Thursday, April 21, 2016

Asad Zaman — The Education of an Economist

In our PhD Economics program at Stanford, we learnt nothing about the history of major economic events of the twentieth century. Instead, we were taught the rather arcane and difficult skill of building models. In order to analyse what would happen in an economy, we learnt that you have to construct an artificial economy, populated by rational robots called homo economicus, who behave according to strict mathematical laws. At no point in our studies were we asked to match what happens in our models with any events in the real world; it was assumed that the two always matched.…
I ran into the same thing when I was looking for a graduate school in philosophy. Symbolic logic was all the rage then, and most school were focused on symbolic logic and analytic philosophy. I was more interested in pursuing philosophical questions — "the enduring questions — in a historical context and found that only a few grad school offered this orientation. The faculty of the school I chose was about an equal mix of Americans and Europeans, and courses ranged from ancient and medieval to modern and contermporary. I was left to pursue Eastern philosophy on my own, which I did.

Somewhat ironically, I ended up writing a dissertation on Wittgenstein, which is about logic and analytic philosophy. The second option, on which I passed, was an ethical analysis of decision theory as it was being applied to nuclear deterrence.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had a chosen the latter. I also wonder what the world would be like if contemporary economists read history, or even paid attention to their peers in academia who have —heterodox economists and economic sociologists, anthropologists and historians.

Real-World Economics Review Blog
The Education of an Economist
Asad Zaman

No comments: