Economics Is A Dismal Science, But That Doesn't Mean We Shouldn't Study It

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13 Responses

  1. Little Raven says:

    People in all kinds of 'safe' public sector jobs are going to be in for a real shock over the next two years, as the paper-overing provided by the stimulus package fades. Cities, counties, states…all kinds of public budgets are just dripping with red ink. There's going to be no way to avoid big, big layoffs.

    The need to balance a budget doesn't apply to the Feds, so Federal workers may be marginally safer. But anyone lower down the chain has ample reason to worry.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Just making sure that you didn't miss it, but Florida currently has no tax on earned incomes. 'Raising taxes' would be more than a trivial exercise and would be utterly suicidal for all sitting, elected members of the state legislature.

    Sales tax, at 6%, could be jacked up, but in a troubled economy, with high state-wide unemployment, and property values tanked, such a move would also hint of self-murder.

    Snowbirds, the folk who come down to enjoy the warm winters (but not this one), already pay special taxes.

    That pretty much leaves real estate tax, a tax currently so high that it's keeping would-be home owners out of the market.

    Something, clearly, has to give. In Florida, that something is increasingly government-provided services.

  3. John Burgess says:

    PS: Time to update your copyright notices.

  4. Patrick says:

    I'll worry about the copyright problem in 94 years, John.

  5. John Burgess says:

    All content is copyright 2007-2009 by its respective identified authors.

    Just referring to your notice in the sidebar…

  6. VRaverna says:

    While oceanography and meteorlogy don't have much economic value, I thought geophysics have good value. Is geophysics part of geology department or is it part of physics department?

  7. Chris says:

    I heartily agree that tenured faculty feel far too safe in their jobs, which is bad for any number of reasons. Being Florida, supporting as much oceanography as the state deems affordable probably makes good sense, but not more. On the other hand, I think it's a bad idea to slam basic science on economic grounds in an overly generic manner. That way lies much easy and counterproductive demagoguery. For instance, you make it sound as if $1M is a wasteful and inappropriate amount of money for this sort of thing, but I don't think that's right. Startup fees refer to the expense of outfitting a new lab, and scientific equipment is expensive. Typical practice is for a department to do this once, when a new faculty member negotiates salary, etc, and from then on it's grant supported or bust.

    I mention this not to defend the academics in question or argue that the terminations were a bad call. Especially if the state gives an overall cut to the institution, and it in turn decides this is the best way to handle it. I just think it's a major league bad habit to get all huffy about specific budget items in fields about which one knows fuck-all.

    But, so long as we're making baseless judgements about the relative worth of academic fields, are you really so confident of the predictive power (hence worth) of economics as a science? As a physics student (haven't run across any geophysicists in my neck of the woods, btw) I've just gotta say I haven't seen much of it that amounted to more than basic accounting encased in a bunch of pseudo-mathematical bloviating.

  8. Patrick says:

    Chris I'm speaking of microeconomics. Hence the "TA" closing line. Everything I ever learned about microeconomics is true. That's Adam Smith stuff. Macro? Not so much.

    Coming back around to the point of the post, there is nothing that a refresher course in microeconomics couldn't have taught the chairs of these departments about the relative values of their departments, and their fields. All priorities and values compete, and no one is above this competition. I expect that a number of legislators will learn this to their chagrin in November, in Florida and elsewhere.

  9. Chris says:

    So, it looks like I got a little over-caffeinated last night. Sorry about that. I'm still not sure I understand the economic argument here, though. Most science departments are (fairly large) revenue generators. Every grant includes something like 30-50% overhead which goes directly to the university, and winds up funding stuff like English. On top of that, I was given to understand this university in particular was pretty aggressive about making money off of patents, etc, and was more or less entirely funded on royalties from colgate toothepaste and gatorade.

    Maybe I've got my facts wrong, but assuming that's not the case, if this was about money and not politics, wouldn't you expect to see, say, art, music, philosophy, etc get the axe first? I suppose it could happen if they'd all been hired on ludicrous pay or benefits. There's a fair amount of that at my school, but everyone always talks like it's impossible to get rid of them. I swear to christ, I don't think you could design an institutional structure with worse administrative incentives than the tenure system if you tried.

    One more thing: from a selfish, student oriented perspective, I think it's easy to make an argument that there's some immorality here. Students often have a multi-year commitment to work with a given professor, and when you start firing PIs you break that commitment and start destroying careers in a hurry, which is not an occasion for snark. Necessity and morality are orthogonal, and the latter, whether you want to locate it with the terminations or the irresponsible hiring, is present regardless of the former.

  10. Ken says:

    Heartily agree with your screed! Florida should get rid of all of these wasters in academia who are not creating value. For instance who needs poetry? Dump the Eng Lit department. History? Other than it repeating itself, what has History ever done for us? Get rid of the faculty. Florida's big money makers are tourism, pensioners, and oranges, so let's get rid of all universities. You can then pour the money into primary school educations – as you suggest. The low-educated people can the contribute constructively to society by asking that age old question "You want fries with that?" and writing dumbass blog posts. Immorality is in the eye of the beholder.Not being able to get the university education you need to fulfil your ambitions and dreams, in the state you live in, because of budget CHOICES is a tricky question. Its answer probably depends on whether you think going back to the Middle Ages is a good idea. Like your blog, hate your post.

  11. Patrick says:

    Wonderful "Ken". Who should be fired instead of these professors?

  12. Ken says:

    Obviously, Patrick, the people of Florida should just pay more taxes until those junior faculty can be paid at current levels. The junior faculty have a greater moral right to the money than the people and businesses who, you know, earned it.

    (I'm a different Ken, by the way.)

  13. craig says:

    Leroy Odom is the chair of the Geology Department, not Geography.
    It might be useless talking about science on a law blog, but Geology, Oceanography, Meteorology provide enormous long term value to the economy. Besides, the layoffs in the Geology Dept. at FSU were as political as they were financial.