Chapter 3: What Makes a Successful Economist?
3. What makes a successful economist? Having an idea of what students are aiming for provides insight into the way they approach the world. Thus, in my survey I asked three questions relating to student aims. The first was a simple question—which economist, living or dead, do you admire most? The answers to this question were varied, but tended to emphasize living economists over dead ones. The most admired economist was Paul Krugman, followed by J.M. Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Adam Smith. All these were economists who have combined contributions in theory with contributions in public policy, so it seems that it is that combination that students find most attractive. The second and third questions were more open-ended questions. They were: what is your idea of a successful economist and what puts an economist on the fast track?1 I recognize that these questions can be interpreted in many ways. I specifically left the questions ambiguous because I was interested in how students would interpret them. Would they recognize the ambiguity, or would they interpret the questions in a certain way, as if that were the natural way to interpret them? The way a question is interpreted is often as telling as the actual answer. For example, if students interpret “successful” as involving journal publication, they were more integrated into the current system than if they questioned the relevance of much of the economic literature as being of interest to policy and society. Similarly with the question...
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