Friday, March 28, 2008

GMU and Chicago- the believers, the rest atheists

David Friedman has an interesting comment about the role and belief of economists;

I think it's still an important difference among economists and economics departments, and one that young academics ought to care about. I remember a long time ago commenting to a graduate student at Chicago that it seemed to me that there were a lot of economists who didn't really believe in economics. It was what they did in working hours, not how they thought about the world. His response was that some of his fellow graduate students had noticed that–when visiting other schools.

I was reminded of that incident when visiting one of the colleges my daughter is considering for next year. Wandering around the economics department to get a feel for the place, I spoke with three faculty members–none of whom struck me as an economist in my sense of the term. My daughter, having audited an econ class, commented to me on the fact that a student had made a comment which any economist should have responded to with some version of "that sounds plausible but is wrong because"–a point that would seem obviously right to a non-economist, obviously wrong to an economist. The professor simply let the comment go.

I don't know enough about economics department to say which ones currently are in what category, with two exceptions. Chicago, so far as I can tell, is still a place where economists believe in economics. So, less obviously, is George Mason. One simple test, I suspect, would be to have lunch with members of the department, perhaps also with graduate students, and see what they talk about.

I should add that my point is not that economics is true, although I think it largely is. I am not inclined to take theology very seriously. But if I did take a course in it, I would expect to learn more, and have a more interesting time, if the professor was a believer than if he were an atheist.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

Chicago may still pretend they are True, but the world knows otherwise.

Then again, when everyone else is talking about Lavoisier, teaching the phlogiston theory probably would get the same reaction.