Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Making of Dani Rodrik, political scientist

So within two months of arriving at Harvard, I set my sights on political science, which seemed like a lot more fun. The test was going to be survival in Harvey Mansfield's political philosophy course--required of all concentrators.

At the time, Harvey Mansfield and Michael Walzer alternated as the instructors of this course. Aside from obvious differences in political orientation, these two also differed greatly in their grading policy. One of the first things that Mansfield did on the first day of class was to write down on the board the grade averages in the course over the last few years. The see-saw pattern was obvious: you didn't need to run a regression to know that the Mansfield dummy was negative and statistically significant. Mansfield looked at the class and smiled. We nervously smiled back.

In fact, Mansfield was soon to become (or perhaps was already, I do not remember) the Chair of the department. So he extended his Quixotic fight against grade inflation throughout the Gov department. When graduating students complained that their low grade average--relative to concentrators in other departments--was hurting their graduate school placement, the result was that we all got a letter from Mansfield inserted in our file explaining that the Gov department was different, and that grades really meant something here.

But I persevered as a Gov concentrator. I did take a minor in economics thanks to my father's prodding. (My father still had hopes that I would go to business school and do something useful in life.) I stayed with Gov because the rest of the program was so fantastic and stimulating. The courses I took with Stanley Hoffman, Joel Migdal, Joe Nye, James Q. Wilson, Sidney Verba were mind expanding. I am, I think, a far better economist for having studied political science early on.

Not so related;
Saving Christmas from the economists.

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