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Friday, June 28, 2019

Prof. Maria Bach

Maria Bach (Ph.D., King's College London) is Assistant Professor of Economics at the American University of Paris. Her research focuses on the history of economics, especially 19th-century India. She podcasts at ceterisneverparibus.net.

As an economic historian, do you feel like you have more in common with economists or with historians?


I see myself more as an historian of economics – that is to say, I analyse the history of ideas, intellectual thought (whatever you want to call it) rather than events, facts and economic trends. I do however contextulise the texts and discourse I analyse, so I use economic history research in my research. So do I feel more like an historian than economist? My gut instinct would say the latter. I am a trained economist, I did economics and mathematics for my undergraduate and development economics for my masters of science – which is not always the case for historians of economics. I had to learn historical techniques and approaches in my PhD, but my research leans towards understanding how interlocutors observe and perceive the economy from the perspective of an economist. Of course, I contribute to historical research by documenting and analysing texts that were written in the past, but I analyse more from an economics perspective than historical.

You've studied and taught in France and the U.K. and elsewhere. Are there any noteworthy differences between the way economics is taught in those countries and elsewhere?

The main difference I have seen in France and UK in economics teaching is the inclusion of history of economics in France (and not in the UK). Otherwise, it’s pretty similar. Perhaps there is a bit more socialist slant in France than in the UK, but this will depend on the university and professor.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Prof. William Collins

Prof. William Collins (Ph.D., Harvard University) is the Terence E. Adderley Jr. Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective (University of Chicago Press, 2015).


Which teacher or professor had the biggest impact on your career path (whether it was an economist or someone who taught another subject), and what made that person a good teacher?

There is a long line of educators from my elementary school days through graduate school and beyond who have had profound influences on my career path.  I would start with those who encouraged a love for reading, writing, and independent investigation.  Being an academic economist entails asking good questions and crafting clearly written answers; that is at the core of what we do.  The single most important professor in my career has been Jeff Williamson.  Jeff was both my undergraduate thesis advisor and my dissertation advisor.  His expertise, genuine enthusiasm for research and teaching, generosity of time, and confidence in his students (including me) made a world of difference.

Economics is a much more quantitative field than it was a long time ago. What are the trade-offs when it comes to this change?

There have been real gains from the quantitative turn in economics. In theory, it requires more precise statements of the model one has in mind and descriptions of how it works.  In empirical work, it requires better data and more careful interpretation of patterns detected in those data.  I suppose one tradeoff is that it is easy to loose sight of the forest when one is deep in the technical trees. Many of the problems we work on require intense attention to technical details, but  communicating the importance of any project requires a broader vision.  A second potential tradeoff is that some important and complex questions may not be well suited to formal modeling and econometric analysis, but it might still be useful for economists to weigh in on those questions to the extent that we can.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Prof. Raymond Sauer

Prof. Raymond Sauer (Ph.D., University of Washington) is Professor of Economics at the University of Clemson. He is the founder of The Sports Economist, a popular multi-author weblog which focuses on economic aspects of sport, and is former President of the North American Association of Sports Economists.


You have written a lot on the economic aspects of sports. Is the “sports and economics” niche full, or is there room for more people to work in this area?

First, I believe there is plenty of work left to do in the field of sports economics. I've been around a while and have seen the field blossom. At its best sports economics uses the sports as a way illustrate economic forces at work, while simultaneously informing us about sports in ways we might not have otherwise understood. There are plenty of young people just getting started and I'm sure they will do fantastic work for years to come.

Everyone is familiar with Moneyball. In your opinion, what is the best book about sports and economics that is less well known and what makes it great?

As for great books about sports and economics, Moneyball is a standout, as you mention. A lesser known but excellent book is The Baseball Economist, by John Charles Bradbury. JC is a sharp economist, huge baseball fan, and is superb at rendering complicated statistical findings into readable prose. Although the book is a bit dated), the economic thinking in it sets it apart from other sabremetric books and it is full of interesting nuggets. The chapter on "The Mazzone Effect" in particular is worth savoring. Also, as an Astros fan I must mention Astroball, by Ben Reiter. The 2017 Astros were a championship squad built on sharp analytical thinking, smart economic management, and great character. Reiter's book chronicles this moment, a dozen years or so after Michael Lewis' classic.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Prof. Timothy N. Bond

Prof. Timothy N. Bond (Ph.D., Boston University) is the Director of Undergraduate Programs for the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. His research focuses on labor economics and the economics of education.



"When I starting my studies to become an economist, I wish someone had told me _____." How would you fill in that blank?


Take more math and stats! Actually, people told me that I just didn’t believe them. Also graduate school is very different from undergraduate – it’s a full time job (or more). Understanding that, and developing the work ethic necessary to be successful in such a position was the biggest challenge I faced early on in graduate school.

I volunteer at a charter school in a poor neighborhood in Memphis. What are some interesting research questions one might pursue if data/statistics were available? Some questions are obvious ones, like improvement on test scores, but maybe there are ones that are not so obvious?


Having access to a school that would let you run interventions would be a real asset. Things like studying the impact of different instructional methods, tracking (allowing for honors classes or not), or maybe even attendance policies. I have been critical of methods that evaluate school policies using only test scores, so some way to link the students to long-run outcomes would lead to a wealth of exciting questions you could answer (but an enormous undertaking, of course). Maybe college placements would be feasible? 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Inika Mishra

Like me, Inika Mishra is a high school student who has a blog aimed at students who want to learn more about economics. She lives in India and blogs at talkeconomicstoday.wordpress.com.

 


How did you first become interested in economics?
 

When I first attended an Economics lesson back in my freshman year of high school, I found the subject very intriguing. This was because It was slightly similar to the subject Business Studies which I had been studying for a month & which had become my favourite subject in such a short span of time. Soon, as I got to learn more & attend more Economics lessons, I realised that it is, in fact, different yet as interesting as Business Studies. I understood Economics well & had an aptitude for it. This made me love studying it even more. 

Are there particular books about economics that you've especially enjoyed or learned a lot from?

I’ve learnt everything about Economics from Economics articles, newspapers, blogs but mainly from my textbooks. The first Economics textbook that I read was ‘Cambridge IGCSE Complete Economics’ by Brian Titley. I learnt the basics of Economics from it. Later, In 11th grade, I was introduced to ‘Cambridge International AS & A level Economics Coursebook’ by Susan Grant.

Is there any specific area of economics that you find most intriguing?


Honestly, everything about Economics is intriguing. However, I do enjoy the topics in Macroeconomics (Trade, Balance Of Payments, Inflation, Government intervention etc.) since they can be a little challenging at times.

Prof. Sriya Iyer, who teaches at Cambridge, has recently gained attention for her book on religion and economics in India. Who are some of the best known economists in India?

Amartya Sen is one of the best known economists who has won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Manmohan Singh is another great economist who is also India’s former Prime Minister

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Prof. Alvin Roth

Alvin Roth won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2012 and is best known for his work on kidney exchange markets. He is the Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration Emeritus at Harvard University.
Image result for alvin roth

In The Graduate, a character says to Dustin Hoffman as he is about to finish school and head out into the world, “I want to say one word to you, just one word,” and that one word is “Plastics,” because, he says, “there’s a great future in plastics.” If you were to say “just one word” to a young person thinking about being an economist, what would that word be?

“Computerized-markets.”

[For Roth’s own work on computerized markets, see here, here, here, and here.

For other advice he gives to young economists, here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9SLiRpUNsc

The famous scene from The Graduate can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dug-G9xVdVs ]

Monday, January 14, 2019

Prof. Sriya Iyer

Prof. Sriya Iyer (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the Janeway Fellow in Economics at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of The Economics of Religion in India (Harvard University Press, 2018) and Demography and Religion in India (Oxford University Press, 2002).



You have written a lot about economics and religion. Were you interested in religion or in economics first, and what brought these two into contact?

I was interested in economics first as it is a great subject that teaches us a lot about concepts such as incentives, trade-offs, how people make decisions, and so forth. Coming from India, I was very aware of inequality around me - not just economic, but also social and institutional inequality. This got me interested more generally in how economics could be used to understand social problems. My interest in religion as a scholarly subject came later when I was doing my doctoral studies. I was curious to see if methods from economics such as economic theory and statistics could also be used to understand religion in different parts of the world, to complement studies which were done in other disciplines, and if economics as a subject could contribute more to inter-disciplinary dialogues about religion.

What are the differences—if any—between how economics is taught in India and in other countries?

Economics as a subject is taught very similarly in India as it is in the UK or the US. The core principles of the subject - microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics - are taught similarly, and many students are fortunate to have great teachers who first introduce them to the subject. But where you live also has an effect on how you might apply economics to study the real world. And if you do come from a developing country, you may be interested to see how these fundamental economic principles can be used to help real people in the real world with their problems - be it poverty, inequality, access to basic goods like food, shelter, education, healthcare and so forth. Sometimes what you observe growing up around you can motivate your interest in a particular economics subject many years down the line.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Prof. Sarah Smith

Prof. Sarah Smith (Ph.D., University College, London) is head of the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on consumer behavior and public economics. She is the co-author of The Economics of Social Problems (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 



If you were queen for a day and could require all students to read one book in the field of economics, what would it be and why?

Queen Elizabeth II has retained her position for so long by keeping her views to herself. But, in this hypothetical world, I would tell students to read Economics for the Common Good, by Jean Tirole. In contrast to Freakonomics, which popularizes economics by picking on "quirky" applications, Tirole tries to make the breadth of academic economics meaningful to people. It talks about the economics that I believe in--as a way of looking at the world to make it a better place. And it is very eloquently and elegantly written. 

What’s the biggest difference between the way economics is taught in the U.K. and in other countries?

Unlike the US, UK school students not only have to apply to a particular college/ university, they also have to say in advance what they want to study. This means that they choose to study economics—or something else—when they are 16 or 17. At this stage most don't really know what economics is about/ think it's about money and finance (because I haven't been made queen to tell them to read Tirole's book). Many UK universities are embracing the core-econ (www.core-econ.org/) curriculum which introduces economics as a way of understanding the big issues of our time. But unless we reach out to school students, most of them won't really be aware of the breadth of economics. In the UK, economics is mainly studied by men—and also disproportionately attracts students from private schools. We are just beginning to wake up to the need to engage more with local schools.  

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Prof. Mike Munger

Prof. Mike Munger (Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis) is the director of the interdisciplinary Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University. He has authored seven books, in addition to 200 articles and papers. His newest book, Tomorrow 3.0 (Cambridge University Press, 2018), addresses the sharing economy.




What's the biggest or most interesting mistake you have ever made as an economist, and was there a way to fix it?

I did an interview with a major newspaper about the costs of trade barriers. My work was a little out of date, and I said so (6 years out of date). But the newspaper person asked me what CURRENT costs were. So I just updated for inflation. I said I had only updated for inflation, but the reporter didn't really get it. This was in the early 1980s, when inflation was high. So the newspaper headline was "Costs of trade barriers has risen 22% in just six years!" But of course I had no evidence of that, that was all just the adjustment for constant dollars. The only way to fix that is to have better economic education.

In your opinion, what is the most important economic idea that most people have never heard of?

Opportunity cost. People don't understand it, even if they have heard of it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Prof. Abigail Hall Blanco

Abigail Hall Blanco (Ph.D., George Mason University) is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa. She is the author, with C. Coyne, of Tyranny Comes Home: The Domestic Fate of U. S. Militarism (Stanford University Press, 2018).

 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you ever received when it comes to being an economist?

The best advice I ever received as a graduate student was to write liberally and often, and to focus on the topics I found the most interesting. Had I not been given this advice, I would have never found my current research program--and I couldn't imagine doing anything else! The worst advice I ever received was to just do "standard" economics (by this they meant standard econometrics). This would have ended poorly!
 

What economic concept do you students have the most difficulty understanding?


Students are often really tripped up by the concept of cost as opportunity cost. We spend so much time thinking of cost as the equivalent of price. I spend a lot of time in micro principles trying to divorce these two ideas.


What is the most unexpected lesson you learned from you previous career as a dancer?

Comparative advantage! Some dancers are really superb at turn sequences, others at leaps, others . . . well . . . they have a comparative advantage in things other than dancing. When doing choreography--who you use for what relates directly to their comparative advantage.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Prof. James Heckman

James Heckman (Ph.D., Princeton University) is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2000.

You majored in math as a college student. Did math lead to economics because you were interested in applying math, or were you interested in economics and saw that math was the way to understand economics better?

I was a math major who discovered economics. Actually, I was a physics major who took a lot of math. Hated physics labs and majored in math. Then I discovered economics. The math was useful. The economics was fascinating.

What's the most common mistake you see students and even fellow economists make?

Ignoring the budget constraint. Fellow behavioral economists especially. They fail to see fundamental irrationality of the modeled agents with budget constraints. Economics is all about it. They ignore it.

Prof. Steve Horwitz


Prof. Steve Horwitz (Ph.D., George Mason University) is Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He is the author of Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).




What textbook did you use when you first studied economics, and would you still use it today as a professor?

To be honest, I cannot for the life of me remember what book I was assigned when I first took intro! My guess is that whatever it was, I wouldn't use it today because there are so many new approaches, and developments of old ones, over the last 37 years that hte book would be out of date.


For long-term happiness, how important (or unimportant) is it that one has the same perspecive on economic matters as one's spouse?

I don’t think one has to have the same political views as one’s spouse to be happy. I think it can help, but I know plenty of happy couples who either disagree or where one spouse just isn’t especially political. I do think that mutual respect is important, of course. And I do think that if you’re going to be the spouse of an economist, you should at least understand the economic way of thinking because it’s likely to be invoked in a lot of household decision making.




Saturday, December 8, 2018

Lotta Moberg

Lotta Moberg (Ph.D., George Mason University) is a macroeconomic analyst at William Blair & Co. in Chicago and the author of The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones: Concentrating Economic Development (Routledge, 2017). Previously she served in the Swedish Defense Forces and with the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

 
If you could mandate that every student read one book in the field of economics, what would it be?

I had to think about whether it would be good for everyone to read one book. On net, I think it is, if it is short and simple enough to explain some of the most destructive fallacies people hold. Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson may be the best. Alternatively, and much shorter, James Gwartney's little book on economic principles, Common Sense Economics. It is probably the best. I would make people read it to become less destructive citizens, not to educate those who already know some economics.

What is the best (or worst) advice you ever got on becoming an economist?


Probably not the best but memorable: When taking a class, be selfish. Look for how you can use things from the class for your research and spend minimal time on the rest.

The worst was probably to stay away from a place like George Manson University because people will find you weird and so it will be hard to get a job.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Prof. Vincent Geloso

Vincent Geloso (Ph.D., London School of Economics) is Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at the Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. His research interests include North American ecnomic history, public economics, and population economics. His most recent book is Rethinking Canadian Economic Growth and Development since 1900 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). 

 

Everything involves trade-offs. Economics is much more data-driven than it was a few decades ago. What are the most important or least discussed trade-offs in the increased emphasis on math in the study and teaching of economics?

I would state that there are two trade-offs that we need to be aware. First, mathematics allow us to make axiomatic statements. A demand function merely expresses mathematically the axiom that, all else being equal, we demand less of something if the price increases. All axioms are inherently true. The problem is that while true, an axiom can be irrelevant in a particular context or setting. Relevance is asserted only through the use of data and econometrics. A good economist is one who does both as they are complements to the production of valuable research and teaching. It is for this reason that I specialize in economic history as I am forced to dive in theory and use applied methods to assess the relevance of economic theories to explain the past (i.e. our database of observations). Second, economists forget that data matters. I have very often seen economists simply "chuck" the data in Stata and not ask any questions about their construction. Are they suited for the question being asked? How were they built? What is the most modest but valid case I can make with this data? I think that the work of Morten Jerven on African economies is a good example here. He used different databases of GDP per capita for African countries and found that, for the same year, they had dramatic differences in the ranking of these economies. Why such differences? How much does it affect the results just to use another source?  These are basic questions which economists tend to ignore. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find an explanation that convinces me as to why economists sometime act in such a careless way with regards to data (especially given the technocratic tendency taken by the profession in the last forty years). 

Is being really interested in economics a good enough reason to major in economics?


Hell yes! For the last ten years of my life, I have been going and leaving bed thinking about economics (and social sciences more broadly). During my undergraduate days, I spent all my days reading about economics. When unsatisfied with my learned tools, I would simply go online and seek every resource possible to help me learn more. This was only heightened when I discovered that economic history was a subfield of economics.   Passion about a field and dedication to its study is necessary and sufficient even if you are not a stellar student. I often point out that I was an ordinary student at the University of Montreal where I did my undergraduate degree.  However, when I became a graduate student, the passion allowed me to surge ahead, write and read every day. If you are able to muddle through the classes while being passionate and hard-working, you can be a great economist! Obviously, being smart just makes the whole thing easier (but I will caution against the arrogance that sometimes comes with that). 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Nicholas Gruen

Nicholas Gruen (Ph.D., Australian National University) is a widely published policy economist and public intellectual who has had regular columns in the Courier Mail, the Australian Financial Review, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He is the founder of Lateral Economics.



 

If you could mandate that every student read one book in the field of economics, what would it be?

W
hile I read plenty of economics books, almost invariably my ideas are cooked up in my head and talking to people – and this is a big deal for me. Most people think economics is 75% learning the discipline and 25% applying the ideas. I’d say it’s the other way round. Most of the important stuff comes in the way (usually pretty commonplace) ideas are deployed. A lot of economists are quite unaware of this. Thus for instance, as I try to document here, they’ll deploy arguments like competitive neutrality in one way, blissfully, unware that they could be applied in other ways. Virtually all my work comes from applying in somewhat new ways the simple and powerful ideas of our discipline that any economics graduate would recognise. For instance here’s how I deploy the idea of public and private goods in a slightly new way to generate what I think is a powerful way to see the economy and powerful new policy possibilities.  

                                                                             
But if you want me to pick a book, I’d suggest John Kay’s The Truth about Markets (I think it may have had a different title in the US). It’s not more brilliant than other books or a stand out classic, but it’s a compelling romp through many of the important ideas in economics with a lot of moderation and commonsense at the same time as positive zeal for good, practical ideas and the huge contribution economics can make to improving millions – indeed billions – of ordinary human lives.

If you’d allow me to indulge myself and stray somewhat outside economics, but at least into political economy I’d also recommend David Van Reybrouk’s Against Elections, which explains some of the myriad problems with electoral democracy and proposes instead democracy by sortition – as occurs in juries in court cases. I’ve set out similar ideas and a model constitution in which power is shared between elected representatives and those selected by lot (based in a Westminster or British parliamentary system rather than a US congressional one) here and here.

A book I’m reading right now and loving is Matthew Crawford’s The World beyond your Head, which I thoroughly recommend.   

What course that is not normally required for an undergraduate economics major do you think all students should be required to take, and why?


I think the history of economic thought should be compulsory because it gives students perspective into other ways of looking at things. I have no problems with neoclassical economics being taught, but I’m dead against it being taught as the only way to do economics. Since it is so often taught that way, the history of economic thought can provoke some curiosity in students to look further afield. However even here if it is taught as if all previous economists were really just groping their way towards the way we think today then students can be largely protected from the good it can do them. 

Indeed, for me it was my study of history proper – not economic history or the history of ideas – that helped me understand something about ideas that Steven Jobs commented upon:

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were [in general] no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.

I outlined some of the influence studying history had on me briefly in the midst of a longish speech here (in Section V) and also here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Prof. Will Luther

William J. Luther (Ph.D., George Mason University) is assistant professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University, and director of the American Institute for Economic Research’s Sound Money Project. He has written extensively on Bitcoin.

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What single book should every economics major be required to read, and why?

I think the history of ideas is important, so I hope that every economics major would read Larry White’s The Clash of Economic Ideas (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

In your opinion, who is the most important economist that most people have never heard of?

I think more people should be familiar with George Selgin’s work. His monograph, Less than Zero (Institute of Economic Affairs, 1997) was recently republished and contains an excellent defense of nominal income targeting. His newest book, Floored! (Cato, 2018) is the single best book on the Fed’s new operating regime. Highly recommend.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Prof. Marie Mora

Marie T. Mora (Ph.D., Texas A&M) is Professor of Economics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her books include Population, Migration, and Socioeconomic Outcomes of Island and Mainland Puerto Ricans (Lexington, 2017), co-authored with A. Dávila and  H. Rodríguez, and the award-winning Hispanic Entrepreneurs in the 2000s (Stanford University Press, 2013), co-authored with A. Dávila.

 Marie T. Mora









What’s the best (or worst) advice you ever received when it comes to being an economist?

Some of the best advice was given to me when I was in my Ph.D. Program at Texas A&M University. My major professor, Dr. Finis Welch, encouraged me to take more graduate-level statistics courses, not only more econometrics but also statistics courses taught by faculty in the Department of Statistics. (Note that Professor Welch, one of the founders of Stata, is known for saying he has probably run more regressions than anyone else who’s ever lived.) He also encouraged me to take other classes and read studies that were technically in fields outside of economics if I thought they would be interesting and helpful for my own research. In fact, I took some Ph.D. courses in Sociology, including an excellent Sociology of Education class that resulted in my first scholarly publication—a book chapter in an edited volume by Gail Thomas (the professor who taught the class).

Another piece of excellent advice was also given to me when I was in my Ph.D. Program by Dr. Alberto Dávila. While some of the classes were technical and uninspiring, I was reminded that once I finished my coursework and passed all the prelims (comprehensive exams), I would be able to delve into the most interesting part of the Program – doing research on topics of my own choice. That was an incentive that helped me get through that part of my program. I think almost everyone goes through a period of doubt in a Ph.D. Program; it was very much worthwhile for me to hang in there.

What’s the biggest misconception your students have about economics and economists?


I would say it has to do with not having a basic understanding of what economics is before they take college-level Econ classes. (I certainly didn’t when I started as an undergraduate.) Some think it is only about business, and others think it is only about math…but it is so much broader. I tell my students that economics is a very broad umbrella, and there is something in it for everyone.

On a related point, many people (not just students) are unaware that economics is considered to be part of STEM. It is a social science (which the “S” includes). In fact, the National Science Foundation has an Econ Directorate and funds research in economics.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Prof. Stephen Wright

Stephen H. Wright teaches in the Department of Economics at Birkbeck College, University of London. Previously he has taught at Cambridge and has served as staff economist for the Bank of England. He is the author, with Andrew Smithers, of Valuing Wall Street (McGraw-Hill, 2000).



If you were king for a day and could require all students to read one book in the field of economics, what would it be and why?

If I were King? What a strange hypothetical, especially for a US citizen! I’ll interpret your question as being “If I were a benign dictator” (the correlation between Kingship and Benign Dictatorship is I think pretty close to zero empirically). But my answer is straightforward, if highly biased: obviously students should read The Economy, the e-book produced by, and available from, www.core-econ.org. It is brand new and takes a very different approach to introducing economics. This recommendation is highly biased because I was involved in producing it; but I still think it is about the best thing you can read these days to get you started in economics.

What textbook did you use when you first studied economics, and would you still use it today as a professor?
I think I started with Samuelson, supplemented by Lipsey. I’ve never looked at Samuelson since but I suspect it is still pretty good – he was one of the greatest minds ever in economics.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Arnold Kling

Arnold Kling (Ph.D., M.I.T.) blogs at askblog. He previously blogged at EconLog, worked as an economist for the Federal Reserve System, and was a senior economist for Freddie Mac. He is the author of many books, including Crisis of Abundance: Rethinking How We Pay for Health Care (Cato Institute, 2006)

What's the biggest or most interesting mistake you have ever made as an economist (that you'd care to share), and was there a way to fix it?

I have changed my mind on some important issues. Whether I was mistaken before or now, or both, is to be determined. In graduate school, I believed sticky-price Keynesian economics. Now, I do not believe that any aggregate view of the economy is right. Industries expand and contract all the time, and every once in a while not enough industries are expanding to make up for the contracting ones. The probability that instead I was right before to be a Keynesian is certainly greater than zero.
 

I also once doubted that real trade took place among ancient people. I speculated instead that goods changed location because of marauding. But most archaeologists believe that there really was trade, so I was probably wrong on that.
 

In your opinion, who is the most important economist that most people have never heard of?

My first thought is Fischer Black. You absolutely must read Perry Mehrling's biography of him. If nothing else, you get a sense of what the 1970s felt like, both in the culture at large and in the economics profession. I have learned a surprising amount from biographies of economists. Skidelsky's three-volume biography of Keynes (not the abridged version) helped me to see Keynes as rebelling against Victorianism. That explains why Keynes came to see saving as pathological. David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations (Norton, 2006) is insightful on Romer and Krugman.  


Most people have not heard of James Buchanan, even though he won a Nobel. And even most economists think of him as a one-trick pony, namely Public Choice theory. But his book Cost and Choice (University of Chicago Press, 1969) demonstrates that he thought very deeply about economics. That is a tough book, to put on your list to read someday, but probably not soon.

Charles Kindleberger is important, in my opinion. In Manias, Panics, and Crashes (Basic Books, 1978) he does two important things. One is he explains Minsky, who was too confused to explain himself. Second, he extends Minsky in an important way, by emphasizing "displacement" as a trigger for movements in the Minsky cycle.

Have enough people heard of Hal Varian? He explained more about the economics of the Internet, from its communications architecture (lots of switches, economizing on lines) to the nature of information goods, than anyone else.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Prof. Josh Angrist

Prof. Joshua Angrist (Ph.D., Princeton University) is the Ford Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a director of MIT's School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He taught at Harvard and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before coming to MIT in 1996. He is the author (with Steve Pischke) of Mostly Harmless Economics: An Empiricist's Companion (Princeton University Press, 2009) and Mastering 'Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect (Princeton University Press, 2015).

 

Your CV contains a number of publications on the role of data in policy debates. Do you tend to be hopeful or despairing when it comes to policy makers paying attention to empirical/statistical studies produced by economists?    

Hope springs eternal in my empirical breast.

Do your students have more trouble with the mathematical side of generating data or with the process of writing up their results and communicating them clearly and effectively? 

My graduate students know a lot of math, probably so much that it inhibits thought. But yes indeed they struggle to write a coherent paragraph. Too bad, since scholars like those they aspire to be write for a living.