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Quick Question

from Peter Radford

How do you calculate the marginal productivity of an economics professor? Especially a tenured professor. Especially a tenured professor who advocates economics theories based upon ‘marginalist’ thought.

And do they apply those theories to their own lives?

Do they?

Do they believe that the theories they advocate and promulgate are representations of reality?

If so they must surely live by those theories. Their lives must reflect those ideas. Their day to day existence must mimic the ideas they fill student’s heads with.

I am not so much interested in the fun discussions of cutting edge ideas that occupy their time in graduate seminars, professional meetings, conferences and the like, but, rather, in what they teach everyday students. What do they teach students who are taking only one of two economics classes and whose knowledge of the economy will rest entirely on that exposure?

Those students end up as workers, managers, and voters.

So economics professors have an awesome responsibility to teach those students about the economy as best they can. With current knowledge for instance. With ideas that they are willing to spend their own lives putting into practice.

I assume this is what happens. I am sure it is.

I hope that the inevitable lag between new discovery and its inclusion in textbooks is kept to a minimum. I hope that every effort is made to avoid teaching something that a professor is unwilling to submit his or her life to.

Like flexible wages.

If professors don’t actually believe that kind of stuff I hope they don’t teach it. I know a lot don’t. Good for them. There’s a lot of them. We need many more. But what about the ones that do?

So: how do you measure the marginal productivity of an economics professor? And does the answer matter? If it doesn’t for them, does it matter at all?

It might matter. Especially in the case of professors who advocate the efficacy of markets. Flexible markets. Free flexible markets. Free from the evils of interference. Free to respond to every whim and slight perturbation of the impersonal marketplace. Free from workplace rules, unions, regulation, and any other restriction on the infinite and quick adjustment of the market. Free to adjust to the arrival of new technologies. Free to move relentlessly into a more and more productive future.

After all, as many professors point out, the abundance around us is proof positive of the superiority of unfettered markets over all other forms of economic allocation and production.

Free markets are quite the thing. They have to be free from everything.

So: free from tenure?

Or is that one question too many?

It’s a question of ethics. And we are entitled to ask the teachers if they practice what they teach.


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  1. rddulin
    August 26, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Actually very easy. If you want an accurate answer. List them on Ebay and note the final price or the absence of bids. Block bids from academic institutions and affiliates.

  2. August 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Free markets are networks. As in bazaar, souk. Everyone is free to sell anything to anyone else. Free in this context feels like freedom. Free markets-as-networks generate value because they let people discover unmet demand and new uses for what’s already there. A free market is productive because when I sell rice, or steel, or machines, I don’t need to know what use you have for it.

    Free markets in textbooks are free as in mechanistic. They’re steam engine governors (look it up). They optimise one quantity, the clearing price, at the expense of other considerations. They do that. They optimise the clearing price, usually, absent malfunctions and other influences. Free markets as price governors are boring. They ought to be but a footnote in economic teaching.

  3. macroambiente
    August 26, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Actually mainstream economists preach freedom to all markets but one: “their” financial market. Central bank must be there to always assure 100% liquidity and, in normal times, a reasonable yield to T-bonds. Of course government must tax people and central bank must print money out of thin air to pay interests and, occasionally, bail-outs.
    The design and execution of the open market monetary policy are such that what the FED actually does is to offer and operate a kind of a financial fund. “Treasuries can be thought of as bank “saving deposits” held at the Fed, earning interest” (NERSISYAN & WRAY, 2010, p. 12).
    NERSISYAN, Y. & WRAY, L. R. Deficit Hysteria Redux? Why We Should Stop Worrying About U.S. Government Deficits. Nova York: The Levy Economics Institute. Public Policy Brief, Nº. 111, 2010. Downloaded from http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/ppb_111.pdf.

  4. JdeV
    August 27, 2015 at 12:04 am

    They also indoctrinate the likes of UK Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne.

  5. TomS
    August 27, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Friends and fellow students had a hard time when entering the labour market as they didn’t recognize anything they had been studying for all these years. When I explained to them administered pricing theory, that clarified what they experienced.

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