Arnold Kling  

My Responses to Readers Questions

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In response to Bryan's post, readers posed some interesting questions to ask in a survey of members of the American Economic Association.

Is there any reason besides a desire to learn, or to make entry into a Ph.D. programme easier to do a Masters in economics that would not be better served by an alternative option?

I think that the typical AEA member would not endorse going for a Masters if it were his own son or daughter asking about it. My own view is that if you want to pursue something at a Masters level, then I would recommend statistics over economics. I would add that I doubt very much that getting a Masters helps you get into a PhD program (foreign students might be an exception to that).

I'd be interested to learn the average economist's opinion of net neutrality.

I think that the typical AEA member would have no opinion. Those of us with a public choice bent see "net neutrality" as cover for rent-seeking on the part of those seeking a particular form of regulation of telecommunications companies.

If any, what are your top 3 favorite economics blogs.

I think that the typical AEA member does not read blogs. My favorites are Marginal Revolution, Economist's View, and then a whole bunch that are tied for third: Econbrowser, Aidwatch, Baseline Scenario, Keith Hennessey, and The Money Illusion.

What is the one finding or principle in economics that you believe is so strongly supported by evidence and logic that you're shocked that so many other economists disagree with it?

Fascinating question. My guess is that the typical AEA member would say something like "people are irrational" or "markets fail." I would say something like "public choice" or "governments fail."

To me, the problem is that economists want to describe markets that only work imperfectly in some easily-modeled way, which can be corrected by the assumed-to-be disinterested omniscient technocrat. My own view is represented by the epigram, "Markets fail. Use markets."

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CATEGORIES: Economic Education

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

RE: "I would say something like "public choice" or "governments fail.""

You think the typical economist disagrees with this?!?!??!?!? Public choice perhaps has been explored more recently, but the discipline was essentially founded on the knowledge that "governments fail". I think too often you and others on this blog take market failure less seriously than most other economists, so that when other economists say "markets fail and governments fail" you think they're being uniquely down on or pessimistic about markets. It's just not the case. I'd argue that AEA members would almost universally agree that "government's fail".

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to initially ask about! I was curious about your view that a master's degree doesn't help American students get into a PhD program. Could you say just a little more about that. Does it hurt at all? And what if it's in a different discipline? For example, I have a master's degree in public policy as of this last Spring - an econ BA and I'm taking a series of math classes as well to refresh from undergrad (through a second semester of Real Analysis). Does the extra time in school and the master's degree really hurt or make it look unfocused? Or does it just not especially boost one's chances?

Arnold Kling writes:

See my post on Akerlof and Shiller.

Most economics textbooks say that when there is a market failure, the appropriate policy response is X, where X is implicitly assumed to be implemented by omniscient, disinterested technocrats.

ajb writes:

Most US Master's programs are terminal master's degrees, with insufficiently rigorous micro and math courses to serve as good signals for PhD work. The best master's programs for going on to a PhD in the US are in Europe. LSE, Pompeu Fabra, and Toulouse are frequently mentioned. Whenever possible, an American educated student should go straight for the PhD and bypass an MA. If his background is too weak to do this, he needs to head to an intense MA abroad or perhaps do a Math or Stats MA here to signal his credentials for PhD work.

It is not well known that the typical undergrad who merely completes the standard requirements for an Econ BA even at the top 10 schools will not be qualified to apply to grad school at those same unis unless he has taken real analysis and other technically advanced classes not listed as requirements in their BA program. The exceptions are special programs designed to be grad tracks (e.g. MMSS at Northwestern) or highly technical schools where the standard training is sufficiently math intensive that even doing the minimum qualifies you for grad work (e.g. Caltech and MIT).

Bill writes:

AK: "My guess is that the typical AEA member would say something like 'people are irrational' or 'markets fail.'"

Really? The typical AEA member would claim that economics has anything to say about whether people are rational?

If so that seems misguided. The rationality of human beings is the concern of psychologists, not economists. Effective economists model systems and groups, not individuals. This is broadly misunderstood among the public and journalists. Perhaps many economists misunderstand it as well (and explains why behavioral economics has never moved beyond the anecdotal to offer any tenable systematic models.)

"Rationality" in the context of economics means, as I believe the late Merton Miller noted, that people in aggregate prefer more wealth (pecuniary or otherwise) to less. It means nothing beyond that. "Aggregate" seems the operative term.

Am I off base here?


Bill Drissel writes:

I'm not well read in Econ but where textbooks want to be clear, they define "rational" to mean something like:

When people act, they prefer actions that they think at the moment will increase their satisfaction.

Even if one thinks some acts are irrational in that sense, how would we understand such acts? What kind of a theory would comprehend such acts?


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