Thursday, April 19, 2012

Can Economics be Taught Better?

What NY Times and LA Times are Reporting

At the beginning of April 2012, a stirring debate within academia reached the pages of two of the US' premiere newspapers. 

LA Times
On April 11th, the LA times ran a piece highlighting student discontent at Harvard with the economics discipline. Last November, 70 students organized a walkout on Harvard economist Greg Mankiw's economics lecture. The students later posted an open letter saying "Today, we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course. We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University [sic], and our greater society." They went on to complain that instead of presenting a broad introduction to economics, Mankiw's teaching was narrowly focused, on orthodox models was ultimately complicit in perpetuating systemic global inequality. Professional economics in the field and in academia went on to sympathize with the students' message.

NY Times
The April 1st op-ed piece looks at things from the point of view of the researchers, professors, and professional academics. Authored by a collection of seven economics a the forefront of the contemporary academic economic debate including Nassim Taleb and Robert Skidelsky, a number of well-thought suggestions on reform of the economics curriculum were made. 
  • We need to move beyond dependence on mathematical models. This goes for both probabilistic models and finance and abstract calculus-based model in the economics discipline at large. A more cross-disciplinary approach is needed.
  • Economic History deserves our serious attention. 
  • The difference between risk and uncertainty needs to be taught and understood. In particular, we should spend time on the meaning and implications of uncertainty.
  • We should not give assurances that we have completely figured out the markets or the economy. Economics is not a hard science. We cannot run experiments. 
  • Focus more on market imperfections. A lot of people believe that the market is infallible. That's not what either history or Adam Smith teaches. 
  • Realize that price signals are not infallible either.

About the Author:
Max Berre is an economist at the EDHEC-Risk Institute (Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord) who has worked as a sovereign debt expert at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington and has taught financial economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.


  1. put econometrics on the same list))

  2. Since when do a bunch of over privileged college kids get to tell Greg Mankiw hes wrong? Who are they? They dont have a clue how the world works!! Since when does peoples feelings have any place at all in an econ classroom? "perpetuating inequality"??? Are you kidding me? Sorry our teachers aren't Marxist enough kids!