Tag Archives: economics education

Reflections on Economics at Michigan

For my 40th blog post (about an hour before the last post is due) I wanted to reflect on a few details of my economics major at Michigan. I hope that some of the other seniors in the class will agree with some of the points that I make here.

First off, I would like to echo professor Kimball’s words. To paraphrase; while we obviously learn a lot in each class, that dwarfs what we can learn from a lifetime of following the news and reading articles related to Economics. This is true not just of this course, but the economics program as a whole. I am sure that maybe someone going on to a PHD or Masters in Economics may disagree, but since I am stopping my formal studies of economics at the undergraduate level, I am hoping that I can continue learning a substantial amount using my economics studies at Michigan as a lens with which I can view the rest of the information that I consume throughout my career.

I would also like to mention one of the courses that I took at Michigan that has had a substantial impact on me. The first elective that I took in the economics department was Econ 395, the Economics of Education with Adam Stevenson. The course looked at economics models of why people choose a given amount of education and examined different ways to improve education in the United States, among other things. Not only did this class do an excellent job of preparing me for Econ 401 and other upper level courses, it gave me an interest in education policy in the United States that has stuck with me for the past three years. With the amount of resources spent per pupil, it is amazing that our elementary and high school students are not performing better on international comparisons. While this is all unrelated to the job I will be starting in a few months, education policy is something that I follow on news sites such as politico (not to mention, it gave me a better understanding of the education reform bill that was discussed throughout the first several episodes of House of Cards).

I could write a similar paragraph about most of the economics courses that I took here. My point is that as many of us get ready to move on to the next chapter of our lives, we shouldn’t forget the impact that each class has had on us and how truly valuable our economics degrees will be to us.

On The Trials of Being an Economics Student

Sigh. Being an economics major really isn’t an easy thing, and not just because the material is conceptually difficult.

If you feel that economics is so divided along party lines that it is difficult for you to know what to believe, you are not alone. If the fact that economists are divided on the nature of issues as fundamental as inflation, I feel your pain.

This semester, one of the economics classes I took was Econ 437, Energy Economics and Policy. I rather enjoyed the class and learned quite a bit, though it was obvious that my professor had a conservative slant. Nearly every problem set he assigned us came with a moral: government intervention in the energy market is no good. Solar panel subsidies in developing countries? Bad. Emissions standards for new cars? Bad. The University of Michigan building stations for drivers of electric cars to juice up? A ploy to make the ‘U’ look good.

In spite of the conservative slant, I did my best to learn what this professor had to teach me. I looked at the numbers he provided and took what I could from them. Today was the last day of the class, and in a way he had gotten through to me: renewable energy is not always the best way to address climate change. The stories of the developing nations that attempted to implement such technology seemed testament to this, and the data on the sub-par electricity production of wind farms and solar panels seemed compelling.

And then I read this from Paul Krugman:

Like just about everyone who has looked at the numbers on renewable energy, solar power in particular, I was wowed by the progress. Something really good is in reach.

And so, inevitably, the usual suspects are trying to kill it.

For the Kochs, it’s partly a matter of financial interest. But for the conservative movement in general, Kevin Drum has it right: it’s all about tribalism. Liberals like solar power, so we’re against it.

Look, it’s not that I can’t make up my own mind about these things. But the frustration that comes with taking a class entirely dedicated to energy economics, and then having one of the most famous economic commentators of the day shoot down much of what my professor had to teach me in a few short sentences, is nothing short of discouraging. Through my time in the energy economics class I have formed my own views, and I certainly know better than to base my opinions off the words of one economist. But the frustration is immense. The physicists don’t have to deal with this.

And now that I’ve bickered, let me offer a ray of hope: our generation has a choice. We can continue down the road of partisan pettiness that has dominated economics since its inception. Or we can choose to work together in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect. It would be naive to think that politics will cease to play a role in economics. The field is political by nature.

But we can do much better.