August 26, 2007
Why are economists so great?
Posted by David Zaring

Greg Mankiw gets a mash note from a medical student asking: why are economists so great? They’re better in seminars, the student gushes, they’re aggressive and probing, they’re all business and no cant. The student then asks an economist – not Mankiw – if he knows why economists are so great. The economist is happy to answer. It turns out:

  • Economists have higher test scores than everybody else
  • Economists go to better graduate programs than everybody else
  • Economists get their jobs through a market that works better than everybody else’s
  • Economists aren’t advocates, most everybody else is

It’s a charming, modest takeaway. But there’s no question that economists are well trained social scientists, with plenty of math and a confident professional ethos. Economists are also good in workshops – and I occasionally think that the old law professor credo of “have a theory about anything and speak in full paragraphs rich with prosody” is less popular in the interdisciplinary seminar rooms of our universities now that economists are coming too, and biting into the confounders and omitted variables.

So maybe economists are totally awesome. I bet Mankiw thinks so. But at least he’s cute about it.  Economists may crush all comers in seminars, Mankiw thinks, because "economics may attract people with a particular set of personality attributes, and perhaps these attributes are not the same set of attributes you might choose for your next dinner party.”

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