Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

The Making of an Economist

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Recently finished The Making of an Economist, Redux by David Colander.  The book summarizes surveys and interviews with economics graduate students at some of the top US schools.

Some of its surprising findings:

Most Econ grad students are startlingly ignorant of basic, economics-101 principles.  When questions like “What is GDP?” and “How might the economy be affected by the Fed raising interest rates by a quarter point?” stumped students taking their comprehensive exams, and were promptly removed in favor of the usual abstract, mathematical fare.

They are also startlingly ignorant of economics before 1970, having never read Keynes, Hayek or Smith.

On the brighter side, students mostly felt prepared for the math and enjoyed their grad-school experiences, especially after the first year.

Economics grad school is incredibly international.  Most schools have roughly even numbers of US students and international students; some, like Chicago and Columbia, hardly have any Americans.

The funniest part of the book was the interview with Stanford students.  They described Stanford as being “like a country club, except we get paid.”  They were the most ignorant of economic thought, both historically and currently; most students said they didn’t know a single econ grad student at a school other than Stanford.  My favorite quote from them, when discussing how well math skills predict success, “we should exclude the Asian cohort.”

Apparently the author has been told by a grad school dean that he has done more than any other single person to scare potential students away from economics.

I was glad to glean more information about this somewhat mysterious world.  Some of what I learned was worrying, but certainly not enough to scare me away.


Written by James Bailey

July 14, 2008 at 8:02 pm

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