The Making of a European Economist

The Making of a European Economist

David Colander

David Colander’s highly original and thought provoking book considers ongoing changes in graduate European economics education. Following up on his earlier classic studies of US graduate economic education, he studies the ‘economist production function’ in which universities take student ‘raw material’ and transform it into economists, In doing so he provides insight into economists and economics.

Chapter 5: Are Economists Relevant?

David Colander

Subjects: economics and finance, economics of education, history of economic thought, methodology of economics, teaching economics, education, economics of education, teaching and learning


In Chapter 2, I reported the numerical results to the question: do you consider the role that economists currently have in society relevant? Sixty-eight percent said yes, 9 percent said no, and 23 percent said they were uncertain. I then asked them to explain their answers. In this chapter I present their explanations. As you will see, there is a lot of variation in how students interpreted the question and in what they mean by “relevant.” Specifically, relevant does not necessarily mean that the students see the “the economics profession’s influence as positive.” Students observe that economists influence policymaking in government, and are therefore relevant, but, for many of them, whether the policy truly improves people’s lives remains in question. Although the question asked if the role that economists currently have in society is relevant, many students answered by arguing for the relevance of economics as a field—but not for the relevance of current economists. By and large, students believe that economics is an extremely relevant and important social science that concerns all people and helps to elucidate human action. They are also optimistic about the contribution that economics could make to policy-making and to better government policy. However, many students were less sure about the direct contributions of economists to society. Specifically, a number of students voiced concerns about the inability of economists to communicate with a broad sector of the population, complaining that economists were too involved with complex theoretical work. Explain why you think economists are...

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