What do Irish economists think and teach?


In late 2013, Stephen Kinsella and I undertook a survey of Irish economics and finance academics. We asked a bunch of questions on what they felt was core and not in the subject, on how things had changed in teaching over the last 5 years, on their views on the subject etc.  We are writing this up as  a paper with additional commentary and some suggestions on how to improve things but in the meantime we are presenting it at a conference organized by the Irish Economics Association on Friday 31 Jan 2014. (Update : Stephen has unavoidable work commitments and I have unavoidable personal/family commitments that make it impossible for us to attend. Hope this blogpost fills the gap partially)

Here are slides on this presentation. Here is a powerpoint show with my narration – this is quite large ( ±100 mb) so be warned – but it gives a much better sense of how we feel than just the raw slides alone. This is my take. Others, including Stephen, might not agree with any or all interpretation, so please recall that.

What’s the takeaway?

  • We surveyed 300+ academics and got a fairly poor response. It was surprising how little people seemed to care about the profession. We unashamedly concentrated on university and macro/finance. We couldnt be sure of a full sample in IoTs. And we want to first see what the academics think before maybe moving onto the industrial.
  • Modal respondent is 10y plus in academia, has a PhD doesnt have a professional training.
  • only 11% are teaching in an area v close to their research – research led teaching seems a long way off
  • average undergrad contact time is 57% of total teaching.
  • Most economists think the government should put more money into economics education …mmmkaaay
  • Despite the preponderance of evidence, the respondents dont think that studying economics makes you more selfish
  • They firmly think its a science (three words – Prescott, Sims, Nobel…)
  • Respondents want a broader focus in economics teaching BUT also want more math and DONT want it taught as part of management or social sciences. Greetings from Isolation Hill.
  • There is no sense that the profession should sort out its internal disagreements on fundamental issues (and these are many and stark) before speaking out.
  • Theres a very traditional skills led view of what should constitute the core. Amazingly only 33% think that a survey of irish economic conditions should be in the core.
  • Theres a deep suspicion of accounting. Which is worrying as its the language of business. Most graduates wont go indon’tesearch but become part of the business workforce. Despite this there’s a feeling that SME finance is important. This is not logical.
  • Most come across as technological illiterates. While there is considerable use of anti-plagiarism software there is much much less use of even things like interactive clickers (or apps for same), or the use of social media for engagement.
  • compared to 5 years ago
    • more time is being given to labour market issues, to debt dynamics and to DSGE. The latter is worrying as these are in essence (and imho) useless. See the  series of takedowns by Noah Smith (search for DSGE). We also spend more time on the microstructure of financial markets, on models of bubbles and networks, and on the role of financial institutions. More time is spent on expansionary fiscal contraction, hopefully debunking its existence (but I wouldn’t be too sure) . That old trope of the Regan era, Trickle Down Economics, gets more time, as does privatisation and endogenous growth. If I had to call it, I would suggest that finance teaching has taken more cognizance of the crisis than has mainstream macro teaching in Ireland.
    • Less time is being spent on very little. Keynesian Cross models – this is interesting as an implication of the KC model is that there can be a  equilibrium with less than full employment and with recession – that might be a useful idea to implant in peoples minds, no? Maybe its seen as dangerous.
    • For the most part people teach the same , more or less, than they did 5 years ago. Despite the massive wrench in the actual economy, the academy seems to be broadly unchanged in how and what it teaches. This must change.

26 thoughts on “What do Irish economists think and teach?

  1. Mike Lyons

    Very interesting set of slides. Fascinating perspective of a subject from the inside to an outsider looking in. Clearly the issues discussed in the presentation need to be addressed and fast because Economists differ and Nations fail. Brian and Stephen have done a great job here.

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  3. cormac

    Re “Only 11% are teaching in an area v close to their research – research led teaching seems a long way off”, i wouldn’t worry too much about that one because it’s really the *methods* of good research and the ability to question dogma in a probing way that good lecturers bring to the classroom!

  4. Pingback: Five years on from the crisis and economists are still teaching the same stuff | George Cooper

  5. kevin denny

    Based on the blog entry only, I think there are so many holes in your arguments that I’m not inclined to take it any further. The poor response means that people had better things to do than answer your survey . It’s all about costs and benefits. Look it up on Wikipedia. As you say you concentrate on macro, finance. Most academic economists , by far, do other stuff. Such a low response rate could well mean your responses are not representative.
    There is some evidence that economics makes people more selfish but despite what you say it’s not overwhelming. Not many studies allow for selection. Future studies may show something else. Anyway, It’s hardly a big deal. Let’s say physics makes people more passive or less agreeable . So what?
    Personally I’m quite unapologetic that economics is a science. Your cryptic follow-up does not dissuade. The Nobel in Medicine was once given to two people with completely opposite views. One subsequently turned out to be wrong.
    If this is about economics – your headline- then our views about accounting are of no consequence. You may as well ask me about rugby.
    Your remark about technology is bullshit. Clickers may be useful to you, that’s your choice, but they are hardly the white heat of technology. Presumably you were surveying people with computers which are vastly more complicated. As for new social media, public engagement etc most Econs are not that interested. That’s their choice and a good one on the whole . You seem to just assume that what you do, is, perforce, good.
    I’m baffled by your remark about Econs sorting things out internally before speaking it out. It’s scary to think that you think this a good idea, especially as you seem to be keen for academics to engage publicly. There are deep divisions in other academic disciplines . I don’t see them censoring themselves .
    What I find most disappointing is the sneering arrogant tone you have adopted. I do a bit of work on public opinion. It’s essential, I would say ethical, to show respect for your respondents views. I’ve been looking at homophobia for example. I don’t express my strong personal opinions about this in my paper. I responded to your survey but I would not respond to another one given your dismissive approach to people who see things differently.

    1. brianmlucey Post author

      Err Kevin. This is not just me. Its also Stephen. And Thanks , but I do kinda understand cost-benefit tradeoffs, thanks.
      For someone who doesnt want to comment you do comment a lot. Which I appreciate.

  6. Pingback: The Irish Economy » Blog Archive » Economics and Finance Teaching Before and After the Crisis

  7. Georg R. Baumann

    it would appear that i can not post on IE for some reasons. So I just paste it here, with a chance to correct my bloody typos. LOL:

    Thanks Brian & Stephen!

    While I am not shocked, I rather had a gut feeling confirmed by your results, perhaps we all should be a little bit more shocked? No?

    To me personally historical economy, in context of todays phenomenons and policies, it is of high relevance to a better understanding and better solutions for the generations to come.

    Somehow your results do leave a bitter taste. Business as usual? It would seem so, and while not astonishing in the least, it remains a frustrating experience to acknowlegde that despite all we have learned since 2008, very little has changed indeed, and that is not only in the education department.

    On the contrary, the same old methods, such as the presentation of white washed or even falsified data for example, still are a regular tactic, up to EU commission levels. The commissioner for the desired new free trade agreement was confronted with his claims that this agreement will result in an enormous boost of growth in the EU economy, pointing to plus of 120 billion euros. When the german magazine MONITOR put him on the spot on this claim, it turned out that his own reports (IFO Institute) marked the effect on boosting growth as neglectable, in the 0,4 percent region over 10 years, if at all. The commissioner then looked at the cameras and said: “Stop recording please…”, but they did not, and prooved his statement to be an ideologically driven exeggeration to manipulate public opinion towards a positive view on the free trade agreement.

    An agreement I might add, that is negotiated behind closed doors, not accessable for the public, but that has the potential to change the world order for the coming decades substantially. I rest my case.

    Sorry for being a bit longwinded, bottom line for me is, it all starts with education.

    Thanks again Brian & Stephen!


  8. merijnknibbe

    My two cents:”Theres a deep suspicion of accounting.” Auch. Acounting is not just the language of business.

    It’s also the core-model of macro-economic measurement. In two ways.

    A) The phrase ‘the national accounts’ has been coined for a reason, these accounts for one thing contain complete balance sheets of households, non-financial companies etcetra, not just including balance sheets but also income and expenses accounts. Accounting skills are needed to understand the ‘quadruple entry accounting’ nature of this system.

    B) But the accounting system is not just used to classify the data. It is also used as a ‘source’: monetary statistics (i.e. borrowing and lending) are *by necessity* based upon the balance sheets of MFI’s. This is a kind of ’emerging property’ of monetary statistics, as lending, borrowing and money creating *are* an act of accounting and our (deposit) money is, by definition, a token created by a specific MFI which enables you to pay back *any* MFI loan denominated in the same kind of legal tender. An understanding of accounting in necessary to understand the essential properties of (fiat) money.

    A proper science teaches its students how the stuff it talks about is estimated and measured, in economics one needs accounting skills to be able to understand this process. But an understanding of accounting is necessary, too, to gauge the nature of money, our monetary system, debts and, i.e., something called a ‘balance sheet recession’.

    Note, by the way, that the institutional entities used in monetary statistics are the same as those used in the national accounts, which is no mean scientific feat.

    1. JohnB

      Excellent comment, that stood out to me as well for exactly the same reason – I wonder if this type of attitude among graduates (suspicion of accounting) is deliberately propagated in order to spread ignorance, particularly about the true nature of how the monetary system works.
      Everything revealed in this blog post, reeks of a deliberately intellectually captured/corrupted economics academia – which is no surprise, as this is how things are worldwide.

  9. Brian P Woods

    Prof Lucey,

    Nice try. Love the cartoons. Great touch that. Now how about you ask a scientist, who also studied ECON, and is also an educational psychologist what his ‘view from the trenches’ was.

    It was amusing, weird, boring, useful, useless, harmful, interesting, grindingly hard. Things like that. And yes, the math stuff may be somewhat overdone (piece of string here) , but the absence (or low emphasis) of a few topics is a real killer. The undergrad texts are wonderful, if you like Soylent Green with everything!

    Top of my List:

    History of Econ Theory – from 1800 -> present, with greater emphasis on 1900 -> present – in all years of study. There are some ‘non-econs’, esp in 20th cent. who should be included. Economics IS Political Economy, after all.

    Science + Technology + Energy as these affect economic activity: I have no constructive ideas when or how, these could be integrated – but if they are left out … … you graduate 3-legged dogs.

    Copious exposure to the exponential function – until it is characteristic of your economic thinking

    Some Galbraith (pere): Veblen: Exposure to real contrarian economists – apart from being amusing, both were good wordsmiths. Helps with the essays.

    Again, well done both.

    Regards, Brian W.

  10. Pingback: What do Irish economists think and teach? | Economics @ ITT

  11. Robert Nielsen

    Very interesting. I suppose the point that stands out the most is how little things have changed and how little economists feel they need to change. Considering the way in which the economy has been rocked in (what was for many) an unpredictable manner, this is worrying. It seems that Irish economists are overall content with the way they are teaching economics which is disappointing considering the criticism the curriculum has received and the attempts to reform it.

  12. Derek R

    Accounting is crucial to quantitative science. Physics and Chemistry are hard sciences because of energy accounting. If you don’t have accounting, you can’t work out which quantities in your science are conserved and which are not. Without that knowledge there can be no conservation laws and without those, you may have some qualitative science but it will be irredeemably soft.

  13. Brian P Woods

    Might be the lack of persons with the requisite ‘broad contextural understanding’. You do not find them in a Christmas Cracker. Takes years of scholarship to acquire that sort of understanding – plus being able to impart it in a meaningful manner to the ‘less than willing’ undergrads.

    I’d venture that the main difficulty would be getting such a multi-year programme past the “Kurrikulum Kommittee”. Tuition time is short, expensive and much sought after. Everyone wants ‘more’ time – for ‘their subject’.

    That Science + Technology + Energy yopic is probably more urgent (personal opinion) – and you would need someone who had a modicum of broad understanding to firmly embed the nerdy stuff in the appropriate economic context.

    But, sure folks are real attracted by the light! Or would that be Moths?

    Endeavour to persevere on this one: its important.


  14. Brian P Woods

    @ Robert Nielsen: Snap! – on the Econ + Pol + UCD! But I started off a bit late, and I am a Biochemist. Econ was quite an ‘eye-opener’ for me. Presence of lenses, prisms, diffraction gratings, etc., etc. Some biochemical pathways, cycles and ‘laws’ would translate very well over into econ. Uncanny that.

  15. Luca

    Professor Lucey,
    What are economists deep suspicions of accounting?
    Do economists learn accounting (how to count)?
    Could lack of double entry bookkeeping knowledge be under the technological illiteracy category?
    “Theres a deep suspicion of accounting. Which is worrying as its the language of business. Most graduates wont go indon’tesearch but become part of the business workforce. Despite this there’s a feeling that SME finance is important. This is not logical.”

      1. John Latham

        “[The respondents] firmly think its a science”.
        From a lay perspective economics appears to have almost no useful predictive value or net social utility.
        For the last couple of centuries at least, science has been accepted as a largely benign discipline which has granted us the possibility of longer, healthier, happier lives. Childhood immunisation, antibiotics, electricity, modern agriculture, walking on the moon, Angry Birds. This is the relentless, unstoppable momentum of Enlightenment.
        What has 21st century economics delivered us? CDS. QE. OMT. Forward-guidance.
        Haven’t we done well?

    1. Luca

      Hmmm. Story telling. Did you have Oliver Blanchard’s Macroeconomics book, where he said tell a story?
      My school’s custom copy had absolutely no references or bibliography to check.

  16. Pingback: Boards.ie, and debate. Not natural bedfellows it seems | Brian M. Lucey

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