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The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics

By Vox

Raj Chetty has an idea for introducing students to econ that could cause a seismic shift in the fieldRead full story

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  • Love the shout out for MIT Professors Duflo, Banerjee and Angrist whom I had the pleasure of learning from some 15 years ago. As an MIT Econ major, I sometimes take for granted that empirical study was so engrained in our degree, and formed the foundation of how we solve problems everyday. Entire semesters were dedicated to exactly what Harvard is planning to do with Chetty’s course.

    I wholeheartedly applaud this move, because I know these lessons have served me well in the real world.

  • This article shows the power of the advent of big data and the ability to work with powerful algorithms. Such tools help economics teaching finally move beyond theory. Policy makers would be greatly aided by taking such a course such that evidence based policy making in trade, finance, and investment can finally become practice.

  • It’s about time to see this happening. What is the point of teaching economics if you don’t focus on the most fundamental questions, namely what drives people‘s lives and livelihoods? The economics profession has become so mathematical that practitioners sometimes forget it is actually a social science.

  • Show not tell. Great model.

    “If this were just a pedagogical shift at Harvard, that would be one thing. But Chetty is aiming to make the course a model for other schools. After the financial crisis, many economists have concluded that Econ 101 is broken across the university system and is not preparing students for a world where markets frequently fail. Chetty’s class offers a new way to teach an introductory course, yet at the same time is more closely aligned with what contemporary economic research

    Show not tell. Great model.

    “If this were just a pedagogical shift at Harvard, that would be one thing. But Chetty is aiming to make the course a model for other schools. After the financial crisis, many economists have concluded that Econ 101 is broken across the university system and is not preparing students for a world where markets frequently fail. Chetty’s class offers a new way to teach an introductory course, yet at the same time is more closely aligned with what contemporary economic research looks like. The course’s lecture videos are already available online, for students at other institutions to use. That shift could change economics itself, by attracting a new breed of students who are intrigued by the field’s new empiricism, not put off by its mathiness and high theory...”

  • This is a good compliment rather than substitute to Econ 101. Data without theory tells you nothing.

    Also the authors line about needing lower standards to attract women is insulting. This is what keeps women out of STEM

  • I studied Economics at Harvard in the middle of the financial crisis. I remember sitting in a Capital Markets class and my professor threw his hands up, admitting that no matter what he taught, the current state of the economy disproved the theories in our textbooks. For a group of such smart people, I can’t believe it’s taking the discipline this long to evolve.

    Most modern economic theory is based upon a fundamental assumption of scarcity of resources. In a digitally driven world, resources are

    I studied Economics at Harvard in the middle of the financial crisis. I remember sitting in a Capital Markets class and my professor threw his hands up, admitting that no matter what he taught, the current state of the economy disproved the theories in our textbooks. For a group of such smart people, I can’t believe it’s taking the discipline this long to evolve.

    Most modern economic theory is based upon a fundamental assumption of scarcity of resources. In a digitally driven world, resources are abundant and marginal costs are nearly zero, essentially uprooting the drivers of supply/demand as we learned in Ec10.

    We definitely need a more evidence based approach to navigating these uncharted territories.

  • This course is teaching students that we don't have to be unequal, it doesn't have to be unfair, poverty isn't inevitable and things can change. Because when we understand why we are where we are (by looking at data, in this case), then we realise we are not powerless but instead have the ability to change things and break the status quo.

  • "After the financial crisis, many economists have concluded that Econ 101 is broken across the university system and is not preparing students for a world where markets frequently fail."

    SInce financial services aren't unregulated, this statement is pretty nonsensical. Contributors to far left sites like Vox may be keen to blame markets for government's failures, and fellow travelers in academia may give them cover to do so, but that doesn't make this a substitute good for real economics.

  • Changing the content of intro econ is good. But equally important is teaching students that models are imperfect but sometimes useful approximations of the world -- not reality.

  • One my favorite econ profs as an undergrad approached economics in a similar way, and it greatly influenced my interest in the field. He said "95% of economics isn't about math, but where there is math? It always has to work. If the math doesn't work, the econ is wrong. "

    I sometimes teach intro to microeconomics at a local community college, and i have come to believe that one can gain a solid understanding of moderately advanced economics with just a basic understanding of descriptive statistics

    One my favorite econ profs as an undergrad approached economics in a similar way, and it greatly influenced my interest in the field. He said "95% of economics isn't about math, but where there is math? It always has to work. If the math doesn't work, the econ is wrong. "

    I sometimes teach intro to microeconomics at a local community college, and i have come to believe that one can gain a solid understanding of moderately advanced economics with just a basic understanding of descriptive statistics and high-school level algebra.

    It is, after all, a social science. You really just need to know enough math to know that when the math doesn't work? The econ is wrong.

  • Definitely a good approach and definitely a breakthrough for undergraduate education. Ironically many of the concepts for analyzing opportunity and economics are similar to how Wall Street analysts and consultant have been trained for the last decade and looking at business management pain points within public companies. Bridging the gaps between academia and real life, especially for the world of finance and business is very important. It increases the relevance of education into entrepreneurship

    Definitely a good approach and definitely a breakthrough for undergraduate education. Ironically many of the concepts for analyzing opportunity and economics are similar to how Wall Street analysts and consultant have been trained for the last decade and looking at business management pain points within public companies. Bridging the gaps between academia and real life, especially for the world of finance and business is very important. It increases the relevance of education into entrepreneurship and innovation, things that are in dire need today in the United States.

  • From theories that explain to data that shows.

  • Sign me up! This should be a class allowed to all who can access it, that hopefully more of everyone would have a better understandings how economics impacts our lives.

  • Teaching skills that will enable students to recognize complex patterns instead of simpler explanations has to be valid.

    Big data and the complex algorithms will better describe relationships within an economy but I don't think it will be a policy panacea.

    All models suffer the same problems conveniently lumped together and called externalities. Like it or not the externalities can be as complicated as the economic theory.

    As for supply and demand relationships well Apple has made a lot of money using them.

  • I would need a deeper understanding to make a sound statement about this idea, but sure it’s fascinating. Perhaps in a couple of weeks.

  • Big data was the big revolution we've been waiting for

  • I have come across Chetty's research on economic opportunity, which is important, but I would disagree that he is revolutionizing how economics is taught. Having just graduated with a B.S. in Economics elsewhere I can say that the field has debated using more empirical methods vs theory for many years. If anything this article depicts the intellectual monopoly of Harvard where the public doesn't pay attention to progess until an Ivy League does it. Harvard must be struggling to overcome the traditional

    I have come across Chetty's research on economic opportunity, which is important, but I would disagree that he is revolutionizing how economics is taught. Having just graduated with a B.S. in Economics elsewhere I can say that the field has debated using more empirical methods vs theory for many years. If anything this article depicts the intellectual monopoly of Harvard where the public doesn't pay attention to progess until an Ivy League does it. Harvard must be struggling to overcome the traditional dominance of their famous professors whereas many state schools are easily morphing curriculums. I mean theories and research and empirical data has existed for decades on how markets fail. Anyone remember Minsky? Econometrics or empirical methods are not new. This is old news that economics has been looking to change.

  • "Raj Chetty, a prominent faculty member whom Harvard recently poached back from Stanford, this spring unveiled “Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems.” Taught with the help of lecturer Greg Bruich, the class garnered 375 students, including 363 undergrads, in its first term. That’s still behind the 461 in Ec 10 — but not by much.

    The courses could hardly be more different. Chetty has made his name as an empirical economist, working with a small army of colleagues and

    "Raj Chetty, a prominent faculty member whom Harvard recently poached back from Stanford, this spring unveiled “Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems.” Taught with the help of lecturer Greg Bruich, the class garnered 375 students, including 363 undergrads, in its first term. That’s still behind the 461 in Ec 10 — but not by much.

    The courses could hardly be more different. Chetty has made his name as an empirical economist, working with a small army of colleagues and research assistants to try to get real-world findings with relevance to major political questions. And he’s focused on the roots and consequences of economic and racial inequality. He used huge amounts of IRS tax data to map inequality of opportunity in the US down to the neighborhood, and to show that black boys in particular enjoy less upward mobility than white boys."

  • If we've not had enough...

  • „[Raj Chetty] wants to give students a sense of the kind of economics that cures: that cures inequality, that identifies and fixes bad schools.“

  • Without transcribing a novel in the comments section, my POVs and awareness align infinitely close to those of Chetty. Wholeheartedly perceive the mutual alignment of limitless POVs covering diverse fields. Without a doubt will be attempting to establish a connection and further facilitation of thought experiments with one of the, if not the only, visionaries on the same level as I. Mutual contributions are on the horizon along with universal positive change. <3

  • Good luck with that

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