20 September 2009

Shake up at Notre Dame Econ

The Chronicle of Higher Education | Notre Dame to Dissolve 'Heterodox' Side of Its Split Economics Dept.

Early in this decade, the University of Notre Dame's economics department was bruised by a long series of quarrels over methods and ideology. So in 2003 the university's leaders came up with a Solomonic solution: They split the department in two.

Some of the faculty members stayed in what became known as economics and policy studies, a heterodox department that made room for post-Keynesians, Marxians, and historians of economic thought. (Broadly speaking, that had been the character of Notre Dame's economics program since the 1970s.) Others moved into economics and econometrics, a more-mainstream department with an emphasis on quantitative tools.
That's fine with with this ND alumnus.

I wish Economics as a discipline was more heterogeneous. I love the application of computing and math to all sorts of problems, but I think the practitioners of econometrics have gone a bit off the rails. They forget that numerical analysis must serve domain knowledge, not dictate it.

I'd love to see more of certain aspects of Heterodox Economics taught at Notre Dame, but my wish list is for some neuroeconomics, evolutionary economics, and Austrian economics. The heterodoxy you actually got at ND amounts mostly to various flavors of Marxism (or Marxianism, or what have you).

I'm a little intrigued that this Higher Ed article describes the split as heterodoxy vs orthodoxy. It was always described to me as being more about economics & public policy vs econometrics and quantitative analysis.
Above all, [critics] say that the dissolution would represent an intellectual loss for the university. While Notre Dame once had an economics program that was distinctively shaped by currents in Roman Catholic social thought, they say, it will now be left with a neoclassical department much like the ones at almost every other major university.
Let me read between the lines for non-Notre Dame people. In this case "distinctively shaped by currents in Roman Catholic social thought" means "heavily influenced by Liberation Theology." Which in turn means socialism.

And I don't mean "socialism" in the "Obama == The Joker == Socialism! ZOMG Death Panels!!" way. I mean that Liberation Theology is the dominant Catholic current in contemporary Christian Socialism, which, like all socialism, I view as being fundamentally incorrect. A lot of my friends at ND were enamored to one degree or another of Liberation Theology/Christian Socialism, and I believe most of them have just never been exposed to the arguments that I think rather conclusively prove the untenability of their positions. I don't really blame them, I just don't think they've ever thought about Hayek or Bastiat or Ricardo. (They probably look at me and think I'm hopelessly uninformed about all the arguments proving I'm wrong though. Such is life.) I respect all my Liberation Theology friends, I think their hearts are in the right place and they want to help people, I just happen to think they're wrong about how to go about it.*

A few friends of mine would argue — or rather, already have argued — with me that Liberation Theology has nothing to do with Christian Socialism, but I'm sticking to my guns and saying they're inseparable. Some of them argued that it's really closer to corporatism than socialism, but that's not any sort of improvement in my eyes.

Anyway, back to econ at ND. I never took an econ class there for a few interlocking reasons:
  1. Before getting to any of the interesting classes you had to take one semester of intro micro, one semester of intro macro, and one semester of intermediate micro or macro. I didn't want to wade through three semesters of massive lectures to get to one semester of game theory or other goodness.
  2. The department was being sundered while I was there, so all the course requirements and offerings and such were a mess that I didn't want to deal with.
  3. The department(s) just didn't have a great reputation.
  4. Engineering students like me had a very limited number of free electives to fill up.
  5. There were lots of other interesting classes for me to take in art and film and history and philosophy and so on.
I never bothered with formal econ classes, and I think it's worked out for the better. I've gotten what I feel to be a pretty fine education from reading blogs and listening to podcasts and checking out library books. Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts and some of the other GMU faculty (and others, of course) think this is a legitimate way to do it, so I'm sticking with them. It doesn't rival a full major in econ, but I've found it more fulfilling and worthwhile than the handful of electives I would have taken as an undergrad.

(Via Tyler Cowen)

* So Skip & Stretch and all the other guys I've had this conversation with before: no offense. We've already agreed to disagree on this one. No hard feelings?

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