, only half of the courses do this. The other half continue to force students to rote memorize horrendous numbers of utterly irrelevant, intricate models and take difficult, timed math exams... Much of the current Econ Ph.D. sequence just smacks of useless waste of energy. There's lots of commotion, but little real learning or understanding... I posted more about this if you check from about six weeks ago...

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