Thursday, April 25, 2013

Proud UMie economist

The "heterodox" UMass Economics Dept. has lately been getting more media attention than it usually does, thanks to the Ash, Herndon, and Pollin critique of Reinhart and Rogoff, and to Arindrajit Dube's excellent work on the employment effect of raising the minimum wage (not much effect, as it turns out).

UMass was a great place to study economics as an undergrad. The faculty took ideas, and the clash of ideas, very seriously. The connection between political economy and moral philosophy was a living and breathing thing, not a quaint afterthought relegated to boring history of thought courses taught by old-timers. Many flavors of Marxism and alternative economic theory were represented, and (surprise, surprise) the radicals were just as inclined to disagree with one another as they were with the neoclassical mainstream.

Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis (now emeriti) were undoubtedly the best known in the wider world of economists. Both have continued to do pathbreaking work, in recent years at the intersection of behavioral economics, biology, and cultural anthropology. And Gintis's contrarian book reviews on Amazon are a hoot.

I do worry a little that the careful empiricism of the younger generation of faculty at UMass may dilute that old passion and intellectual ferment, at least for the naive but enthusiastic kids like me. For the sake of the next generation of UMie economists, I hope not!

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