Posted by: TomA | 15 October 2007

The state of economics teaching

So I’m now several weeks into my Applied Economics MSc course at the University of Nottingham; about time for a quick look back so far…

The first two weeks were fairly tortuous, slightly intensive mathematical and econometric courses. In all fairness, a week of maths was probably required – if not for the content itself (mostly familiar from Further Maths A-level, barely used in the 4 years since) for getting back into the swing of academic studies after a year gallivanting around N. America. Putting some of the maths into an economic context irked me occasionally. Nice idea to try and make it relevant but even with a lazy mind in the first week of term, it was clear such examples were utterly ridiculous.

The second week brought econometrics. Econometrics and I don’t really get on, for the following reasons:

1) I can’t do it. Proving, algebraically, some statistical concept doesn’t turn me on.

2) I don’t agree with it. Very quickly, I feel econometrics can be used to “explain” things without actually “explaining” anything. Statistics don’t necessarily help understand what are complex, and often non-repeatable, human interactions within evolving social structures an institutions. Economics is not physics. Drop an apple and you can work (more or less, not exactly) where it’ll go. Give someone £10 to spend on apples and try and figure out what they’ll do with it? Difficult. Try and figure out how that impacts on everything else they have an economic relationship with? Surely impossible. Figure it out once and there’s nothing to say it’ll be the same again.

Anyway, lectures proper are under way. Four core modules and no choice always meant this semester was likely to be less enjoyable than next. Macroeconomics Analysis is the one winding me up the most currently, with far too many mathematical proofs, again all relying on unrealistic assumptions, which when strengthened the levels needed to sensibly predict the real world, leave the model powerless.

The University continues to impress me – last week I had a lecture with around 30 others, in a room with a maximum capacity of 18. Lets say it was less than productive…

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