Monday, January 24, 2011

Reflections on Graduate Economics Education

GREG MANKIW discusses graduate economics education:
The question we face as designers of educational programs is how to structure them in light of the longer times that PhDs take and the fact that some students who start these programs may rationally choose not to complete them. The answer may be to divide current PhD programs into two chunks. The first chunk would be a two-year master’s degree focused on taking advanced courses. The second chunk—appropriate for only a subset of master’s students—would be a research degree culminating in the PhD.
For quite some time my advice to most of my undergraduate students about pursuing a Ph.D. in economics has been consistent with Mankiw's suggestions. I think it is worth reading his entire post.

PETER BOETTKE also notes Mankiw's suggestions and offers:
Back to Mankiw's reflections --- at GMU we have a strong MA program, and within that a track that the Mercatus Center supports that has done an excellent job of placing students in highly leveraged positions in public sector, public policy think-tanks, and the private sector, and our full-time population of PhD students on funding graduates students in 4 to 5 years, and has a high percentage of graduation. In many ways, we are already doing what Mankiw recommends in terms of structural changes to graduate programs in economics to maximize their educational value to their customers.
I think that for almost a decade now I have been telling my students interested in economics graduate study that if I started all over today, given all that I've learned since about 1975, I would probably put George Mason at the top of my list.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Simple System of Natural Liberty

"I claim that a true liberalism, what Adam Smith called “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty,” contrary to both the socialist and conservative ideologues, has the historical evidence on its side. Despite the elements of regulation and corporatism defacing it (and the welfare programs improving it), it has worked pretty well for the poor and for the people for two centuries. I reckon we should keep it — though tending better to its ethics."
I think her opening essay is from the introduction to her new book BOURGEOIS DIGNITY. She concludes that the fundamental reason why we prosper is because of certain ideas. Ideas such as "the obvious and simple system of natural liberty." It is well worth the time to check out her essay and the interaction that follows at Cato Unbound. If you have the time and the interest Bourgeois Dignity and her earlier BOURGEOIS VIRTUES are important books if you want to understand why we prosper today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some of the Predators of Mali

This report in yesterday’s New York Times offers evidence of the extent to which “Progressives” will go to stop progress – evidence of the filth and pollution that flesh-and-blood individuals are obliged to endure when economic growth is forcibly halted – evidence of the utter arrogance and selfishness of rich-world elites, and of their propensity to treat other human beings as objects for amusement.
Kind of gets your attention, eh? The news report Boudreaux points to is interesting and well worth reading, especially if you were in my Power & Prosperity course last semester. The deal is that the city the news report is about is a World Heritage site and that has important implications:
"When a town is put on the heritage list, it means nothing should change,” Mr. Maiga said. “But we want development, more space, new appliances — things that are much more modern. We are angry about all that."
From the news report it seems to me that, as Boudreaux alludes to, there has recently been some development and progress going on in this city. After all, the people reported on seem to have at least some money available to spend on new wants and desires with respect to the way they live. Unfortunately, it also seems that there are predators from without who want to keep these people from using the gains they have made for their own purposes.
“If you want to help someone, you have to help him in a way that he wants; to force him to live in a certain way is not right,” he said, before lying on the mud floor of a windowless room that measured about 6 feet by 3 feet.
Well said. Put the power of government behind what a person wants to do for himself and good things will emerge in the future.

You can learn more about the necessary conditions for Mali prosperity by checking out the information at the INDEX OF ECONOMIC FREEDOM. While Mali officially has a democratic form of government, the protections for private property are weak and corruption is prevalent.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Economist's Toolbox

"Kirzner in that 1963 work, and then again in his more developed theoretical exposition in Competition and Entrepreneurship (1973), was trying to intellectually square his understanding of mainstream neoclassical price theory, and his understanding of Misesian price theory. In short, he did not reject mainstream price theory, he accepted it but also accepted its own internal critique (provided by Arrow, but also pointed out earlier by individuals such as Joan Robinson) and sought to salvage the theory by way of Mises. Arrow had asked how can price ever change to clear markets when all the actors are themselves price takers; and Robinson years earlier had pointed out that they only to get into equilibrium under standard assumptions was to already be in equilibrium. Kirzner provides an answer with only slight modification of the assumptions to the neoclassical model."
Boettke's summary of the critiques of Arrow and of Robinson may help some of my students, especially those in Intermediate Microeconomics last semester, understand my discussions of the equilibrium nature of demand and supply, why I emphasized the nature of comparative static analysis, and why I ended the semester with a discussion of entrepreneurship as a significant missing link in understanding the real and emergent economy.

Economists Used to Believe This

PETER BOETTKE has a very interesting post about the conceptual context for the work of Israel Kirzner. Students in economics classrooms today may be interested in the history of economic thought that Boettke describes in his post. I think there is a significant delay between where economic analysis is currently and what is presented in undergraduate textbooks and course work. Thus, as you read Boettke's history you may recognize that much undergraduate economics is consistent with a conceptual economic framework that was the foundation of the economic discipline some decades ago. I think this is especially true with respect to the analysis of entrepreneurship, public policy, and prosperity.