American Spectator (h/t Thoma) has an interview with Robert Skidlesky, author of Keynes: The Return of the Master. One passage sticks out:
JL: In closing your narrative, you make the unusual proposal that students of economics should be required to master different and complementary fields, such as history or political science, when pursuing economics doctorates. But so far economics departments seem entirely unrepentant in their ways, despite the recent failures of their profession. Do you see your suggestion gaining traction in any schools or with any other economic thinkers?
RS: I don’t think that we can expect this kind of structural change to occur quickly. Remember that only a bit more than a year ago most people still did not see the end of the boom. Commodity prices had peaked and there was definitely a sense of anxiety amongst those who followed the movements of asset prices but the night before Lehman collapsed most economists were sleeping blissfully ignorant. It was not until the 24th of October — roughly six weeks later — that Alan Greenspan admitted to a “flaw” in the “intellectual edifice” and that the economic crisis became accepted as a crisis for economics. There has only been one academic year in between then and now. Universities move slowly. We have yet to see the full impact of the current crisis on the way economics is done. But there are many straws in the wind. Even if my specific suggestions are not acted on, there is agreement among many economists that economics is over-burdened with maths, and that realism is sacrificed for the sake of mathematical tractability. In his review of my new book, Paul Krugman supported the general idea of restructuring economics although he might have thought my actual proposal too extreme. However, I maintain that the seemingly extreme attraction of false perfection offered by microeconomic mathematisation requires “extreme” countermeasures.
If only. As early as Fall of 2007, concerned students at Notre Dame were pushing the idea of having a required course in history of economic thought or political economy. This was immediatly after the addition of econometrics as a required course. The proposal, and open letter and petition that followed, fell on deaf ears. And now, we are where we are.
The other thing to keep in mind about undergraduate economics curricula is that we are not learning the fancy math behind micro and macro. We are learning stylized versions of it. To say that history of economic thought is any more rigorous than introductory micro is intellectually dishonest. Of course, the best teachers of introductory micro (at least at ND) manage to weave this history into their lectures in any event. Sadly, they are all in the department that is being shuttered.