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