Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Making of an Economist Redux

The Hammer's (that would be Dan Hamermesh) review of David Colander's new book "The Making of an Economist: Redux" is here (but you will only get the abstract if you are not accessing this from an institution that subscribes to the Journal of Economic Literature). Both this book (which I have yet to read) and its predecessor (which I have read and was also interviewed for) report the findings from a series of semi-structured interviews on (highly) selected samples of graduate students at the top programs. The results of these interviews are interesting in their own right, and Colander then builds on them to comment on the state of the profession and the state of training of its future members. As with many books of this type the most interesting bits, at least in the first book, are the verbatim interview comments. The funny bit about the first book is that the happiest students are at Chicago, which is completely at odds with the prior of Colander (and his co-author on that book Arjo Klamer) . Apparently, though these interviews are not presented in the book, students at George Mason were also very happy.
I think that the sociology of economics, which is one way to code the general subject area of this book, is much understudied. Economics has been remarkably successful in both scholarly terms and in terms of gaining real world power relative to competing social sciences like sociology and political science. Why that is so is an interesting and important question in general, both for those who view the power of economists as a good thing and those (on both the left and right) who view it as a bad thing. How to continue that dominance is a subject of interest, of course, to the economists who enjoy and benefit from it.

Hamermesh is one of the most entertaining writers in economics; the advice pieces, for graduate students, and for junior and senior faculty, are all well worth reading. I don't agree with every word but they at least provide a baseline for a lot of important professional behaviors that we teach, at best, by example.

In looking for an ungated copy of the review I found that Dan also has a sort of economics blog here.