Economists on Interdisciplinarity

9 January 2008 at 9:58 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

I missed the ASSA/AEA session “What Should Be the Core of Graduate Economics?” featuring Susan Athey, Ed Gleaser, Bo Honoré, Blake Lebaron, Derek Neal, and Michael Woodford but there is a write-up in the Chronicle (gated, though a free version is temporarily available here). Gleaser offers perhaps the most interesting comment for the O&M crowd:

“We actually shouldn’t be thinking narrowly in terms of first-year economics.” . . . “We should be thinking about first-year social science. The whole division between economics, sociology, and political science feels like a hangover from the 19th century. So many of the people in our profession are working on problems that have traditionally been seen as part of sociology or political science.

“We should probably be rethinking from the ground up all of the social sciences,” Mr. Glaeser continued. “A more attractive model might be a first-year course sequence that trains a social scientist to work on anything, rather than having separate first-year economics, sociology, and political science course work. But maybe that’s a discussion for a different panel.”

My guess is that such a first-year sequence would have two much economics-based sociology, economics-based political science, and the like to satisfy our friends at But it is an intriguing possibility.

Bo Honoré also points out that the typical first-year sequence, emphasizing quantitative tools and techniques at the expense of passion, relevance, and creativity, leaves students uninspired for continuing graduate work:

“The core needs to have a certain element of fun,” said Bo E. Honoré, a professor of economics at Princeton University. “I think it’s important that students come out of the first year with a sense of excitement about economics and excitement about doing research.”

In our PhD program students take in the first year not only microeconomic theory and econometrics, but also my course “Economics of Institutions and Organizations,” designed to focus on broader issues and questions typically ignored in the technical part of the core. It’s also fun (I hope).

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, New Institutional Economics, Teaching.

Why Study the Humanities? Prediction markets

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. spostrel  |  9 January 2008 at 2:53 pm

    The thing to bear in mind is that it is much, much easier to learn techniques while you’re in grad school than at any time thereafter. For an economist, getting acquainted with as many modeling tricks as possible and seeing how they work or don’t work on different substantive problems is extremely important. I would prefer to see these methods introduced in the context fo substantive courses–industrial organization, labor, micro, etc.–than as stand-alone exercises, so I think the current system, for all its flaws, has substantial merit.

    I’d be all for cutting the time allocated to macro and introducing more ideas on the econ-sociology, econ-psychology, econ-anthropology, and econ-political science boundaries.

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  9 January 2008 at 3:10 pm

    A massive opportunity to integrate the social sciences went begging in the late 1930s when Parsons, Mises and Popper (working on three different continents) converged on the same framework of analysis – the action frame of reference, praxeology and situational analysis. Of course the late 1930s into the ’40s was not a great time for collaboration between people working on different continents. Talcott Parsons then lost the plot. Mises and Popper (despite being in the same rooms at the first Mont Pelerin meeting) never got together properly, even though they were both obsessed with the same intellectual errors – historicism and positivism. All very strange but the point in this context is that their models clearly articulate the way that work in various disciplines can come together in a synergistic way. For some rambling thoughts on this

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