Saturday, April 04, 2009

Economics: The "Goldilocks" College Major

Like many liberal-arts institutions, Middlebury College, where I teach, has a problem: Too many students want to be economics majors. Economics enrollments keep growing, and adding more faculty members to the department seems to only increase the demand. The rumor on the campus is that if the college actually provided enough professors to meet the demand for economics courses, it would have to change its name to the Middlebury School of Economics.

Professors at other liberal-arts colleges confirm that the phenomenon is widespread and has been for some time. But what makes the economics major so appealing? As an economist I like to think that economics has become so popular because of its intellectual rigor, broad appeal, and importance to understanding the world. And those are clearly part of the answer, especially given the recent financial crisis. Modern economics is an exciting and dynamic field of study that has changed considerably in recent years; specifically, it has become more quantitative and scientific. Today’s economists bring technical expertise to interesting and novel questions. They have also expanded their previous narrow vision of human behavior. Homo economus is now considered purposeful, not ultrarational, and pursues enlightened self-interest, not greed.

Psychological insights and traditional economics are blended together in today’s behavioral economics; because modern economists do not see the market as the answer to everything, they are able to be involved in all types of real-world policies, from changing default options for people’s savings decisions to helping design search algorithms for Google. But as much as I’d like to think so, I suspect that those strengths and improvements are not the main reasons for the economics major’s appeal.

If the economics major’s popularity is not due to its intellectual dynamism or connection to business, to what is it due? I suspect a mundane explanation: It is the “just right” major. By “just right” I mean that the economics major provides the appropriate middle ground of skill preparation, analytic rigor, and intellectual excitement that students look for in a major, and that employers look for when hiring students.

~“Economics: The 'Just Right' Liberal-Arts Major?” by David Colander, Economics Department Chair at Middlebury College

HT: Captain Capitalism

7 Comments:

At 4/04/2009 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This little piece of damning praise reveals why most liberal arts degrees are worthless and why economics degrees may not be far behind:

They have also expanded their previous narrow vision of human behavior. Homo economus is now considered purposeful, not ultrarational, and pursues enlightened self-interest, not greed.

Psychological insights and traditional economics are blended together in today’s behavioral economics; because modern economists do not see the market as the answer to everything ...

The marxists, who through a process of ideological testing and blacklisting, now control most of the liberal arts colleges in the country have turned the university mission from education to indoctrination. Think I exaggerate? Watch these two short videos on a program instituted at Delaware University:

Part 1

Part 2

That program wasn’t some bizarre anomaly, it was hailed as an award-winning exemplar of “social justice education". What is truly pathetic, is that the middle class kids who sign up for these courses do not recognize, for the most part, that they are the targets in this Gramscian quest and that they are sacrificing and paying for their own indoctrination.

Why would anyone involved in private enterprise want to hire, let alone pay a premium for, anyone steeped in marxist dogma for 4 years?

 
At 4/04/2009 3:54 PM, Blogger QT said...

Anon.,

Don't get your knickers in a twist.

Agree that faculty tends to tilt left however this is predominantly in the "arts" side of the spectrum. Econ, business, engineering, science, etc. tend to encourage independent thought and lateral thinking. A parrot doesn't make a very good engineer, diagnostician or medical researcher.

You do have to watch poli sci, psch, his, soc, etc. Unfortunately, programming doesn't always take as most parents can attest...people tend to read things, ask questions and make comparisons. When what you experience is not consistent with what you have been told, it is logical to conclude that it is incomplete, or just wrong.

Perhaps, students read the Washington Post?

 
At 4/04/2009 4:45 PM, Blogger QT said...

Anon,

I watched the clips you posted after I commented. My internet explorer has been acting up for the last 2 days and closing down on me. Excuse me for this oversight.

Thank you for posting this very thought provoking piece. It is very important that students and parents are aware of this type of activity and that any such experience is immediately reported. In this case, students recognized that their rights were being violated and faculty and student organizations took appropriate action to address student concerns and investigate the program.

 
At 4/04/2009 6:59 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

Economics is easier than the physical sciences, engineering, and computer technology. It's more demanding and rigorous than psychology, sociology, criminology, philosophy, etc.

Looking at percentages of entering freshmen, enrollment in the latter subjects greatly increased. Enrollment in economics moderately increased. Enrollment in physical sciences and engineering decreased. Companies are hiring foreign scientists and engineers, because we aren't graduating enough ourselves. That isn't happening with economics.

Bottom line: Some students with good math and/or science aptitudes are choosing economics because it's interesting and not as hard* as physical science or engineering.

*At my school in the 1970s, only one-third of the chemistry majors and engineering majors got BS degrees in their field. The other two-thirds flunked-out, dropped-out, or switched majors. No other undergrad programs are that tough.

 
At 4/04/2009 7:13 PM, Blogger 1 said...

Hey anon thanks for posting those two YouTube links...

It made me want to re-watch Indoctrinate U...

Sadly this sort of leftist nonsense isn't new on campus...

I graduated from a Catholic college back in the early seventies and at the state run university down the road the campus was rife with leftist, seditious swine in teaching positions and their Vietnam war protests that took up the better part of class time...

These supposed learned professors instigated sit ins, occupation of various deans' offices, and the defacing of state property...

These parasites kept their jobs after it was all said and done...

I'm also still shocked about those professors who aided and abetted criminal outfits like the Students for a Democratic Society...

 
At 4/05/2009 12:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to think that economics has become so popular because of its intellectual rigor,

Ha. You're 3 days too late for April Fools!

broad appeal

I suppose I'll buy this one.

, and importance to understanding the world.

I'll have to correct the spelling here a bit - "and importance to misunderstanding the world."

That's all.

Mark

 
At 4/05/2009 7:18 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"I'll have to correct the spelling here a bit - "and importance to misunderstanding the world"...

Gee Mark, I'm guessing that unless its Keynesian economics, you then might believe that there is some understanding?

 

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