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Educating Economists

The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major

Edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick

The economics major is a central part of a college education. But is that economics major doing what it is meant to do? And if not, how should it be changed? This book raises a set of provocative questions that encourage readers to look at the economics major in a different light than it is typically considered and provides a series of recommendations for change.
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Chapter 18: Good Researchers Make Good Teachers

Catharine Hill


Catharine Hill The authors of “The economics major as part of a liberal education” (Chapter 1, this volume) discuss the goals of a liberal arts education and the role of the major in meeting these goals. They then go on to talk specifically about the economics major, arguing that both the major generally and the economics major specifically do not serve well the goals of a liberal education. They propose a variety of both radical and more incremental changes to address their concerns. My concerns with much of the paper have to do with whether one sees the glass as half full or half empty, and more importantly, whether the glass is being filled up or slowly emptied. The authors assume the glass is definitely being emptied, and this informs many of their arguments and proposals. Economists know all about the importance of assumptions. They make it possible to devise elegant models to address particular issues. In some cases, it does not matter whether the assumptions are “true” – they may still be useful. But, in other cases, some assumptions will make it impossible for the model to address particular issues. For example, a model that assumes full employment won’t be particularly useful during economic downturns. Too many assumptions are made in this paper that then drive the conclusions. THE MAJOR GENERALLY The authors assume that there is too much emphasis on the major, with too much “narrow preparation in a single area” (p. 3). It is not at all clear...

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