Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Making of an Economist Redux

David Colander has published a new version of his critique on graduate education in economics. As he himself emphasizes, his critique is quite different from his critique of 20 years ago. Here are some interesting findings, some of which are quite different from his previous study.

Again, through survey and interviews with graduate students at seven top-ranking graduate economics programs, he finds out that students in different schools, albeit have distinct views on economics, world economy, and the profession, their perceptions are converging. The breakdown by schools shows less difference among schools in this study compared with the previous. Part of the reason is the definition of mainstream economics today. Since neoclassical economics has incorporated many elements that previously were considered heterodox in developments in fields such as behavioral economics and evolutionary game theory, economic opinions at different schools could have exhibit some extent of consistency. Further more, economics today has become more consciously empirical than it was, and the mathematics that it uses is more likely to be applied mathematics rather than pure mathematics.

Another interesting result is that different schools can shape different political orientation. Princeton brings in conservative students and turns them into liberals, while Chicago brings in liberal students and turns them into conservatives. By the way, The response to what skills put students on the fast track also differed by schools. Stanford students see problem solving as most important, MIT students think of empirical research as most important, Princeton students regard excellence in mathematics as most important, and Columbia students see having a thorough knowledge of the economy as being most important.

Finally, he makes futher suggestions on economics education, particularly on core courses. Eliminating macro from the core would free up resources in the core, which could be advantageously used in a number of different ways, such as in another econometrics and statistics course. Another potential problem is that the core focuses more on depth, not breadth. Students have little sense of background to the debates or the techniques and do not understand why they developed, and what use they are. It seems reasonable that the core courses should focus on creativity and economic reasoning and not technique.

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