Archive | Teaching

Follow Up on Post-Com Texts

A while ago I posted a request for a good text for a post-communist politics course from Monkey Cage Slovakia expert Kevin-Deegan Krause. For those who are interested, here’s what he decided:

Thanks to all of the suggestions I ended up choosing to return to an old standby on the historical questions—Rothschild and Wingfield’s Return to Diversity, 1999 edition (available inexpensively online here for more contemporary questions choosing a Wolchik and Curry’s Central and East European Politics: From Communism To Democracy.

Kevin also wanted to throw out this follow up question:

It’s been four years since I’ve taught the Central and Eastern European Politics course and I’d love to know from the audience two things: 1) for the benefit of my students what are the best articles, papers or websites that have appeared in the past 5 years—either academic or popular press—that would help my students understand gain perspective on the region and recent developments therein, and 2) for my sake as I teach my students, what are the most interesting, most provocative academic works that would offer innovative frameworks for understanding the region and teaching about it. What recent writing about the region has put into words what you have always thought, or has inspired you to return to old issues with a fresh eye?

I’ll start off the discussion by throwing out G. Pop-Eleches’ 2010 World Politics article on Protest Voting, which I think fits nicely into Kevin’s criteria of “put into words what you have always thought”. I expect this will be the opening salvo of a series of article trying to make sense of why incumbents lose so often in post-communist elections (see as well A. Roberts’ 2008 Electoral Studies article on Hyperaccountability).

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Good Comprehensive Book on East European Politics?

My friend – and resident Monkey Cage Slovakia expertKevin Deegan Krause writes with the following question:

I have decided at the last minute to tear apart my standard East European Politics syllabus root and branch and start over. There are lots of great readings but I am looking for a single book or pair of books that I could put at the core to orient my students to the region in a way that will make sense to them. I’d like something that is fairly comprehensive and yet also fairly basic. Something with historical perspective and attention to broader concepts of nationalism, Marxism, liberalism would be a plus. I realize that I am asking the impossible, but I’d be happy to get 30% of what I’m looking for. Any suggestions?

I hope that by now The Monkey Cage has at least some regular readers from the post-communist politics sub-field, so I thought I’d throw the question out for suggestions. But in a larger sense, I think this is perhaps an area in which a blog like the Money Cage can play an additional helpful role for scholars, by serving as a forum where we exchange these kinds of requests for suggestions about relevant literature.

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Social Highlighting

Recently back in the United States after an extended time abroad, I saw Michael Lewis’s The Big Short for the first time in an airport bookstore a couple days ago. Not wanting to add to my luggage – I apparently missed the fact that Delta has turned into a European discount airline and charges for checking even a single bag now – I downloaded the book onto my Kindle once I sat down on my plane (which was very fun from a modern technological standpoint) and began to read during my flight. (As a side note, does anyone know whether a Kindle counts as an electronic device you need to turn off while flying?)

A few pages into the book, I was quite surprised to see a highlighted passage of the book, along with a small note with the number of people who had highlighted that passage! Sure enough, the book I downloaded now contains the most popular highlights from other readers of the book. A little poking around discovered two other features: (1) I could turn off this feature (thanks Amazon!); and (2) You could link to a collection of the most popular highlights. Somewhat disturbingly, I did not find either an opt in or an opt for sharing my own highlights.

I’m trying to figure out what to make of this new feature. On the one hand, as a social scientist, I am always curious as to what other people are thinking and doing, so voila – now I get to see what my fellow readers think is important in the book I’m reading. In a nutshell, intellectual voyeurism (at least at the aggregate level). Also thinking as a social scientist, my next thought was: DATA. Are we far away from an analysis of whether Glen Beck readers highlight more passages than Paul Krugman readers? And will Amazon give me this data disaggregated by age, region, or – dare I dream? – party affiliation?

On the other hand, the obvious concern is the one I just raised, which is the issue of privacy. Now not only does Amazon know what books I downloaded, they also know what passages of those books I find most interesting. I can see it now: “we see you highlighted ‘economic voting in Eastern Europe’, perhaps you would be interested in Regional Economic Voting (available for purchase here, also available for the Kindle!)”.

But I have to say, it was the collection of social highlights at the end that most troubled me as a professor. I mean, why bother reading the book if you can just skip to the end and figure out what everyone else thought were the most important parts? I remember taking books out of the library when I was in college (for today’s undergraduates, the library is that big building where they keep books) and finding out that someone else had scribbled notes in the margin previously; you could get the same effect by buying used books. There was always the temptation to just skim the book by reading what the previous person had highlighted, especially in the more tedious sections. I always thought one of the nice side benefits of moving to electronic versions of books and articles was the removal of this temptation; when the work is in electronic format, everyone gets a clean copy. But alas, no more – now it is worse. You not only get what a couple people have scribbled in the margins, you can get what everyone (collectively, at least) has decided is important! Again, another excuse not to actually read.

As an author, though, the opportunity for feedback is kind of enticing – I do write for a blog after all. It would be interesting to be able to watch on your electronic copy of your own book what it is that readers are highlighting. I imagine as this technology improves, we might also get the opportunity to see what notes people are putting in the margins, and ultimately—perhaps—even be able to answer them with our own comments. In this world, books would start to look a little more blogs. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it would be pretty wild to scribble some question down in the margins in your Kindle or the like, only to come back an hour later and find that the author had answered it. On the down side, would anyone ever want to write a statistics textbook ever again in that sort of a world??? :)

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Good Writing in Political Science

Below is an essay that I wrote for my undergraduate class last semester, providing them with my (doubtless idiosyncratic) ideas about how to write good political science essays. It’s also available under a CC license in PDF format, as well as MultiMarkdown (its native format), LaTeX and RTF in case someone wants to play around with it. Feel free to suggest improvements, point out grammatical errors or typos etc in comments, or indeed to comment generally on good and lousy writing in undergraduate papers.

UPDATE: Some small improvements made

Good Writing in Political Science: An Undergraduate Student’s Short Illustrated Primer1

By Henry Farrell

Version 1.01

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Leo Tolstoy famously observed that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 2 Tolstoy, happily for all of us, was not a teaching political scientist. Had he been, he might have observed that undergraduate political science papers are subject to a different logic. Really good papers are unique – each has its own particular thesis, style of argumentation, body of empirical evidence and set of conclusions. Really bad papers, in contrast, tend toward a dismal uniformity. They draw on the same evidence (garbled versions of what the professor has presented in class), are organized according to similar principles of incoherence, and all wend their eventual ways towards banal conclusions that strenuously avoid making any claims or positive arguments whatsoever.

This short set of guidelines cannot make you into a really good essayist. For that you need time, practice, and native genius. What it can do, however, is help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls of undergraduate essay writers. You can surely avoid being a very bad essayist, and you can very likely become a better essayist than you are already. What follows is a short set of suggestions, accompanied, where available, with cautionary examples drawn from online essay mills.

Read the Requirements for the Assignment

This suggestion may be taken as insulting because it is so obvious; still, it is commonly ignored in practice. The professor usually drops some very strong hints about what she is looking for when she assigns a piece of writing. It is best to pay attention to those hints. For example, if you are asked to write a term paper on a problem of international cooperation, you should ensure that your term paper explicitly focuses on a topic that (a) involves cooperation, (b) has, at the least, some international aspect, and© is potentially problematic.

Sometimes, assignments are ambiguous. Professors too may err. The assignment may be inexactly worded or involve contradictory requirements. In these cases it is obviously best to ask the professor what she is looking for (it is often better to ask via email, to ensure that you have a written explanation of what the professor wants that you can refer to later). Where this is not possible (e.g. if you are trying to write an exam answer), you may want to be quite clear in saying how you are interpreting the question. For example, you might want to start by saying “In this answer, I interpret the phrase ‘international cooperation’ to mean …” If your interpretation is a reasonable one, this places the onus on the professor to either read the essay according to your interpretation or to justify (at least to herself) why not.

Avoid Data Dumps

Poor essays very often ignore the question asked in a quite specific way. The student spots some topic in the assignment that seems familiar, and immediately sets about writing an essay which tells the professor everything they know about that topic, in no particular order. For obvious reasons, such essays rarely receive high grades. Universities encourage (or, at least, they should encourage) students in the social sciences and liberal humanities to criticize, to analyze, and, ideally, to think. Mere demonstration that one possesses a disorganized body of knowledge on a topic, and is prepared to inflict this jumble upon the professor in printed or (worse) handwritten form, suggests that this encouragement has fallen on untilled ground.

Cut to the Chase

Undergraduate essays frequently begin with an extended session of throat-clearing irrelevances and vague generalities. They talk about everything except the question that has been asked. Take this example (drawn from a free term paper).


The onset of computers on the general population has given a boost to the Economy in the world’s market. People who weren’t much aware of the world became drawn to computers, which in turn brought about the Internet, connecting the world all over. The Internet has played a major role in the lives of people all over the world. Now, it is not limited to just important organizations or governments. Everyone who owns a computer is logged on to the Internet; and this has made the world seem smaller. No one has to wait for the postman to deliver the mail, but instead one can just connect to the Internet and right away, you got mail.


This, like many other essays that I have corrected on the political consequences of the Internet (I sometimes teach a course on this topic) begins with a paragraph that has nothing whatsoever to say about the politics of the Internet. Instead, the paper’s author sees the word ‘Internet’ and grabs desperately for banalities that he associates with this word.

Alternatively, students sometimes state and re-state the question in a manner intended to suggest that they understand it, without ever providing anything so provocative as an actual answer.


Should the internet be censored ? The internet is a wonderful place for entertainment and education, but, like all places used by millions of people, it has some pecularities that lead to a lot of talking and arguing over, should the internet be censored? Most of people who use the internet are furious about the censorship on the internet. The issue of whether is it necessary to censor the internet is being argued all over the world.


This essay starts off well. It sets out a short, pithy question that the reader might hope will be answered in the paper. But then it goes horribly, horribly wrong. The second sentence restates the first, garnished with a couple of irrelevant commonplaces. The third sentence suggests that there is controversy surrounding the topic of Internet censorship (a safe guess, given that the writer has been asked to write a paper about this controversy). The fourth sentence repeats the third. And so on. The writer evidently knows little or nothing about the essay topic, and is trying to conceal that fact. Unfortunately, he or she is failing.

These are the beginning sections of very bad essays. Most undergraduate essays are not nearly as bad as that. Still, many essays do begin with weak and meandering introductions that do not address the topic of their paper. This is a shame. It is important that you get the introduction right. This is your best opportunity to grab the reader’s attention and to persuade her that you have something interesting to say. Don’t waste it.

By the time the reader has finished reading the first two sentences, she should know which question the essay addresses. By the time the reader has finished reading the first five or six, she should have a pretty good idea of how the author is going to tackle the question. The following provides one example of a punchy beginning (nb: this is not taken from an essay mill):


Should the Internet be censored? While many Americans would say no, there is in fact a very good case for limited Internet censorship. Pedophiles can use the Internet to find each other and to swap child pornography. Terrorists can use the Internet to propagandize for their beliefs, and to recruit for their causes. Neo-Nazis and others can spread disinformation to the gullible, and persuade them that the Holocaust never occurred. In this essay, I argue that some kinds of Internet speech (child pornography, terrorist recruitment and hate speech) should be banned. I acknowledge that this may hurt legitimate forms of free speech if they become confused with the harmful kinds, but show that the beneficial consequences of banning bad speech outweigh the harmful consequences of accidentally banning (some) good speech.


This is, in my opinion, a good opening paragraph (since I wrote it myself as an illustration, it is perhaps unsurprising that I like it). It immediately states the question that the essay will try to answer. Shortly afterwards, it provides the reader with the proposed answer, and briefly describes the kind of evidence that it will use to support this answer. The introduction also acknowledges that there is a strong opposing case (that banning ‘harmful’ speech will hurt other kinds of speech), and promises that it will try to answer that case. The essay will not necessarily convince its readers (it takes a quite controversial stand), but it does signal to the reader that it has a clear question, a clear answer to that question, and a willingness to address the best arguments against the case it is making. That is all that any professor may reasonably ask for; not that she agree with the writer’s argument and conclusions, but that she recognizes them as well written, well structured, and well supported by the evidence.

Organize, Organize, Organize

Many student papers are badly organized. They wander from point to point. They tack an introduction and conclusion onto a main body that does not have any internal system of order. Or they do not have a distinguishable introduction, body, and conclusion at all.

Some excellent essayists can get away with apparently disorganized writing. It is usually a very bad idea to try to emulate them. Very often, apparently disorganized work is in fact highly organized. The author has merely kicked away the essay’s supports and scaffolding (e.g. an explicit introductory section and so on) as soon as it was strong enough to stand on its own. Sometimes, apparent disorganization is instead the product of a highly subtle mind, or of an elliptical writing style that approaches its topics indirectly rather than directly. Unless you are very confident indeed (and have evidence in the form of past work, print publications etc to justify this confidence) I strongly recommend that you avoid overly clever and non-linear approaches to writing. They require a lot of practice (usually at the more traditional sorts of writing) before they can be carried off well, and when they are carried off badly, they are very bad indeed. Genius may do as it will; mere intelligence and talent should be appropriately modest in their ambitions.

Thus, the need for structure. You should structure your essay at three levels.

Macro-structure

This is the broad structure of the essay itself. Unless you feel very comfortable that you are an excellent writer, it is usually best to stick to the traditional frame of an introductory section, a main body, and a conclusion. The introduction tells the reader what you are going to say. The main body tells the reader what you are saying. The conclusions tell the reader what she has just read (perhaps adding some thoughts as to its broader implications if you are feeling adventurous).

This not only helps the reader understand your argument, but disciplines your thought and prose. It forces you to begin your essay with a clear, concise account of your major claims. When you write the main section of the essay (or re-write it, as needs be) the introduction will provide you with a roadmap of what you need to do. Your conclusions, in contrast, should draw the threads together, showing how the facts and arguments you have laid out in the main body actually speak to the broad themes discussed in the introduction, and drawing the threads of your narrative together into a proper whole. Of course, for this to work it is necessary that the main body of your essay actually speak to the arguments laid out in your introduction, that your conclusions relate to the main body, and so on.

Meso-structure

This is perhaps the most commonly neglected element of structured writing. It concerns the paragraphs into which your prose is organized. Each paragraph should focus on one main point. The point of each paragraph should build on that in the previous paragraph, and create the foundations of the next. Each paragraph should be a necessary part of the overall structure of your essay.

I find that a useful mental exercise is to boil down the arguments of each paragraph, one after the other, into single sentences. Then, put all these sentences together into a consecutive narrative, looking to see whether each sentence can be made to flow naturally from the sentence previous to it, and into the sentence following. This will highlight any major structural problems. If you are not able to boil down each of the paragraphs into a single sentence summary (however simplistic), then the offending paragraphs most likely need to be rewritten more clearly. If there are gaps or non-sequiturs when you put the one sentence summaries together, then the meso-structure of your essay needs to be re-organized, by cutting and pasting paragraphs, or by introducing new paragraphs to fill the gaps, or deleting old paragraphs that detract from the flow of your argument.

Micro-structure

What is true of the paragraph is also true of the sentence. Each individual sentence should flow in a logical and obvious way from the sentence before, and into the sentence after. Consider the following paragraph, taken from a term paper on global warming which is available for free online.


Weather these days has become very unpredictable. The increase in the world’s temperatures, believed to be caused in part by the greenhouse effect which is known as global warming has and will have a serious effect on the future. Global warming creates massive concerns for the entire earth. If the heat continues to increase several species may struggle to survive. There are numerous political, environmental, economic, and social issues when it comes to global warming. Global warming is an inevitable issue and by no stretch of the imagination can be slowed down easily. There is an inconceivable amount of causes that connect to global warming.


This is quite wretched writing. The first sentence is a vague generality that does not mean very much. The second sentence does not flow in any obvious way from the first. What does the greenhouse effect have to do with unpredictable weather? No explanation is provided for the reader. The third sentence merely repeats the argument of the second, with greater rhetorical alarm. The fourth does a little better, but loses force because it is so badly written (the claim that ‘several species’ may struggle to survive suggests that only five or six species are in danger, which sits awkwardly with the previous sentence’s suggestion that global warming causes “massive concerns” for the entire earth). The fifth sentence seems to build a new set of claims, and should be at the beginning of a new paragraph. However, it never goes anywhere. Instead, the sixth sentence warns that global warming is “an inevitable issue” (whatever that means), while the seventh sentence wrings its hands in despair over yet another new claim – that there is an “inconceivable amount” (sic) of causes “that connect” to global warming. These sentences are not only bad in themselves – they are not connected in any logical or orderly way. The result is that they do not add up to a coherent argument.

Exercises in Style

Political science is not a discipline notable for lovely prose. The best historians often write beautifully; the best political scientists rarely do. Good political science writing does not require striking metaphors or clever verbal constructions (while these are not precisely discouraged, they are not commonly regarded as necessary). Instead, it requires simple, direct writing, which communicates its arguments and evidence as clearly and unambiguously as possible.

The implications for prose style are straightforward.

First, use direct language when at all possible. This not only reads better; it communicates clearly who is responsible for what. For example, the sentence


The Iranian government censors newspapers and political websites.


not only reads much better than


Newspapers and political websites are subject to a censorship regime in Iran.


but it conveys more information in fewer words. It tells the reader who is responsible for censoring information (the government). The alternative version provides less information (the reader may guess that the government is responsible for censorship, but she cannot be sure). It also sounds cumbersome and laborious. Students sometimes use indirect constructions or the passive voice rather than direct language and active verbs because they think this will make their writing more sophisticated and ‘academic.’ They are wrong. Even worse, they sometimes prefer indirect language because they believe that it allows them get away with knowing less, by fudging their argument so that it can be interpreted in more than one way. Neither are good reasons. Indirect language often sounds weak, uncertain, and bureaucratic, and experienced readers will recognize when it is being used to bamboozle them. Sometimes, passive and indirect writing is appropriate, but it should be used with caution. It is usually better for students to err

Second, prefer simple words to complex words, and plain language to jargon. Sometimes it will be impossible to avoid jargon or obscure terms. However, it will usually be possible to use simple terms to convey your meaning. When you can do so, do so. Plain language makes life easier for the reader. It also makes it harder for the writer to get away with nonsense. If you use flowery language, you can sometimes persuade yourself that you understand topics and debates which you really do not. If you use plain language you will be forced to confront your areas of weak understanding and to rectify them.

Third, prefer straightforward sentence structures to complex ones. Again, simple sentences usually read better. Some writers (the historian Edward Gibbon is a fine example) can use complex sentence structure to convey irony and secondary meaning. You – unless you have grown up conversant with a prose tradition like Gibbon’s, in which case you have no need whatsoever to read primers like this – probably cannot. You should typically prefer simple sentences with the bare minimum of sub-clauses needed to convey your argument. Formless and incoherent sentences usually suggest formless and incoherent thought, and indeed they may plausibly cause intellectual incoherence. If you reduce your language down to plain, simple sentences with clear structure then you will again be less likely to hide any lack of understanding from the reader and yourself.

Conclusion

Writing good political science essays is not as hard as it seems. It does not require verbal creativity so much as an ordered and disciplined mind. Most obviously and simply, you should read and understand the essay assignment. You should begin by grabbing the attention of the reader with a clear statement of the question that you wish to answer, and how you wish to answer it. You should ensure that your essay is structured and well organized, so that each part does its part, and fits together well with the other parts. Finally, you should ensure that your prose style does not get in the way of clear thinking and clear exposition. If you adhere to these simple rules, you are not guaranteed to write a good essay. No set of mechanical rules can provide such a guarantee. You will, however, avoid the basic mistakes that have plagued 80% of the bad political science essays that I have read over my nine years of teaching.




Footnotes:

1. Illustrated, that is, with examples drawn from thesis mills.

2. I am grateful to Marty Finnemore and the readers of Crooked Timber and the Monkey Cage for comments on this essay.

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Political Science’s Neglect of Conservative Thought

Peter Berkowitz:

…political science departments … offer undergraduates a variety of courses on a range of topics. But one topic the undergraduates … are unlikely to find covered is conservatism.
There is no legitimate intellectual justification for this omission. The exclusion of conservative ideas from the curriculum contravenes the requirements of a liberal education and an objective study of political science.
…While ignoring conservatism, the political theory subfield regularly offers specialized courses in liberal theory and democratic theory; African-American political thought and feminist political theory; the social theory of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school; and numerous versions of postmodern political theory.
…Without an introduction to the conservative tradition in America and the conservative dimensions of modern political philosophy, political science students are condemned to a substantially incomplete and seriously unbalanced knowledge of their subject. Courses on this tradition should be mandatory for students of politics; today they are not even an option at most American universities.
…It would also be good if every political science department offered a complementary course on the history of progressivism in America. This would discourage professors from conflating American political thought as a whole with progressivism, which they do in a variety of ways, starting with the questions they tend to ask and those they refuse to entertain.

Discuss.

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A Bluffer’s Guide to the European Parliament

Voting is about to begin for elections to the European Parliament. Most Americans only have the vaguest idea of what the European Parliament is – so I thought it no harm to provide the beginnings of a quick bluffer’s guide to the EP beneath the fold.

Q: Does the European Parliament actually do anything worth noticing?

A: Yes – it used to be a talking shop in its early days, but not any more. The European Union is best thought of (to use Giandomenico Majone’s term) as a regulatory state. Its budgetary powers are insignificant compared to a national government’s – it gets a smallish percentage of tax revenues raised through VAT etc. But it certainly can regulate – both boring stuff like phytosanitary standards (don’t ask) and not so boring things like telecommunications markets. Some of this regulation (typically the more technical and apolitical aspects, but not always), is handled through delegated authority to the European Commission. The more political stuff is handled through legislation, in which the European Parliament effectively plays a co-equal role with the European Council (which represents the member states). This means that it shapes much of the legislative agenda of the EU, and hence of the member states (a lot of the activity of member state parliaments these days simply involves transposing European Union law into domestic legislation). The Parliament’s powers in some policy areas such as domestic security and agriculture (where a lot of EU spending does occur) are relatively weak, but likely to get much stronger if the proposed Lisbon Treaty passes. The allocation of different powers for different policy areas mean that the Parliament, Council and Commission often get involved in fights (so called legal basis disputes over which policy area (and hence legislative procedure) a particular law should fall under.

In addition, the Parliament has some control over the European Commission – it has a blanket power to kick out the entire Commission, and has assiduously worked to turn this into a more precise set of instruments through which it can accept or reject individual Commissioners as worthy or unworthy.

Q: Does anyone pay any attention to European Parliament elections?
A: Yes – but rarely because they think that the European Parliament does anything worthwhile. Elections to the Parliament tend to be, as Simon Hix describes it, ‘second order elections’ – that is, elections in which voters punish or reward (with the emphasis on the former) their current national governments. This disconnect is highly annoying for fans of European federalism, who would like to see the European Parliament providing the EU with a patina of democratic legitimacy. But this is unlikely to happen as long as voters don’t care about the European Parliament, which apparently they don’t. What is interesting, is that the political science evidence suggests (again thanks to Hix and his colleagues) that the European Parliament is becoming more and more like a national parliament in some ways, with Members of the European Parliament voting on the basis of cross-national ideological alliances much more than shared national interests. So there is an important disconnect here, which should be of some theoretical interest – that even though MEPs are still not regarded as representatives in a ‘real’ Parliament, they behave as if they were when they get to Strasbourg and Brussels.

Q: What is likely to happen in the forthcoming vote?
A: An excellent question, which should help test the predictive power of political science. In one corner: the ubiquitous Professor Hix et al predicting no very great change in the composition of the European Parliament, on the basis of analysis of multitudes of opinion polls. In the other corner, a gaggle of pundits predicting large votes against ‘ordinary’ parties, right wing extremists doing quite nicely, and general political alarum and disorder. We’ll see who is right, starting Sunday.

This is probably enough information for most would-be bluffers – but am happy to provide more in updates (or a future post if there are enough requests to warrant it), in response to requests in comments.

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“Ivory Tower Unswayed by Crashing Economy”

This news article by Patricia Cohen discusses how the recent economic crisis has had a huge effect on the views of policymakers but has not resulted in much change among academic economists:

Since [the stock market crash] the former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has admitted that he was shocked to discover a flaw in the free market model and has even begun talking about temporarily nationalizing some banks. A Newsweek cover last month declared, “We Are All Socialists Now.” And at the latest annual meeting of the American Economic Association, Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said, “The new enthusiasm for fiscal stimulus, and particularly government spending, represents a huge evolution in mainstream thinking.”

Yet prominent economics professors say their academic discipline isn’t shifting nearly as much as some people might think. . . . The financial crash happened very quickly while “things in academia change very, very slowly,” said David Card, a leading labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. . . . Given the short time span since the crisis began, no one expects large curriculum changes yet. But in addition to Berkeley and the University of Texas, professors at a number of departments including those at the University of Chicago, Harvard, Yale and Stanford, say they are unaware of any plans to reassess their curriculums and reading lists, or to rethink the way introductory courses are organized. . . .

I don’t know what’s going on in econ here at Columbia—that dept is on the 10th floor, and my office is far far away on the 7th floor—but I wonder whether some of this is simply that faculty major universities have not yet been hit hard by the recession. I’m sure it can happen and maybe will, but so far I’ve heard about some hiring freezes and pay freezes but not real hardship: Columbia and other places continue to pay full-time faculty, adjuncts, and grad students, continue with research projects, and so forth. I haven’t heard of a lot of classes being canceled anywhere. When I taught at Berkeley, they gave us all a 3% pay cut one year, and nobody seems to be talking about that.

Again, I’m sure there are some places that are struggling, and I don’t want to minimize the difficulty that many students have in paying tuition, but to return to the original point about the classes and doctrines taught by academic economists: maybe it’s only when these folks feel the pain themselves that they’ll really be motivated to change.

As the article pointed out, academic Marxism has lasted a long time in the face of what would (to a naive observer such as myself) appear to be countervailing evidence, so there’s no reason to think that other refuted doctrines would disappear, especially in an environment where the people teaching these classes continue to be paid well.

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The real reason why Dani Rodrik is not a political scientist

Jeffry Frieden had a post a few days ago telling Dani Rodrik that he should go back to working on political economy. Now Rodrik reveals who put him off political science as a career. Yet another thing that Bill Kristol has to answer for …

I have waited a really long time to do this, and I am happy that Bill Kristol finally gave me an opportunity with his column in today’s New York Times. … he was my dreaded instructor long ago in two of the classes that I took as a Harvard undergraduate … In each course, we had to write short papers once every couple of weeks. I can say that my performance on these papers, which Kristol graded, was fairly consistent. The essay on Machiavelli? Here is a C-. The essay on the Federalist Papers? Here is a C. John Stuart Mill? Well, how about, yes you guessed it, another C. You can say that Kristol did his best to discourage me from pursuing a career in political science.
… He walked into the classroom and his first words were: “Hello, my name is Mr. Kristol.” To underscore the point that he was that, and not Bill or any other friendly appellations by which we students may have chosen to address him, he went to the board and wrote “Mr. Kristol.” I may have been a poorly adjusted Turk in my first year in the U.S., but this still struck me as odd. … Well, Mr. Kristol’s column today takes aim at Barack (and Michelle) Obama, and does so quite unfairly in my view. … What caught my attention was this passage: [where Kristol says that in almost every empirical respect, American lives have in fact gotten better over the last quarter-century.] … Really? … for a high-school graduate, the odds that his compensation would have fallen by more than 10% is 50-50. Note that even college graduates have not seen any income gains since around 2000. … some groups have definitely been left worse off—not just in relative but also in absolute terms. So statistics aside, who do you think has a better sense of what has happened to “regular folk” since 1980? Michelle Obama or Mr. Kristol?
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