Read: What's the Use of Economics?

The most recent financial and economics crisis raised some serious concern about the usefulness of economics, its research agenda, and what and how it is taught at universities. Almost no one did see the crisis coming. And looking at Europe, there seems to be no perfect consensus on what are the best policy measures. (Admittedly, what is best depends on the goals and different policy recommendations may be a result of a difference in goals.) Last year, in February 2012, there was a small conference on teaching economics after the crisis. “What’s the Use of Economics?” is a kind of conference proceedings, a selection of short essays assessing the current state, the need for change, and possible routes for change by various attendants edited by Diane Coyle.

Of course, some of the essays are more and some are less useful; overall the book is just excellent.

One recurrent theme is the lack of historical knowledge imparted by most current economics programs. While I would be a fan of more (or at least, say, one) courses in the history of economic thought the authors would rather stress the importance of economic history. I can agree with that – as long as these course do not degenerate into some applied econometrics courses; they are great, too, yet not what is needed here.

A second notable theme concerns employability. What is taught in many programs is not necessarily what non-academic economists will need in their jobs. I also tend to agree here. Guilty as charged (even though I teach in a multidisciplinary program; a more multidisciplinary approach is also recommended in the book). Though this is, of course, a result of our self perception as academic economists: Do we train future academic researchers or ‘mere’ government economist? I guess most of us prefer to think – or hope – it is the first. The truth is mostly different and therefore there is indeed the need for some changes in the curriculum.