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Are Economics PhDs Learning the Wrong Thing?

Economists rely on models--maybe too much
Are Economics PhDs Learning the Wrong Thing?
Photograph by Fotosearch/Getty Images

“Sure, I’ll be your straight man,” says Gene Grossman. He’s the chair of Princeton’s economics department, which U.S. News & World Report ranks in a four-way tie for first with Harvard, MIT, and the University of Chicago. He has rather reasonably agreed to answer a rather rude question: Are the best graduate programs screwing up their economists?

Last week Bloomberg Businessweek ran a short piece on Varoufakis, the former head of the economics PhD program at the University of Athens. Funding has run out for the program, and Varoufakis is now teaching in Austin, Tex. When it was thriving, however, the PhD program in Athens tried to train economists in a new way: It forced them to understand the math of economic modeling but also taught them philosophy and the history of economics.