Posts filed under ‘Syllabus Exchange’

How to Read an Academic Article

| Peter Klein |

This fall I’m teaching “Economics of Institutions and Organizations” to first-year graduate students. The reading list is rather heavy, compared to what most students are used to from their undergraduate courses and their first-year courses in microeconomics, econometrics, etc. I explain that they need to become not only avid readers, but also efficient readers, able to extract the maximum information from an academic article with the least effort. They need to learn, in other words, the art of the skim.

When I’ve explained this in the past, students have responded that they don’t know how to skim. So a couple years back I put together a little handout, “How to Read an Academic Article,” with a few tips and tricks. I emphasize that I don’t mean to be patronizing, and that they should ignore the handout if its contents seem painfully obvious. But students have told me they really appreciate having this information. So, I reproduce the handout below. Any comments and suggestions for improvement?

How to Read an Academic Article

  1. Caveat: no single style works for everyone!
  2. Klein’s basic steps for skimming, scanning, processing…
    1. Read the abstract (if provided)
    2. Read the introduction.
    3. Read the conclusion.
    4. Skim the middle, looking at section titles, tables, figures, etc.—try to get a feel for the style and flow of the article.
      1. Is it methodological, conceptual, theoretical (verbal or mathematical), empirical, or something else?
      2. Is it primarily a survey, a novel theoretical contribution, an empirical application of an existing theory or technique, a critique, or something else?
    5. Go back and read the whole thing quickly, skipping equations, most figures and tables.
    6. Go back and read the whole thing carefully, focusing on the sections or areas that seem most important.
  3. Once you’ve grasped the basic argument the author is trying to make, critique it!
    1. Ask if the argument makes sense. Is it internally consistent? Well supported by argument or evidence? (This skill takes some experience to develop!)
    2. Compare the article to others you’ve read on the same or a closely related subject. (If this is the first paper you’ve read in a particular subject area, find some more and skim them. Introductions and conclusions are key.) Compare and contrast. Are the arguments consistent, contradictory, orthogonal?
    3. Use Google Scholar, the Social Sciences Citation Index, publisher web pages, and other resources to find articles that cite the article you’re reading. See what they say about it. See if it’s mentioned on blogs, groups, etc.
    4. Check out a reference work, e.g. a survey article from the Journal of Economic Literature, a Handbook or Encyclopedia article, or a similar source, to see how this article fits in the broader context of its subject area.

31 August 2010 at 10:31 pm 37 comments

Austrian Economics PhD Course

| Peter Klein |

This semester I am teaching a PhD course in the Austrian school of economics. Here’s a preview. Visitors to Columbia, Missouri are welcome to sit in!

Excerpt from the syllabus:

It is difficult to cover an entire school of thought in one semester. Austrian economics, after all, is not an applied field like development economics or international trade policy or biotechnology but an alternative approach to all fields of economics. The course objective is not to provide a comprehensive review and critique of the entire Austrian tradition, but to give students a sampler of high-quality Austrian writings, classic and modern, on a variety of issues and topics. One goal is to show that while Austrian economists share a common conceptual framework, theoretical core, and historical context, the Austrian literature contains tremendous variety, both stylistic and substantive. Like any living, breathing tradition the Austrian literature continues to expand and diversify, often at a dizzying pace.

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23 August 2010 at 1:46 pm 10 comments

Mizzou Seminar on Evolutionary Models in Economics and Organization Theory

| Peter Klein |

Thanks largely to the organizing efforts of my colleague and former O&M guest blogger Randy Westgren, a group here at Missouri is examining evolutionary models in economics and organization theory. The centerpiece is a philosophy of science seminar directed by André Ariew, a leading American scholar in the philosophy of biology, especially Darwin and evolutionary theory.

I’ll let Randy explain:

The course is PHL 9830. Normally it is a traditional philosophy of science seminar aimed at graduate students in the department of philosophy, but we hijacked it to examine a specific theme. The subject focus is evolutionary theory applied to biology, economics, and management. There are three general types of questions we ask, (a) clarification, (b) conceptual, and (c) general philosophy of science. (more…)

13 February 2010 at 11:55 pm 1 comment

Opening Lines I Wish I’d Written

| Peter Klein |

Last week was tough for Shakespeare scholars who wear tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and sip sherry in the faculty lounge. You know, the people otherwise known as Saab drivers.

That’s from a Friday WSJ piece on GM’s attempt to dump its Saab subsidiary. Readers outside the US may not get the joke. Trust me, it’s funny.

The article is actually pretty interesting, an illustration of Williamson’s “impossibility-of-selective-intervention” thesis. “The Saab saga also demonstrates how hard it is for a boutique company to retain its special appeal after being bought by a corporate goliath. GM did make some good Saabs over the years (the midsize 9-5 model of a decade ago was one), but they didn’t seem as special as the pre-GM Saabs, even though the key stayed in the floor.” Maybe, but it isn’t obvious why the mismanagement of the Saab brand (in the US) was GM’s fault, rather than that of Saab’s division heads. Saab may have tanked anyway. Anyway, I did learn a good line from Sir John Egan, the last independent CEO of Jaguar before its acquisition by Ford, that I’ll use the next time I’m teaching about selective intervention: “When an elephant gets in bed with a mouse, the mouse gets killed and the elephant doesn’t have much fun.” Oh, and the article ends well too: “As for those sherry-sipping profs, maybe they should consider buying Chevy Silverado pickups with all the trimmings: Mars lights, gun racks and monster-truck tires. Iconoclasm can take different forms, and the talk in the faculty lounge will never be the same.”

Bonus:  That same issue of the Journal also contained a strange piece by John Cassidy praising Pigou, on the grounds that Pigou’s analysis of externalities gives us unique insight into the financial crisis. “Thus, for example, a blow-up in a relatively obscure part of the credit markets—the subprime mortgage industry—can undermine the entire banking system, which, in turn, can drag the entire economy into a recession, as banks refuse to lend.” Um, duh. “Externalities” are ubiquitous, and the idea of the general interdependence of markets has been discussed since, well, Bastiat, if not the Scholastics. Certainly Pigou didn’t offer any special insight into the interdependencies across financial markets or between financial markets and product markets. Writes Cassidy: “Economics textbooks have long contained sections on how free markets fail to deal with negative spillovers such as pollution, traffic congestion and the like. Since August 2007, however, we have learned that negative spillovers occur in other sectors of the economy, especially banking.” Since August 2007? Gee, before that, we all thought banking was an isolated sector of the economy with no connection to anything.

29 November 2009 at 12:01 am 1 comment

Williamson’s “Economics of Institutions” Syllabus

| Peter Klein |

I was pretty clueless when I started graduate school. I had good undergraduate training in economics, and had the privilege of attending my first Austrian seminar, where I met Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Roger Garrison, and David Gordon, before beginning graduate work. But I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study. Like most economics PhD students, I wasn’t exactly turned on by the core theory and econometrics classes. Then I took Williamson’s course ECON 224, “Economics of Institutions,” and it was a revelation. The syllabus dazzled me, with readings from Coase, Simon, Hayek, North, Arrow, Chandler, Alchian, Demsetz, Ben Klein, and many other brilliant and thoughtful economists, along with sociologists, political scientists, historians, and others. I decided then that institutions and organizations would be my area, and I’ve never looked back.

Since Monday I’ve been digging through my files trying to find a copy of that syllabus. I found my folder for that course, containing notes, readings, and exams (no, you can’t see my test scores), but for some reason the syllabus has disappeared. I must have taken it out to study, perhaps when designing my own course in institutions and organizations, and it didn’t make its way back into the file. But I did find an older copy, the Fall 1988 edition. That was, I believe, Williamson’s first year at Berkeley, after arriving from Yale (where he didn’t teach PhD courses, his main appointment being in the law school). I took the course in 1989, but the syllabi are very similar. So here it is. Note the range of authors, journals, subject areas. Not at all like the typical economics PhD course!

16 October 2009 at 2:33 pm 3 comments

Need Examples of Subversive Behavior in M&A

| Russ Coff |

I just finished teaching a simulation exercise to BBA students on the politics of post-acquisition integration. I was surprised that students had a great deal of trouble believing that managers would be subversive even in that kind of setting. If there are specific examples of such subversive behavior that you know about, I’d appreciate it if you would post here or email them to me.

Here are some details about the exercise (and a Dilbert cartoon) in case anyone is interested. (more…)

8 October 2009 at 4:25 pm 2 comments

Reading List for My Entrepreneurship Course

| Peter Klein |

This semester I’m teaching a new PhD seminar, “Economics of Entrepreneurship: Theory, Applications, Debate.” Here’s an excerpt from the course description. The reading list is below the fold. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest-growing fields within economics, management, organization theory, finance, and even law. Surprisingly, however, while the entrepreneur is fundamentally an economic agent — the “driving force of the market,” in Mises’s (1949, p. 249) phrase — modern theories of economic organization and strategy maintain an ambivalent relationship with entrepreneurship. It is widely recognized that entrepreneurship is somehow important, but there is little consensus about how the entrepreneurial role should be modeled and incorporated into economics and strategy. Indeed, the most important works in the economic literature on entrepreneurship — Schumpeter’s account of innovation, Knight’s theory of profit, and Kirzner’s analysis of entrepreneurial discovery — are viewed as interesting, but idiosyncratic insights that do not easily generalize to other contexts and problems. . . .

This course presents a wide-ranging overview of the place of entrepreneurship in economic theory, with a special focus on applications to institutions, organizations, strategy, economic development, and related fields. It is intended for PhD students trained in economics, sociology, business administration, or a similar field (subject to instructor permission). Students are expected to be in at least their second year of their PhD program and to be working on a dissertation, or looking for a suitable dissertation topic. This is a research-oriented class in which students take an active role identifying suitable articles and topics for analysis, leading course discussions, and evaluating themselves and their peers. (more…)

2 September 2008 at 9:39 pm 6 comments

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Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).