Economics as a profession: from science to practice

Benoît Cœuré of ECB in this speech:

It is a true pleasure to be back here at the Paris School of Economics (PSE).

You are now on the home stretch. I well remember how I felt during my own final year: excited, anxious and curious all at once.

Over the next few months, you will need to take serious, life-changing decisions. The data suggest there is about a two-in-three chance that you will pursue further studies.

For many, a master’s degree is a natural step towards a PhD. And a PhD is essentially a promise of employment. In the United States, for example, the unemployment rate for PhD economists is about 0.8%, the lowest among all sciences.[1] Not a bad place to start from.

But a PhD is not about financial optimisation. Estimates for the United Kingdom suggest that British men with a master’s degree earn 23% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to.[2] The earnings premium for a PhD, which often takes three to five times as long, is just 26%. For some subjects, the premium for a PhD even vanishes entirely.

So first piece of advice: your PhD should be fuelled by your passion and your love for research rather than by hopes of earning more money.

Money was clearly not the reason for me to join the labour market in 1992 when I graduated from PSE with a Master in Analysis and Policy in Economics.

My first appointment took me to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, or INSEE, before I moved on to the French Treasury and then, in 2012, to the European Central Bank (ECB).

The path that I chose to explore is just one of many that are open to you. The good news is that the solid training you receive here at PSE makes it your choice.

The world of economics is incredibly broad. I will leave it to the participants of the two roundtables this evening to make a convincing case for their respective institutions, although I would not be surprised if many of you take the lead from the English author G.K. Chesterton who said, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite”.

But I wouldn’t be here tonight if I hadn’t planned to use this opportunity to make at least some publicity for the public sector.

 

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