Do Econ Majors Graduate With a Huge Knowledge Gap?

The knowledge hole in Econ departments is gaping. Given the money students pay for an Econ degree, they should be filing a class action lawsuit for arguably a fraudulent product that was sold to them.

The article I am quoting from below merely scratches the surface when it comes to what is missing in the classroom (and doesn’t get it exactly right by saying that students “learn plenty of models”; actually they learn plenty of neoclassical models only). As the article correctly points out, though, students mostly don’t go on to become economists. In fact, most don’t even major in economics.  Millions of unsuspecting undergrads everywhere, therefore, are stuck with the residue of principles courses taught like boilerplate. This leaves a strictly neoclassical imprint on their brains (and the article thinks that ethics training might help).

Back to my point about “plenty of models,” that is, the lack of non-neoclassical models. Students typically don’t get exposed to plenty (or any) models of ecological economics, Marxian economics, post-Keynesian, etc. and the important political perspectives (and ethics, philospohy) that go with these alt-paradigms of Econ thought. I find it interesting that a financial news publisher (Bloomberg) is writing about this, though. Something must be seriously wrong when business press is saying economics education is deficient.

UVM’s economics department, meanwhile, does not teach history of economic thought anymore (that was my most popular course), and no history of capitalism courses  (actually taught in most history departments, but not Econ departments). For the record, I taught a history of financial capitalism as an Honors College course at UVM, but no longer (I am kicked out). As an aside, when the brilliant Marxian economic historian and loved UVM full professor, Ross Thomson, died in 2015, they did not replace him with an economic historian.  They replaced him with a bright, young neoclassical economist with no training in economics history or alternative economics. That aside, this article is right on the money when it comes to the nature of  most Econ departments, including increasingly UVM’s Econ department, with statements like “At best, they [students] absorb a few ideas from offhand comments by their professors [some liberals and some conservatives]”.

But structuring curriculum to include serious training in the many other competing schools of thought (Marxian, Post-Keynesian, Austrian, etc.), simply is not done at UVM, unlike places such as John Jay College (“comprehensive and rigorous education in applied, pluralist economics… Students at John Jay will study the history of economics and economic thought…”) or New School University. And at a few other centers of higher learning not beholden to pro-business, standard (neoclassical) principles courses. Here is the link to the full story: Econ Majors Graduate with Huge Knowledge Gap, which is excerpted below:

Economics remains one of the most popular majors for college students. Most econ students, of course, don’t go on to become professional economists; instead, they fill the ranks of the U.S.’s vast upper-middle-class of business managers and professionals. The models they learn in their college classes inform the way they think about the world, even if they don’t end up using them for quantitative purposes after final exams are over.

But there’s at least one gaping hole in the education most econ majors receive. They learn plenty of models, but they aren’t often taught to think critically about what they learn. At best, they absorb a few ideas from offhand comments by their professors, or from the tone of their textbooks. As a result, many of them leave class with deep reservations over whether economics theories represent real science, or whether economists approach the world in a moral, socially responsible manner.

This problem can be addressed by making all U.S. econ majors take a philosophy-of-economics course, like the one offered at the London School of Economics. There would be two main parts of the course — epistemology and ethics.