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Rebuilding the Economics Field

Posted in Economics by teslik on August 5, 2009


Robert Skidelsky has contributed a thought-provoking response to the FT’s “arena debate” on how to rebuild the stature of economics as an academic field. Skidelsky notes that even Queen Elizabeth has taken economists to task for not doing a better job of foreseeing the economic crisis. He then outlines what, to his mind, went so wrong, and concludes with three paragraphs of recommendations for the “reconstruction” effort:

The reconstruction of economics needs to start with the universities. First, degrees in the subject should be broadly based. They should take as their motto Keynes’s dictum that “economics is a moral and not a natural science”. They should contain not just the standard courses in elementary microeconomics and macroeconomics but economic and political history, the history of economic thought, moral and political philosophy, and sociology. Though some specialisation would be allowed in the final year, the mathematical component in the weighting of the degree should be sharply reduced. This is a return to the tradition of the Oxford Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) degree and Cambridge Moral Sciences.

Beyond this, the postgraduate study of macroeconomics might with advantage be separated from that of microeconomics. Courses in microeconomics should concern themselves, as at present, with the building and testing of models based on a narrow set of assumptions. Their field of applicability lies in those areas where we have reliable views of the future. Macroeconomics, though, is an essential part of the art of government, and should always be taught in conjunction with subjects bearing on this.

The obvious aim of such a reconstruction is to protect macroeconomics from the encroachment of the methods and habits of the mathematician. Only through some such broadening can we hope to provide a proper education for those whose usefulness to society will lie as much in their philosophical and political literacy as in their mathematical efficiency.

This reminded me of the ethics oath a group of Harvard Business School students recently signed. I wonder what the chances are of a similar movement arising at one of the leading graduate schools of economics?


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