Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review of the Acemoglu text...

A commenter asks for a discussion of the Acemoglu text. I reviewed it here. Although I was harsh on him, I think it's deserved. And I certainly stand by the conclusion that it's bad enough in enough ways to warrant taking MIT Economics much less seriously.



  1. For me, the main problem is that this book is essentially proof that modern economics are considered to be rigorous as long as they contain a lot of topology, markov equilibria etc.

    I do believe that an economist should be able to use math, but only as a tool - it seems to me that economics have turned into a math contest. In that sense, Acemoglu's book is the best one there is. The growth class i attended last semester was based on it; and i am sure that any dynamic macro class i attend will now be too easy. But i really haven't learned anything new about growth (unless anyone feels that directed technical change is worth a whole chapter in a book about growth...). As a counter-example, check the recent book by Aghion and Howitt. Anyone who reads it will learn the same (if not more) from someone who reads Acemoglu, except that it won't take you 6 months to get through the math... Or, take for example Kennedy's paper on induced innovation (1964 or smth). There are almost no math there, but there is some serious economic thinking.

    To be honest, this direction is good for me. I got into a phd program because of my math and econometrics. Nobody ever asked me anything about economic history, i was never assigned any seminal text (be it Keynes, Hayek, Veblen)...
    (though at the same time we had two classes on marxism - another greek paradox i guess :P)

    In the end of the day, i believe that if one is interested in pursuing an academic career as a growth economist, this book is necessary. Everything you need to learn in order to write papers that will get published is there. Unfortunately, you 'll learn almost nothing regarding growth (which acemoglu feels that is the basis for modern macro and i agree with him)

  2. Yep. My thoughts exactly. While you can learn things from the book, it does not represent "real learning". Which is to say, you can learn about what models Economists have published, and what they think about certain issues, and you can practice math skills, but there are no insights into Economic Growth to be learned from his textbook.

    The book is mistitled. It's an excellent treatment of "Models of Economic Growth", not of "Economic Growth". Seemingly subtle, yet key, distinction.

  3. Actually, the same distinction really applies to the entire first year of Ph.D. programs. We aren't getting our Ph.D. in "Economics", we are getting our Ph.D.'s in "Mathematical modeling".

  4. It turns out that what i wanted to say in my first (and quite long as i see :P) post, the second commenter described in just 4 words: "Models of Economic Growth". Indeed, this textbook is probably the best in that sense, and i feel that Acemoglu is probably one of the most tecnhically inclined economists. But that's just not enough for the basis of a profession that is losing (what is left of) its credibility everyday for the last 2 years

    Jay (hopefully i won't forget to add my name the next time i post...)

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