Reflections of Eminent Economists
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Reflections of Eminent Economists

Edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan

In this collection of autobiographical essays, 26 prominent scholars detail their professional development, while offering insight into their lives and philosophies. With candor and humor they relate how they came to the field of economics, as well as how their views have evolved over the years.
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Chapter 8: The Story of a Reluctant Economist

Richard A. Easterlin

Extract

* Richard A. Easterlin I was not a reluctant economist at the start. In the beginning, economics opened up a new and exciting world. The Keynesian revolution was in full swing, and like other graduate students, I was caught up in it. The message of the revolution was new and straightforward – major depressions and staggering unemployment were not an inevitable evil of industrialization. Societies had the power through public policy to prevent and correct serious depressions. Today disillusionment with this message prevails. But it is not the failures of the Keynesian revolution that have made me into a reluctant economist. As a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, I am still more Keynesian than my younger colleagues. Rather, my reluctance stems from a research philosophy forged at the hands of my mentor, Simon Kuznets, the third Nobel laureate in economics. In a field where theory was and is the be-all and end-all of intellectual accomplishment, Kuznets taught that the touchstone of achievement is insight into empirical reality. Moreover, other social sciences might, along with economic theory, contribute to one’s understanding. It was some years before first-hand experience was to make me a true believer of this philosophy – and that is the story of a reluctant economist. STUMBLING INTO ECONOMICS Most young people today have a good idea of their prospective work – only about 6 percent of high-school seniors respond ‘don’t know’ when asked ‘what kind of work do you think you will be doing when you are 30 years old?’ (Bachman et...

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