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Maybe a course: intro to economics for journalism and business would be a good idea. You might tempt a few more students in these fields, and be able to give focus on the things they are more likely to encounter in the future.

Another theory is this:

Many journalism students are left/progressive, and many progressives are hostile to economics as a 'conservative'/right-wing discipline, due to misconceptions about economic assumptions (self-interest, utility maximization).

Ouch. Less than 6%? That *is* depressing.

Part of it may simply be a bad equilibrium. Since no-one has any economics training, economic issues get reported on by people who don't understand economics. And since everyone can see that not having a background in economics is clearly not an obstacle to getting a job reporting on economics, why take the risk of getting a bad mark in a field you know nothing about?

Andrew: the fact that political science is the second most popular elective for journalism students certainly fits your theory.

My guess is that BComm and BJ students would be looking for very different things in Intro Economics. A course for both wouldn't work. It would be neat to offer a special section for BJ students, but (putting my Associate Dean (planning) hat on) the idea is ridiculous, since student numbers would never warrant the resources needed!

Could you teach economics to journalists and political science or sociology majors in the same way, then?

I was a carleton BJ (bachelor of journamalism, that is) for a year and dropped out of the program to get an Arts degree. I thought the program offered vocational training rather than education, and it seemed to me at the time that if you want to be a good journalist, knowing how to think would be more useful than the collection of mechanical skills that the program seemed to focus on. Most of my colleagues in first year seemed to care very little about current affairs or thinking critically about issues so that they could be communicated well. Rather, they were more concerned with the mechanics of the story and self identifying with a particular skill set so they could obtain employment and status.

I am now a lawyer (I know, you're shocked -- shocked! to find that a Carleton Arts BA on its own doesn't get you very far in the workforce) and cringe when I read most reporting on legal issues. There are a couple of decent reporters on legal issues, but they tend to have legal backgrounds so have the ability to understand the issues and the context for the newsworthy incident. Most reporting though seems to be cookie cutter narratives with little regard for the "real" story. The form drives the story, not the other way around. So when I hear the complaints about economics journalism, I gotta say, yeah, it's the same all over.

- 30 -

Okay, I realize this is primarily about econ, but ... Science ouch!

Fifteen in all of science? Is it any wonder that it is almost impossible to find a solid mainstream jouralism article on anything that actually requires some science background?

Maybe they should not just require good marks in journalism, but also have to have good marks in whatever subject they wish to write about?

I agree with Gumby. I've never been a journalism student, but whenever I read journalism in an area with which I have some expertise (finance and economics in my case) I also cringe. Not becuase the writing isn't good or because the reporter hasn't presented his/her arguments clearly. Rather - as someone told me once about a certain area of finance - it takes 10 years to learn anything that is hard. That is 10 years of study or practical experience. Anyone who passes him or herself as an expert without this background is bound to make very basic errors in the process and look foolish. That is what I find with way too much journalism - especially opinion journalism.

A multiplier of 1.6 eh? Sure..... Oh, sorry, we were talking about journalism students taking journalism.

Journalists are the ultimate generalists. Why specialize? And if you do specialize, then the OBVIOUS question is: why go into journalism when you can probably make more money elsewhere?

Here's a tricky question: how many political science students take courses in economics..... and why isn't that number higher?

I went to Carleton for a graduate degree in journalism about 10 years ago and was a teaching assistant in the foundation course for freshmen. The structure of the program hasn't changed much since then.

The first-year program has some breadth requirements but it also has a really high standard -- do badly in one course you take in another department and you wash out of the program. This discourages experimentation. I remember the professor teaching the journalism foundation course explicitly warning the new recruits against taking chances with their course selections in first year, in fact, for exactly this reason. One of the more promising students I taught disregarded the warning, took something outside her comfort zone, got a C, and had to find another program.

Economics may be hard; it's definitely math-y. Most first-years won't have had any chance to take a straight economics course in high school, so would-be journalists inclined generally toward the humanities and the social sciences with fewer equations in them would be taking a big risk by taking economics in first year. By second year, their schedules get more hectic and loading in a full-year introductory course could be difficult.

So this statistic might indeed say something about journalism students, but also something more significant about the quirks of Carleton's journalism and economics courses.

"Here's a tricky question: how many political science students take courses in economics..... and why isn't that number higher?"

May be something about Carleton. Double majors or majors and minors in economics and political science seems to be a farily popular combination at some other schools I'm aware of.

My BA is a double major (at the time, it was referred to as a double specialist at U of T) in economics and in political science.

Yeah, U of T is one of the schools I was thinking of. At one point not too long ago, eco and poli sci were the same department.

The split occurred when I was there. It didn't mean anything to me at the time, but ex post, it's amazing that they stayed together for so long.

Andrew F. nailed it - economics is perceived as 'right wing'. Though to be fair, one could argue that it's generally Chicago-school/neo-classical economics that gets taught in North America as opposed to 'political economy' which is taught more in Britain and Europe - and generally, the ideological alignment tends to fall more into that spectrum.

In an ideal world, there would be such a thing as 'economics for journalists' course but it's up to their employers later on too. Perhaps newswroom editors could require that 'financial' journalists at least take the Canadian Securities course?

Right now it would be nice to just see something in a Canadian newspaper that's more than a re-posting of whatever appears on Canada Newswire.

I've met any number of European economists (I teach at a French-language institution); they learn the same stuff we do here in North America.

I've never, ever understood what 'political economy' is supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, it sounds like a license to pontificate on economics without making the intellectual investment required to actually learn anything.

Just checked the requirements for our journalism program at UPEI, which is an articulated program run jointly with Holland College. They're REQUIRED to take an economics course, a science course and a math or stats course.

That sounds promising. The stats requirement is a good thing - innumerate journalists are easily manipulated.

"I've never, ever understood what 'political economy' is supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, it sounds like a license to pontificate on economics without making the intellectual investment required to actually learn anything."

That is exactly what it is. I did a degree in Political Science, and I took 6-7 economics courses as well. I believe I have a pretty general good understanding of how the economy works, and I was shocked by some of the crazy ideas bounced around by Poli Sci majors. Most have never even taken first year Micro or Macro. Most of their policy points of view are based on ideology without basic economic theory to back it up. Everything concerned with economics in their minds comes down class struggle with rich people screwing the working class. Any talk of low corporate taxes being good for working people and rising real wages was seen as buying into right wing propaganda. They dismissed those points of view simply because it did not coincide with their ideiological beliefs, and they did not even consider the economic theory and empirical evidence that backs it up.

I edited the student newspaper at the University of Victoria a couple years ago, and now that I think about it I was the only person studying economics (and one of the few right wingers). We only had a journalism minor at UVic, but most of the people who took it chose English, history or political science as their major. I think there are two main reasons journalists avoid economics courses:

1. It takes less effort to do something you have a comparative advantage in. Journalists are good writers, and so they're going to look for courses that are writing-oriented, such as English, history or political science.

2. A belief that newspapers want people who know politics. A lot of what journalists cover is political in nature, so it does help to know a bit about our political system and how it works. That explains the poli sci majors. It does a less satisfactory job of explaining why people do history or English, however. But English also offers a natural fallback for journalism students, because many people who are considering journalism as a career possibliity also consider writing books or becoming a teacher as alternate career possibilities.

If you want to get more journalism students to take economics, you could try to develop a course that is more oriented toward written analysis than quantitative analysis. I know that the Fraser Institute has tried putting on economics-for-journalists workshops (http://www.fraserinstitute.org/education_programs/forjournalists/).

But rather than trying to shove basic economics down journalism students' throats, I think universities might have better success developing economic journalists by trying to teach basic journalism to economics students. At UVic, there is a required "Writing for Economists" course, but it's basically high school English course which functions as a quality control mechanism to prevent students who have abysmal English skills from graduating with an economics degree. Apart from that, you can get an economics degree at UVic without having to write an essay and without having to apply economics to analyze current events. In only one economics elective did I ever have to write an op-ed. I imagine it's not too different at other schools.

Journalism isn't rocket science. I did first-year journalism but had no formal training beyond that, and went on to edit my campus newspaper, write a column for the Victoria Times Colonist, work a summer job at the Vancouver Sun and cover sports for Canadian Press. You need a certain level of writing skills, but you don't need to go to J-school. I found an economics degree has been an advantage to getting journalism jobs since it differentiates me from the competition. If economics programs offered more courses analyzing current events from an economics perspective, put more emphasis on writing and analysis of current events, and encouraged strong students to volunteer at campus newspapers, you might get some better economic journalists.

"At UVic, there is a required "Writing for Economists" course..."

This is actually a pretty good idea. Most of the econometricians I've known are practicaly autistic.

How is it with schedules? I know there can be a feedback there - few students in course A take courses from B so nobody bothers to co-ordinate the timetables.

But as for my view of journalists - they are even worse with science. Lots of them seem to think that virus and bacteria are synonyms.

It's true that a typical economist does not write well - probably because our understanding of so many things is in terms of formal mathmatical models. If I write better than a typical economist, I must credit those political science courses that forced me to organise my thoughts and put them on paper in a coherent way. It certainly didn't come from my training in economics.

reason: I will check this later, but from memory it is actually easier for journalism (or other) students to find seats in an intro economics course than in history, poli sci, or English. (This is one of the things I do in my day job: trying to make sure students can find seats in courses). We offer 3 day sections of intro economics, one evening section, and one TV section (or pay an extra $50 and get video on demand whenever you want to watch the lectures). There are more sections of intro econ, and they fill up later.

If I were a scientist, rather than an economist, and if this weren't an economics blog, I would indeed be worrying more about the even lower science numbers.

Is it just math, or is it math and graphs? Teaching without math would not be very hard. Teaching without math or graphs would be harder.

Yep, economists often don't write well. Undergrad philosophy taught me to write.

Training economists in journalism, rather than vice versa, may be a good idea. One problem though is that economists have higher opportunity costs of working in journalism than do journalists.

In Praise of Ignorance

Perhaps it not in a journalist student's interests to be studied in economics. It's not so much that the subject is hard but that is't madding.

It seems to me that there are at least three different schools of economics based on different presuppositions. The deeper a journalist writes about economics the more likely one of these schools will call him or her ignorant.

Why spend the time studying economics just to be abused by economists looking for ways to hold on to their presuppositions no matter the facts.

If I'm right, wouldn't that make journalists smarter than economists for remaining ignorant about the subject. Journalism students are able to figure this out before hand and avoid the trap of economics while economic students step in it and are driven mad.

The moral of this story is that journalists are better off being ignorant and they are smart enough to know it.

"Is it just math, or is it math and graphs?"

I think graphs are seen as math, so it's both. But if you can teach economics through graphs without having to bring up a y=mx+b equation, then it might be a bit of an easier sell. You just have to assure students that the graphs are more pretty visual pictures rather than mathy stuff.

"… economists have higher opportunity costs of working in journalism than do journalists."

True, this might be deterrent from econ students taking up journalism (although there's a better market for media relations/communications professionals than there is for journalists, and they're usually hired from the journalism pool. So journalism grads might have a higher opportunity cost than you'd expect).

But journalism has other attractions. There are only so many jobs people can get with an undergrad econ degree without getting an accounting designation or doing a master's; journalism is one of them. The work also has some characteristics that make it very different from most econ jobs that some students may find attractive: you get to talk to a lot of interesting people you wouldn't otherwise have access to in another job, your projects all short term (you don't know what you'll be doing when you come in in the morning), you don't have to sit behind a desk all the time, and you get to see the results of your labour immediately (unlike, say, in government). I think some of those characteristics of journalism is one of the reasons you see so many journalism students, even when the fail rate is roughly 50% at Carlton and there aren't a lot of jobs available. If journalism wasn't enjoyable, most j-school students would probably decide they are better off doing poli sci or English.

Obviously, most economics students aren't going to be that interested in being journalists, but if schools can identify the small handful that might be and nurture them a bit, it'd help. And the skills that make a good journalist (being a strong writer, identifying unanswered questions about an economic issue, being able to explain something complex in more general terms) are skills that would benefit almost all economics students.

I checked the schedule. My memory was a bit off. It's a bit easier to find a section that fits your timetable in History and English than Economics, but easier in Economics than in Political Science. But I don't think this has much effect anyway, because it's easy for Journalism students to find a section in any subject, especially since they register before many students (having higher grades and therefore scholarships).

wjd123: Since economists spend more time arguing about the things on which they disagree, than saying "yes you're right" about the things on which they agree, the outside world does tend to get an exaggerated sense of disagreements between economists. And, do economists disagree more than historians, or political scientists?

David. BTW, there is not a 50% fail rate in BJ at Carleton; it's much lower. A lot of students change major at the end of first year, because they find a subject that interests them more, or which they are better at. BJs are no exception. I looked at the numbers once.

The job picture is not good at the moment, but as one of my J school colleagues recently said: even if there were no jobs in media, being trained to research almost anything, explain the results clearly in writing or orally, and working to a deadline, are valuable skills in a lot of areas! Sounds right to me.

"Most of the econometricians I've known are practicaly autistic."

Matthew, insulting the autistic by comparing them with econometricians will not win you points elsewhere, although here (where we pretend that contemporary economics is only "perceived" as right-wing, not taught that way) it will probably go over well.

westslope asked: "Here's a tricky question: how many political science students take courses in economics..... and why isn't that number higher?"

Here's the answer to the first part: Undergraduates majoring in Political Science take: about 2,400 courses in poli sci, compared to about 140 in economics, 290 in law, 380 in history, 150 in French, 150 in Soc/anth, 130 in psych, 110 in philosophy, 90 in English, 70 in science, 30 in business, etc.

It looks to me like Poli Sci majors avoid economics too, but not nearly as much as journalism majors. There are about 350 students in first year political science, and about 80 political science students taking ECON1000. So about 25%. Not as bad as Journalism.

Isn't economics an important part of political science?

"On average, about 10 BJ students take ECON1000".

ECON1000!!!? Sounds like your intro econ course is about 10 times as good as the typical intro course south of the border (ECON 101), and about 1000 times as good as the one here at Dartmouth (EC01). Damn, you guys are amazing!

"I've never, ever understood what 'political economy' is supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, it sounds like a license to pontificate on economics without making the intellectual investment required to actually learn anything." -SG

That is so funny!

To treat the question seriously, some regard Public Choice economics and New Institutional Economics (economic property rights) as forms of 'political economy' given the (mostly rational choice) emphasis on choosing institutional forms and making non-market decisions that clearly have economic repercussions.

What bugged me about my undergraduate political science education was that here we were being exposed to Public Choice economics by competent professors who published frequently, and none of us students were equipped to understand the inner workings of the quantitative black boxes. That and the biggest critics of quantitative methods were those (undergraduate and graduate students, and professors) who didn't understand the methods.

A simple theory of what "political economy" means:

In the olden days, "political economy" meant "I am not talking about domestic economy (i.e. home ec.)".

Nowadays, "political economy" can mean "I'm a political scientist and want to talk about economics from a political science perspective". Or it can mean "I'm an economist and want to talk about politics from an economic perspective".

All very confusing, to someone who doesn't know the speaker is.

"I've never, ever understood what 'political economy' is supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, it sounds like a license to pontificate on economics without making the intellectual investment required to actually learn anything." -SG

I too find this hilarious... don't we have a PM who is basically a 'political economist?'

Please don't take this this as a slap at Carleton, but I thought one of the reasons that Greg Ip was unusually knowledgeable in economics for a journalist was that it ran in his family. Wasn't his mom the Irene Ip who was a research advisor at the Bank of Canada for a while? If so, he may have been learning economics long before he arrived at Carleton.

Adam: I thought the PM had a regular MA economics from U Calgary?

Hi Simon: You may be right. But neither of my kids seem much interested in economics! (Though one of them just borrowed my copy of Joseph Heath's book, and hasn't returned it.)

I recently finished a Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton (2008) and didn't take ECON 1000 until my fourth year. I think David is closest pointing out the comparative advantage of journalists in writing-oriented courses.

Being risk-averse in our course selection is based on economic incentives. In high school I took Math 11 Honours, but in grade 12 focused on English, History, etc to maximize my marks and scholarships. It worked. Upon arrival at Carleton you need to keep an A- (10.00) average to keep the entrance scholarship. Choosing between Children's Literature or ECON 1000 could be a $3000 choice. In first year, four out of five courses are electives and if you don't take ECON early you likely never will as the journalism workload increases dramatically (especially in third year).

I should also point out that some journalism students take specialized reporting courses (JOUR 4201) that include business reporting and science reporting.

political science, economics, and journalism.

IMO, that is where a lot of the problems of the world are.

How much of the history of your subject did you learn? You have heard of Harold Innes haven't you?

He cast a long shadow at U of T.

As a discipline, political economy includes both power and money. You may complain about the methods, but trying to deal with either on their own just doesn't really work.

My understanding of the history of North America is that the income of most people is driven by the power of the unions. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant.

Ben's comment is probably the most credible explanation, as a recent graduate with first-hand experience. It would be interesting to compare other Journalism programs where students don't have such strong incentives to choose electives that keep their grades high.

Too much Fed: yep! But the first two more than the third, I think.

Jim: I have heard of Harold Innes, but don't know much about his work. Vague understanding of the Staples Thesis. But does his work have any impact on current economic thinking? (Outside of the Latin American school of "dependencia" theorists, if it still exists?).

You and I probably mean very different things by "money", and "power". I would probably translate your statement as : "Political economy includes (should include) both power (wealth) within the rules of market exchange, and the power to change those rules." Does that translation work for you?


For my part, I wouldn't say that Innis had much on an impact on economic thinking. Rather, he was influenced by some ideas in economics (he studied with Veblen at U Chicago) and used them to make a very important contribution to the study of Canadian history. He was also very influential in communications studies.

I would concur with Matthew with respect to the relative lack of importance of Innis outside of a rather narrow period of Canadian economic history.

But it is weirdly discomforting that a Canadian scholar like Innis might be helping albeit inadvertently to prop up populist nationalist regimes with authoritarian leanings like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and those similar regimes found in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Man, there is nothing but cynical contempt for 'political economy' on this blog thread!

Don't monetary policy specialists do 'political economy'? Aren't Kydland, Prescott, Barro, Cukierman, Gordon, Backus, Driffil, Rogoff, Taylor and others doing 'political economy'?

"And, do economists disagree more than historians, or political scientists?"


Yes, I think they do. I say this because, except for sociology, there is hardly a field of study that economics doesn't attach it's name to with new combinations appearing every day. For creativity economists out do the gnostics. How can they expect journalists to be experts on the subject when economists themselves can hardly keep up.

History can only attach its name to one of these new combinations after the fact. Histories biggest problem is revisionist history which is mostly practiced by those portrayed on the wrong side of history. However it's usually practiced so clumsily: see: classical economists and the Great Depression, that no one pays it much mind but the true believers. This disinterest is because the ideological slips of those practicing narrative revision are so prominently showing.

Political science seems to be much more limited in the number of subjects it can attach its name to. It's members can be just as disagreeable as economists just less expansive. You would think this disability would put them on a lower rung of the jobs ladder with fewer students majoring in it. That it doesn't inhibit students may indicate that it is an easier subject or it may indicate that students are smart enough to know that in the real world employers, no matter what they profess, are looking for assurance and not creativity.

This creativity and expansiveness of economists could explain their disagreeableness. But more importantly I think the "ideological slip" problem is the real danger in economics: economists do a better job of hiding it until it shows itself in some disaster. For instance, what possible economic reason would economists have in advising the former USSR to use shock therapy in changing their political economy. That alone should be a caution to layman that there is something queer in the way economists proceed: that their presuppositions are colored by unjustified ideology.

For instance when the Russian economy was thrown open individual interests didn't serve social interests. All that happened was that the Russian wolves ate the Russian lambs. And Greenspan's assumption about rational economic man, that self interests would keep him form soiling the area in which he got his bread proved disastrous for society.

It's unlikely that a journalist would ever become knowledgeable about economic matters to the extent economist would be happy with since the field is expanding so rapidly. Journalists might better spend their time peeking underneath the skirts of economists to expose the ideological color of their slips.

wjd123: "For instance, what possible economic reason would economists have in advising the former USSR to use shock therapy in changing their political economy."

Weirdly, I think one answer is Richard Lipsey's Theory of Second Best! (You reading, Joseph Heath?)

If one part of the economy is still at non-market prices, it is generally not best to liberalise another part of the economy. You have to liberalise everything at the same time. The way it was expressed at the time: if you liberalise prices before liberalising quantities, the prices will be wrong. If you liberalise quantities before liberalising prices, the quantities will be wrong. Oh hell, let's just liberalise the lot all at once!"

It's not really my area, but I thought it was supposed to have worked in some countries (Poland?) even if it failed in Russia.

But yes, it's tough enough for even economists to keep up with economics. I sympathise with journalists.

"It's not really my area, but I thought it was supposed to have worked in some countries (Poland?) even if it failed in Russia."

Not my area either, but I think the economists who advised the Russians during this transition (Sachs and some other Harvard people, if I remeber correctly) by and large had their economic assumptions right. However, they failed to recognize the socio-political context (i.e. massive institutionalized corruption, lack of a functioning court system). Without effective rule of law, capitalism is something akin to the Mexican drug trade. Also, Poland, unlike Russia, had some collective memory of what a modern market economy was like.

Nick, that was not the problem with Russia changing systems. It was the gold-rush for valuable public assets, the perception of gross unfairness at some of the windfall gains and the concentration of both economic and political power that resulted.

Ownership did not need to change the way it did in Russia. Crown corps can act like private corps.

I doubt the theory of 2nd best can be redeployed to socially justify open access regimes or gold-rush like rules.

I’m just a backwards old fool getting senile in retirement: so, at first I thought you people were fooling with the negative subjectivity and no objectivity regarding the supposed meaning of political economy. Then I thought the absolute negativism might mean there has been no intellectual investment to learn something about it or perhaps emotional reaction was involved. The latter didn’t fit with being intellectual but seemed so. To delve deeper I asked myself what “economics” really means without the modifying adjective “political”. I tentatively conclude that professors of economics have made no intellectual investment regarding the political subjectivity of their own profession, which helps explain the absolute subjective reaction.

To me, “economics” in itself means mostly mathematical economics relative to the maximand of self-interest making the most of utility with mostly academic meaning. As a regional Commissioner working on a pilot project relative to the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) it was found that such development was possible but only after every CBA presented by economists was thrown out and the Stakeholder Model scrapped.

I’d appreciate an explanation of how economic academics is useful for solving practical problems and not part of the problem (especially political aspects) as has been my experience. While I haven't been involved with CBAs since retiring in 1996 it'd be interesting to know if and how they have developed validity(relevant and reliable)for practical problem solving (socially and environmentally).

Coming from Quebec and working in the media, I can confirm that economics is considered as a 'right wing' discipline in a lot of circles, not only in journalism but in most of the social sciences. There is really a strong anti-capitalist undercurrent that cannot be explained by a rational analysis of the situation; perhaps it's best explained by a mix of bad marxist class warfare thought, Catholic fear of wealth and fashionable Naomi Klein anti-consumerism.

I'm personally against journalism bachelors degrees. it seems to me that it's best to acquire some kind of expertise in a given field before going into journalism instead of learning the trade out of a book and then figuring out what to talk about. More on that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-sine/close-the-j-schools_b_232174.html

I went to McGill and i can assure you that one of the most popular double majors was economics and political science, or International Development Studies, which is a mix of both. But a lot of double-majors would get tired of economics after a year or so and would go on to take 'softer' classes in economics, like economic history of the US, etc. Perhaps one of the problems is that economics majors have a fairly rigid structure and get in the 'fun' stuff later on. Economic history could be taught earlier (it was a senior class), so are the current events classes or applied economics.

So, the question: is economics subjectively and primarily a ‘right wing’ discipline? Forget about the rationale of anti-capitalist, anti-consumer, fear of wealth, class warfare as best explanations; I believe such rationality may very well to more to explain the underlying right wing bias. The answer to the question and best explanation will appear when economic professors intelligently look at their assumptions: self-interest; utility; preferences (satificing wants; not needs) and objectively conclude what interests they serve.

It is important to note that Henry Hazlitt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Hazlitt) was a journalist who ventured into economics. His ability to synthesize economic axioms and present them to the masses was unsurpassed.

Forget about all the economic courses. Just read. Start with "Economics in One Lesson". then get into Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, etc.

From Nick:

You and I probably mean very different things by "money", and "power". I would probably translate your statement as : "Political economy includes (should include) both power (wealth) within the rules of market exchange, and the power to change those rules." Does that translation work for you?

I'd be much broader. It would include any exercise of power with economic effects (I'm hard pressed to think of any exercise of power that didn't have economic effects, but the relative significance could shift). It would also include events outside the rules, cf the Estevan miners strike.

I have concur with others that economics often gets a right-wing reputation. My own fear of right-wing economics lead me to avoid labour economics and public choice policy courses at one point in my academic career. In the beginning, I erroneously concluded that contemporary freemarket economics was incapable of dealing with hierarchy.

Many kilometers later, I now realize that neo-liberal economics can be easily deployed to strengthen a generous social welfare state. New institutional (property rights) economics can be readily deployed to understand, improve and strengthen the management of valuable public assets. I now realize that the tool kit is much, much richer than standard neo-classical tools and, especially with the addition of game-theoretic tools, manages to handle hierarchy quite nicely.

Guillaume, Good post. Am in agreement with everything you say.

I would add, however, that for some strange reason economists appear to command more respect and play a greater role in "nation building" in Quebec than other Canadian provinces.

Quebec economists have lent either explicit or tacit support for some of the key institutional decisions that Canada has taken in recent years: value-added consumption tax, the GST, freer trade with the USA and then Mexico, the Bank of Canada's inflation-targeting mandate (Pierre Fortin's protests aside).

If it had just been up to English-Canadian provinces, I'm not convinced that those controversial reforms would have passed.

When the study of economics becomes a "science" based on mathematical models, it loses its meaning and is analogous to studying the curve of the toenail on an elephant in attempts to understand why it eats.

Economics is the study of human action. Praxeology is fundamentally better suited to understanding the significance and importance of individual human decisions than calculous or algebra. Economic knowledge is "a priori" - the observation and measuring of economic phenomena is secondary.

From Guillaume:

"Is economics subjectively and primarily a ‘right wing’ discipline?"

It should not be. Economics should answer the question "will this policy produce the desired effects?." Economics should provide the facts of cause/effect. It is "value-free". It can't state right/wrong. Just as gravity is a fact of the natural world, the Law of Supply and demand is a fact of the natural law and does not belong on a "political side".

The wiki page has a good overview of 'Political Economy' and its various usages through time.


Westslope you say:
"I would add, however, that for some strange reason economists appear to command more respect and play a greater role in "nation building" in Quebec than other Canadian provinces.

Quebec economists have lent either explicit or tacit support for some of the key institutional decisions that Canada has taken in recent years: value-added consumption tax, the GST, freer trade with the USA and then Mexico, the Bank of Canada's inflation-targeting mandate (Pierre Fortin's protests aside).

If it had just been up to English-Canadian provinces, I'm not convinced that those controversial reforms would have passed."

Not just with reformation by economists, but in broad expertise and among the people in general too. The reason isn’t strange to me, as it is the nature of the reasoning itself. As I see the situation, it is the way and manner of reformation and it doesn’t just distinguish English-speaking Canada from Quebec; it is also an outstanding feature of Canada as a relative state distinguishing it from America as an absolute state. The ability is to take an established thesis, then, challenged with an anti-thesis to think and put in place a synthesis. The thesis of Canada’s sovereignty; the anti-thesis of a sovereign Quebec though not resolved has been quite a dialectical process. My experience with jurisdictional conflicts and overlaps within Canadian institutions (integrating 22 government ministries at all levels) also demonstrated this manner of reformation. But, what is most interesting occurred in Mount Royal with the Federal Election of 1965. The Left was represented by one of the 20th century’s leading Hegelian theorists, Charles Taylor; the Right by someone considered as the 20th century’s leading neo-Hegelian practitioner, Pierre Trudeau. And, Hegel is undoubtedly the great (though somewhat grandiose) grandmaster dialectician – Marx, a Hegelian methodologist, is a midget in contrast.

“The wiki page has a good overview of 'Political Economy' and its various usages through time.”

The quality of the overview makes what’s missing stand out like a sore thumb. Arguably, John Stuart Mill was the greatest political economist as expounded in his Principles of Political Economy (1848). It dominated economic schooling for the rest of the 19th century and was the main textbook at Oxford until after WW1. It was replaced by Marshall’s neoclassical Principles of Economics.

I believe mainstream economists can still learn something in growth theory and practice with Mill’s book chapter On the Stationary State, transformed into the ‘steady state’ in Ecological Economics. I discovered this in the early 1990s when working on the problem of the high throughput system of 110 single industry forestry towns in BC stuck in a boom-bust cycle. Moving the system from high quantity successive states towards a balance by improved quality with steady states through value added production was commonsense. However, the political economics of the provincial government entwined with a few forestry corporations, that control the industry provincial-wide, generally stuck to the high throughput system: promptly increased the exportation of raw logs and propped up dinosaur pulp mills. The communities continue in a downward spiral: booming in bits; busting a lot.

Maybe Journalism should be a postgraduate field?

One of Ireland's most prominent economist-broadcasters (or broadcaster-economists?) has just been elected to their Parliament.

Mark: Carleton also offers an MJ, and the students entering that program will nearly always have a previous degree in something else. It would be interesting to see if any had previous degrees in economics, or science, but I suspect not many do. But in principle that could be a way of getting journalists who are better trained in a variety of fields, especially if they enter after a few years working.

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