Living vicariously

My eldest son spent his teenage years saying he was never going to end up as an economist (not that I ever put any pressure on him to choose economics). Then he read 

by Tim Harford, and became an economist. Next week he starts an MSc course in Economics. Living vicariously, I was looking at the course outline.

It’s 32 years since I was at the same stage in my education, and it is really startling to see how little the curriculum has changed. This is why I organised a conference in 2012 on the economics curriculum (the pre- and post-conference papers are in

); and why Wendy Carlin of UCL is launching an initiative to develop a new, open-access undergraduate core curriculum.

Of course, until there is an alternative, most lecturers will carry on doing the same thing as before. Developing a new course by oneself is time-consuming and unrewarded, and the incentives to stick with existing textbooks and problem sets are overwhelming. I was pondering how I might home-school my son for a master’s level course, should he be in the unfortunate position of relying on mum.

For macro, I might be tempted just to give him Tim Harford’s new book,

, and the Bank of England’s suite of publications on its model and the Inflation Reports. I don’t see the point of continuing to teach the mathematical general equilibrium and DSGE models, as they are neither true nor useful. I would add, though, endogenous growth theory, via the Aghion and Howitt textbook,
. For micro, Sam Bowles’
, Paul Klemper’s 
and one of the game theory texts – Martin Osborne and Ariel Rubinstein’s
? – supplemented by some business economics texts such as Paul Geroski’s
. For econometrics, Angrist and Pischke’s
, maybe Clements and Hendry on
, and an actual software package.

Needless to say, this train of thought is just me living vicariously. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to be a student again? Meanwhile, my son is forewarned that I’ll be eager to look at his reading lists when he starts his actual course.

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10 thoughts on “Living vicariously

  1. Some behavioural economics is essential. Ariely’s Predictably Irrational is a good start. Or just read Kahneman.

  2. Thanks so much for these suggestions.. I added all these books on my next purchases. Since I’ve discovered your blog, I’ve learned a lot and keep learning everyday.
    I think The Company of Strangers and your book the Economics of Enough might give another view on the economy : the importance of trust and the importance of thinking about the future. Maybe something at the end of the Msc 🙂

    • You’re very kind to say so.

      I should warn you that some of these books, eg the Bowles, Klemperer, Aghion & Howitt, are definitely textbooks rather than general reads.

  3. Diane, thanks for the list. Perhaps your son can read Yoram Bauman’s The Cartoon Guide to Macroeconomics to pass time usefully on a journey! Bauman has been faulted for presenting the case against free trade as persuasively as the case for it. In other words, a balanced work.
    I hope your son also read the pioneering pop economics book: your own Sex, Drugs and Economics!
    What about the textbooks by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarok? I read the chapters made available online and they are lucidly written, especially the chapter on the neoclassical growth model.

    • I enjoyed the Cartoon guides because of their humour, but I myself find graphic works hard to read, and much slower-going than just reading words. I’ve never used the Cowen & Tabarrok textbooks – the reviews indicate that they are very good and readable, but I’m not clear that they would be appropriate for a graduate student.

  4. Dont they use DSGE models at the Bank of England ? New Keynesian models with Taylor rules are at the heart of monetary policymaking so it seems a bit drastic to not teach them.

    • You make a fair point; I’m prone to exaggerating about macro as it is practiced for dramatic emphasis. But how else to break the vicious circle of macroeconomists sticking with DSGE models because that’s what they’ve been taught?

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