Sunday, December 27, 2009

Grad Econ Syllabi

Hoisted from the comments:
I guess you would categorize me as a market fundamentalist. So if you were designing a course for grad econ, what would you put on the syllabus to counter the priors of the market fundamentalists such as myself?
The goal of the first year in Econ PhDs is to train students to "solve mathematical models". My revolutionary idea is to shift the focus to "learning about economics". Mathematical models should be included only to the extent that they inform about economics -- not just taught for their own sake. And there is far too little reading and too little writing. And waaay too little big-idea readings. So the first thing is that I would make my students read and write about "big-idea" readings. What you assign depends on which course you were teaching. My opinion is that the Micro sequence contained far too few insights from psychology/economic psychology/behavioral economics/anthropology. Grad Micro should be much more like taking a Grad Psychology course than it is, and should also be much more real-world policy oriented. (As it is, it develops the same skills one would acquire taking a Math Department Analysis course -- unfortunately these skills alone cannot make one a good economist)... I would probably assign books such as "Influence" and other psych books to round out the more purely econ-related materials, but I'd have to think more carefully about what I'd put on the syllabus since Micro isn't my field...

For first semester Grad Macro, which usually encompasses Growth, I would include Economic History/big picture development stuff. I would assign Landes. Perhaps three of Diamond's books. Kamarck. Clark. Crosby. Blustein. Every phd should have to wrestle with Stiglitz 'globalization and its discontents', whether you like it or not. Sachs' development papers get high billing. I would include a bit on the history of economic thought, and especially much more on the long history of laissez faire ideology, perhaps including the adoption of laissez faire policies during the Irish potato famine -- including something like Thomas Gallagher's "Paddy's Lament", and include a reading on the repeal of the reform of the Poor Laws in 19th century britain, which was influenced by Malthusian thought... I would also do short features on critiques of mainstream economics, such as those penned by Krugman, the Larry Summers' smackdown of RBC (and his Bernanke smackdown), and also include a short bit on the Anthropological critique of mainstream economics. I also think it's a complete mistake that the Great Depression is never mentioned, even in passing, in the core training of economists. I would probably put this stuff in the 2nd semester Macro/Money course, and include readings by Friedman, Temin, etc., and Minsky should enter the conversation at some point... Any honest conservative economist would have to admit that market fundamentalism was the chief reason why the Great Crash of 1929 turned into the Great Depression.

This post is not complete in any way, and I'm leaving dozens of great readings out, but basically, the goal should be to train independent thinkers who can become effective policymakers, not proof-memorizers and fast-algebra do-ers.

UPDATE: It goes without saying that all economists should have read Thorstein Veblen, both his historical and modern day stuff (hat tip to commenter Jonathan)... I find it more than a bit strange that Veblen's behavioral insights are not incorporated into the core training of economists at all. Here is Thorstein Veblen in the QJE (1898):
M.G. de Lapouge recently said, "Anthropology is destined to revolutionise the political and the social sciences as radically as bacteriology has revolutionised the science of medicine."(*1) Nope, hasn't happened yet.
And reading Veblen is always a good way to increase one's vocabulary...


  1. Oh Thorstein, you are MUCH too modest. You should have included your own "The Theory of the Leisure Class" and "The Instinct of Workmanship." Both are necessary to the understanding that there are two forms of economics. There is the economics of the Predator / Leisure Class and the economics of the Producer / Industrial Class. One measures prosperity by how much folks can extract from the economy through force and fraud, the other measures it by how many complex and difficult product can be reliably produced.

  2. For micro I would suggest Sam Bowles's book Microeconomics.

  3. A+ for quoting "Why Economics is not an Evolutionary Science."

    Anthropology never influenced the Social Sciences because it became confused with Margaret Mead's the-natives-are sexier-than-New Englanders tripe. Anthropology is only useful when you turn it on yourself.

    This is why I especially admire Veblen doing self-anthropology on the folks from countries that border the North Sea and their American cousins starting about page 190 in "Instinct of Workmanship." Since these folks invented imperialism, capitalism, industrialization, and a bunch of other things we are still living with, this is possibly the more interesting anthropology ever written.

    1. Công việc văn phòng luôn tạo cho nhân viên căng thẳng áp lực.Nên cần thay đổi không gian làm việc bằng cách tựtạo cảm hứng làm việc với bàn làm việc
      Bạn đang có nnhu cầu mua bàn làm việc thì việc đầu tiên bạn nên trang bị kiến thứccách chọn bàn làm việc
      Tìm hiểu thông tin và tiêu chỉ để có thể chọn bàn làm việc văn phòng
      Nội thất văn phòng trong công ty doanh nghiệp ghế, tủ, hộc hồ sơ...và không thể thiếubàn làm việc trong văn phòng công ty
      Cũng như các sản phẩm văn phòng khác truóc khi mua bạn nên xem qua và chọn mẫu ưng ý.Và đối với bàn làm việc cũng thế khi mua bạn nênnên chọn mẫu bàn làm việc

  4. All economists should read Henry George.

  5. All good economists ignore Thorstein Veblen and Henry George.