Saturday, May 31, 2014

Noah Smith — A serious proposal for undergrad econ

The problem is that there's just no room. Econ 101 is already overflowing with material. So what I actually propose is to create an econ "lab sequence" just for empirics, similar to what they do in physics. This "lab sequence" would only be for econ majors, and would be a separate but linked course. It would teach R or some other equally useful data management tool (a more advanced second-year lab course would teach Matlab). If the only thing students learn in the class is how to manage data, run regressions, and use R, the time will not have been wasted.

I also think that there should be two versions of intro econ - one for econ majors, which is more advanced and mathematical, and one for people who just want to learn some economics ideas. This is also similar to how physics departments and math departments do things.

The basic idea is to make undergrad econ a bit more like an engineering major. Since a lot of America's future managers major in economics, a more technical focus for the entire econ major will give them the skills to succeed in today's increasingly technical business world.
More math.

A serious proposal for undergrad econ
Noah Smith | Assistant Professor of Finance, Stony Brook University


Ryan Harris said...

Right. Focus on the really difficult things like calculating unemployment rates. You take the data, fudge it up, add a sprinkle of ideology and voila! You teach them early, teach them often how to measure, analyze and frame the discouraged, marginally attached and the officially unemployed.

Next up inflation.

Can't be any worse than current Econ 101 which is the equivalent of the Book of Genesis and Creationism, pure philosophy and ideology without any basis in reality.

Smith's proposal is probably dangerous territory to tread initially. Empirical measurement and analysis of the real world, if you want to teach orthodoxy and gain adherents, is a huge threat. What is measured, how it is measured, and why forces the ideological/philosophical decisions to be exposed at the outset instead of teaching the conclusions first then only obliquely hinting at the assumptions with the implication that it's too complicated a formula, laced with nuance and widely agreed values that you don't need to understand until you too have been steeped in economic culture and thought tradition for decades.

Tom Hickey said...

The problem with economics is neither math nor measurement. It's the assumption that "the economy" is a separate entity ("machine") that can be studied independently of social, political and legal institutions that affect it deeply, including matters that don't easily lend themselves to quantification. Non-institutional economics is barren and should be discarded after so many failures and such obvious limitations.

Then there is the systems approach, which has pervaded the rest of science but not economics — as in complex adaptive systems subject to reflexivity and emergence.

further this is the excessive "flattening" from the assumptions of methodological individualism, representative agents, rational choice theory, utility maximization, etc. which model an ideal domain that is not inhabited by actual human beings.

These assumptions assume that human behavior is an amoral stimulus-response mechanism, which is a holdover from Skinnerian behaviorism. Psychology and social science have moved on. Economics needs to move on, too.

These are matters that will be evident to reasonably sane and aware people, even young people without a lot of life experience — like many if not most people taking Econ 101 today. Their reaction to the course material presented in Econ 101 will predictably be WTF?