Liberal arts macroeconomists are becoming an endangered species

Liberal arts macroeconomists? What the hell is that?

David Colander one of the few economists who is really worried about the decline of quality in economics teaching, has a piece here.

He says there are not enough people who can teach macro at undergrad level. At undergrad level, one needs people who can connect the various dots and generate interest in aggregate econ issues. The macro at grad level is the specialist DSGE type which remains the focus for most macro people:

Liberal arts macro professors have not always been endangered. Thirty or forty years ago, standard macro theory blended pedagogical, methodological, and historical issues into macro theory, making macroeconomics more undergraduate professor research friendly. Then standard macroeconomic theoretical research was based on IS/LM analysis, as was pedagogy. Standard macro econometric research still included activities such as estimating consumption functions and money demand functions — activities that one could have an honors students do. Undergraduate macro professors could be active participants in the standard macroeconomic theoretical and policy debates.

That has changed. Standard macro is now dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) analysis. Theoretical and applied macro econometric research has become so technical and specialized that it is beyond what can reasonably teach in an undergraduate liberal arts school. For macroeconomic theory, this is a gain; macro theory is beginning to come to grips with the complexity of the macro economy. But it is not a gain for undergraduate teaching of macro.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that graduate training in macro is not designed to prepare graduate students to become undergraduate professors of economics who combine both research and undergraduate teaching. Graduate economics training in macro is designed to prepare students for full-time research positions at a graduate university or a Central Bank. The result is a very small pool of highly qualified macro-research-focused candidates from standard programs whose goal is to teach macro at a liberal arts school. While the pool is small, it is not zero. There are always a few graduate students who want to teach at a liberal arts program where they can integrate undergraduate liberal arts teaching with their research. So they accept jobs at liberal arts schools. Unfortunately few of them survive to tenure.

Given how much messed up so called modern macro is, one should atleast appreciate and encourage liberal arts macro. Even that is not happening.

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