Sunday, February 6, 2022

Training Foxes

Isaiah Berlin distinguished between hedgehogs (those who know one big thing in depth) and foxes (those who know a little bit of everything). In the new degree on Contemporary History, Politics and Economics at my university, we train foxes (I am a fox myself)... trying to improve the terms of the trade-off between scope and depth.

Our very motivated and endogenously self-selected students have a predisposition to look at the multidimensionality of social phenomena, and have the opportunity to be exposed to the basics of the three disciplines in four years. To improve the terms of the trade-off, more than teaching them a bit of everything, we try to focus on some key issues. I teach them introductory economics with the CORE materials, which have themselves a multidisciplinary approach.

In the first term, we covered in sequence the eight first chapters of the (excellent, and free) e-book "The Economy," which finish with the standard graph of market supply and demand (the starting point of tradititonal textbooks), after discussing the importance of inequality, history, social interactions, institutions or the environment. In the second term that will be starting this week, more on macro issues (but emphasizing the connection to micro), I will do more than mechanically follow the structure of the e-book. I will cover together units 10, 11 and 12, to emphasize financial markets and financial market imperfections, so that they have an introduction to money and monetary institutions in the context of financial markets and other assets. Then we'll do units 9, 13 and 14, to explain in a sequence labor markets, unemployment, business cycles and fiscal policy. Next we'll go back to monetary policy and inflation with units 15 and the capstone unit 17 (on the great depression and the global financial crisis, and I will ask them to do work on the macroeconomics of the coronavirus crisis). After this, we'll do technological change, growth and the global economy (unit 16 and capstone unit 18, where I will ask them to do work on the European Union and the eurozone as a particular response to Rodrik's trilemma; perhaps we'll make some reference to the capstone unit on the digital economy), to finish on the last days discussing political economy (the interaction between politics and economics) with capstone unit 22. The capstone units on climate change and inequality have to some extent been covered in the first term but we may go back to parts of them.

I will also ask them to choose to do one of the empirical projects from the e-book "Doing Economics" units 4, 8-10 and 12, which are more related to the contents of this second term. I know it sounds ambitious, but as I said, we are foxes, and we are not embarrassed by it.  Reality does not have academic departments. There must be both foxes and hedgehogs, but it's more fun to be a fox. Hopefully, we'll have a good time learning together.

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