Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wolfers on Hayek

My friend Justin Wolfers makes what seems to me the odd claim that Friedrich Hayek is a less influential economist than Larry Summers. Jacob Levy challenges Wolfers' quantitative methodology. I am inclined to agree with Levy but also surprised at the small counts overall on JStor relative to the ISI Web of Science, which is the source we use for our citation counts at the economics department at Michigan.

I would argue, though, that the citation count is a bit beside the point, at least if the question is what should be covered in a high school economics course as opposed to, say, an undergraduate history of thought course or in a first year graduate course in macro. Another way to see this is to look at the REPEC author ratings, which are (heavily) weighted toward recent work. There is theoretical econometrician Peter Phillips right near the top. How much of his work should go into a high school economics course? How about Robert Lucas? Should the Lucas critique loom large in high school economics? In short, I think citation counts and related measures answer a different question than the Texas folks were trying to answer.

Two other quick bits:

First, I would also disagree in part with Justin's comparison of Hayek and Friedman. Friedman is certainly more influential in academic economics. In society and politics more broadly, I think the question is far less clear, as Hayek matters a lot more in Europe than Friedman does.

Second, I would note that this whole discussion highlights one of the downsides to government run primary and secondary schools, which is their tendency to impose a stringent curricular uniformity in the service of ideas that happen to be popular in a given time and place. Wouldn't it be better to let educational diversity flower?

Hat tip: Scott Wood

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