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The Making of an Economist, Redux

The Making of an Economist, Redux

David Colander
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    The Making of an Economist, Redux
    Book Description:

    Economists seem to be everywhere in the media these days. But what exactly do today's economists do? What and how are they taught? Updating David Colander and Arjo Klamer's classicThe Making of an Economist, this book shows what is happening in elite U.S. economics Ph.D. programs. By examining these programs, Colander gives a view of cutting-edge economics--and a glimpse at its likely future. And by comparing economics education today to the findings of the original book, the new book shows how much--and in what ways--the field has changed over the past two decades. The original book led to a reexamination of graduate education by the profession, and has been essential reading for prospective graduate students. Like its predecessor,The Making of an Economist, Redux is likely to provoke discussion within economics and beyond.

    The book includes new interviews with students at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Chicago, and Columbia. In these conversations, the students--the next generation of elite economists--colorfully and frankly describe what they think of their field and what graduate economics education is really like. The book concludes with reflections by Colander, Klamer, and Robert Solow.

    This inside look at the making of economists will interest anyone who wants to better understand the economics profession. An indispensible tool for anyone thinking about graduate education in economics, this edition is complete with colorful interviews and predictions about the future of cutting-edge economics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2864-7
    Subjects: Economics, Business, Law, Environmental Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Understanding Economics and Economists
    (pp. 1-16)

    Economists have become ubiquitous. You turn on the TV news and you hear from them—economists say inflation is slowing; economists question the tax cut proposal; economists predict that a recession is likely. You pick up your newspaper or newsmagazine, and you read about economists.

    As with many things ubiquitous, there is an ambiguity about what precisely an economist is, and what it is that he (most economists are male) is supposed to know. Thus, nowhere will one find a specified body of knowledge that an economist must know to call himself or herself an economist. In fact, unlike in...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 17-18)

      I’ve always followed a relatively simple research strategy: let the question, not the tools or the availability of data, define the research. The advantage of that strategy is that it lets you ask interesting questions; the disadvantage is that it gives you only imprecise answers. That was not the normal economist’s approach back in the 1970s, when I went to graduate school, or when I did the first study in the 1980s.Then, tools or available datasets, tended to define research programs.

      Most of the profession still does not follow the simple research strategy that I follow

      but now, with the...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Making of an Economist, Redux
      (pp. 19-59)

      Individuals are not born as economists; they are molded through formal and informal training. This training shapes the way they approach problems, process information, and carry out research, which in turn influences the policies they favor and the role they play in society. The economics profession changes as cohorts with older-style training are replaced with cohorts with newer-style training. In many ways, the replicator dynamics of graduate school play a larger role in determining economists’ methodology and approach than all the myriad papers written about methodology. Arjo Klamer and I came to that belief in the early 1980s, and it...

    • CHAPTER THREE Further Results from the Survey
      (pp. 60-83)

      Questionnaires and surveys are faulty sources of data: questions inevitably have implicit values within them, the options allowed within the questions are limiting, and there’s no guarantee that people are answering truthfully. Having been trained as an economist to doubt the results of surveys, I approached the survey reported in the last chapter skeptically. I used it nevertheless, because it is a source of quantifiable information, and for any information to get a hearing by the economics profession, it must be quantifiable.

      To help respondents flesh out their numerical choices, and to help me interpret the numerical results, I invited...

    • CHAPTER FOUR How the Views of the Original Survey Respondents Have Changed
      (pp. 84-106)

      To supplement the survey of current students, I also surveyed respondents of the original survey in the early 2000s, when they were in their late 30s and early 40s, and hence in the prime of their careers. Since the earlier surveys were anonymous, but respondents could voluntarily include their names, I did not have a large sample. I gathered the names of those respondents who voluntarily listed their names on the previous survey and who said that they would be open to further contact.¹ The purpose of the study was to capture the respondents’ reflective views of the profession and...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Harvard Interview
      (pp. 109-125)

      Do you consider yourself a representative sample, and if not, how do you deviate from the mean student here at Harvard?

      Gordon I think the location of this interview (at the NBER) gives you the bias.We’re all at the Bureau, so no one here does pure theoretical economics. It is also slanted to those who like labor economics; and there are way too few international students.

      Naomie Today is Easter, so religious Christians are also underrepresented. There is also an overrepresentative number of women. In my class there are about 25 percent women. The overrepresentation of labor and women go...

    • CHAPTER SIX Princeton Interviews
      (pp. 126-147)

      You all filled out the questionnaire. What did you think about it?

      Sylvia I thought it was interesting; some of the questions were dated, but that was interesting in its own right. I think I was the only person who knew what Marxist economics was. I remember struggling with the question “If I had it to do over again, would I?” I answered I wasn’t sure, but I leaned toward no.

      Jeff I answered yes; I would definitely do it over.

      Do you feel most of your fellow students would say, “Yes, they’d do it over again”?

      Jeff My peer...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Stanford Interview
      (pp. 148-164)

      Could each of you tell me how you came to Stanford?

      Adam I was interested in graduate school since my sophomore year in college. I considered doing graduate work in political science or economics, but decided on economics. I applied to all the best schools; among these, Stanford was one of my first choices because of its strength in Industrialization Organization.

      Greg I followed a rather different route. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school for a long time; the only problem was I did physics and math as an undergraduate. Somewhere about my junior year I decided...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT MIT Interviews
      (pp. 165-187)

      At MIT what do most students study?

      Ken Most do applied micro, but there is a second peak in macro theory. The students who take macro tend to be international students.

      Would you consider yourself a representative sample on various dimensions?

      Ken We are probably representative in terms of fields. Politics doesn’t really enter into many discussions. While people have views, it’s not clear that their political views affect their views in economics.

      Bryce There doesn’t seem to be much political sorting here.

      Is there sorting on other grounds?

      Ken There is probably sorting of international vs. U.S. students. The...

    • CHAPTER NINE Chicago Interviews
      (pp. 188-214)

      Emma We’re a pretty diverse crowd. I’m probably representative of the American students.

      Pria In terms of qualification, I’m not representative. I have far less preparation, but I’m also different in the way I think about economics and what I’d like to do with it. But these things have a way of changing and evolving, and so at the end I might think that I am more representative.

      Pria I went to a liberal arts college where they focus a lot broader issues, and not as much on the technical skills required to do well in economics. I've had math,...

    • CHAPTER TEN Columbia Interview
      (pp. 215-224)

      Ichiro I am perhaps representative of the later students—in the final stage, but definitely not of younger students.

      Fidi I am older than most students, and am much more critical than most students.

      Wolf I don’t see myself as representative, but I can’t capture why.

      Joan As a U.S. student, I also probably am not representative.

      How did you decide to come to Columbia?

      Ichiro This was where I was admitted.

      Fidi That’s also the same for me; it was the highest-ranked school that I got into at a location that I found acceptable. There is so little information...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 225-226)

      I believe that the results of this survey presented in Part I, and the conversations presented in Part II, give the reader a good picture of graduate economic education at elite schools in the early 2000s. But I also believe that research is never nzeutral, and cannot be. The questions one asks, the way one interprets results, and the way in which one organizes the material reflects the researcher’s interests and biases. You are seeing graduate economics through my eyes.

      As a partial counterbalance to that author bias, I have asked two top economists whose views on graduate economics education...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Does This Have to Be Our Future?
      (pp. 227-233)
      Arjo Klamer

      In hindsight, the paper that Dave Colander and I wrote on graduate students back in the 1980s was polemical. We were looking for confirmation of our dissatisfaction with the state of economics. Could we be right in fearing that the practice of economics was becoming more and more abstract, and less empirical? Might the elite schools indeed be training idiots savants, knowing a great deal of technique but little about the actual economy or, for that matter, the history of their own discipline? And was the training of economics making Ph.D. students more conservative? We had spent many hours speculating...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Reflections on the Survey
      (pp. 234-238)
      Robert M. Solow

      The survey and interview responses have to be full of interest for anyone who cares about the teaching of economics or, for that matter, anyone who cares about economics. It is nevertheless hard to know how to treat the detailed survey results and the interviews. The samples are small and haphazard. Over and above the biases that David Colander mentions—underrepresentation of foreigners, for instance—I suspect there may be a tendency for happy campers not to fill out survey questionnaires or volunteer for interviews. The meaning of a question and the answer may be understood slightly differently by respondents...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Academic Research Game and Graduate Economics Education
      (pp. 239-250)

      Economics has changed over the past twenty years, in my view, for the better. It is more empirical and more concerned with applied problems than it was, and it focuses more on applied mathematics and less on pure mathematics than it did. All of these changes have made economics more relevant. The changes are evidenced in the survey by a decrease in student’s perceptions of the importance of mathematical skills, and an increase in student’s perceptions of the importance of empirical skills as determinants of success. It is these changes that, in my view, have led to the better feeling...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 251-258)
    (pp. 259-260)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 261-268)