“Economics graduate programs may be turning out a generation with too many idiot savants skilled in technique but innocent of real economic issues.”

A sentence adorning the title of this post was one of the conclusions of the American Economic Association’s Commission on Graduate Education in Economics, formed in 1991, chaired by Anne Krueger and included Kenneth Arrow, Robert Lucas, Joseph Stiglitz, Lawrence Summers and Edward Leamer.
The members of commission affirmed it their report (open access)that it is an underemphasis on the ‘linkages’ between tools, both theory and econometrics, and ‘real world problems’ that is the weakness of graduate education in economics,” and that both students and faculty sensed “the absence of facts, institutional information, data, real-world issues, applications, and policy problems.” “A core curriculum that lacks breadth or balance”, as the commission observed and warned, “will create an excessively narrow image of what it means to be an economist”.
These resonant findings about economics studies and economics’ professional portrait were presented back in 1991, in the dawn of the era of Neoliberal Globalism, when the “neo-classical” hegemony was already absolutely institutionalized, especially in the US. Well, now in 2014 (as much as 1994 and 2004, by the way) we all have seen and experienced the practical implications of economists’ “empty formalism”, as the commission put it.
I don’t find it consoling that the commission’s general conclusions were so accurate. But I do believe that if something hard to be changed from the inside, it can be tackled from the outside. Determined outsiders can be of great assistance to brave insiders calling for change. Economics will not change without substantive challenges, constant prods and nudges, from social scholars studying the economy, such as economic sociologist, political economists and economic historians.

Krueger, Anne O. 1991. “Report of the Commission on Graduate Education in Economics.” Journal of Economic Literature 29 (3) :  1035-1053.



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