Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Makes a Good Economist?

It's an interesting question. But I don't think we could arrive at consensus. Nevertheless, there's a good article in Standpoint magazine (HT to Arts&Letters Daily) that explores the question. (Standpoint is a monthly magazine of culture and politics. It looks interesting.)

One of the things I found most interesting was the importance the author placed on the great economist's range of interest and experience. (Add to that the fact that Alfred Nobel seemingly didn't like economists.) To that, I can only add my own curiosity about what he would say about the ongoing debate in the profession regarding the "failure to predict" the current economic downturn.

I hope you find the article of interest. I think it relates to the post of a couple days ago (and subsequent discussion in 'comments'). Perhaps the use is in making our students a bit broader in outlook, or helping them expand what they bring to the economics table.  Beyond that, I'm not sure the article has many uses in the classroom. Just an interesting comment on the state of the profession.


Greg said...

There's a huge definitional problem here.

Good at what?

Most economists are _horrible_ at casting the core explanatory problem of economics, and they are equally bad a providing non-problematic causal explanation for that problem.

But there are great doing the data mining and the math model building which gets them a degree, generates publications and advances their career.

What make a "good economist" in this sense?

Aping the data mining and formal work of your betters and not thinking to hard about what you are doing ...

Tim Schilling said...

I definitely agree with you about the mathematic aspect. I think much of goes back to the desire of many to make economics out as a science, which the author of the article clearly doesn't believe.

But the question is "what makes a GOOD economist." And I think if you look back on the history of economic thought, those who were the true stars of the profession were the broader thinkers and had a wider perspective - Smith, Ricardo, Marshall, Keynes, Friedman, Schumpeter, Marx, just to name a few.