Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Studying Economics

@dgwbirch translates an American question "Does Studying Economics Make You More Republican?" into a British assertion "If you study economics, you'll end up a Tory".

Does Studying Economics Make You More Republican? (New York Times, 7 June 2010). See also Studying Economics In College Can Influence Your Political Affiliation, Fed Study Finds (Huffington Post, 7 June 2010). Original paper is by Sam Allgood, William Bosshardt, Wilbert van der Klaauw, and Michael Watts, "Is Economics Coursework, or Majoring in Economics, Associated with Different Civic Behaviors?" (pdf) Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Reports, no. 450

The study looked at students from four large public US universities. The authors discuss the possibility that the paradigm presented in most economics courses and textbooks might encourage students to see people as self-centred individualists and to behave that way themselves. However, the authors also discuss alternative explanations for a possible association between education and political affiliation, such as prior tendencies. They also mention previous research indicating that relationships between levels of education and voting behavior observed in the United States are not replicated in the United Kingdom, thus providing a caution against generalizing these results to the UK.

The question that intrigued me most, however, was why the Federal Reserve Bank of New York felt this was a suitable topic of research in the first place. Is there a political agenda involved in understanding the likely political affiliation of US economists? Is there an intellectual gap between the large public universities included in the survey and the elite liberal universities where Nobel prizes in economics are more likely to be won? Is there a need to rebalance the US university curriculum, to provide a better coverage of alternative economic paradigms? What is the purpose of studying studying economics?

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