Methodology and the Young Economist

George Stigler, a man I am fond of reading and putting in goofy glasses on my banner, once said that economists should only do methodology once, when they are old and reflecting back on their career (at least I believe he said it: I cannot find the quote). Peter Boettke argues that Stigler was off by one. An economist should also do methodology early in his career when thinking of the type of economist he wants to become. I agree with Professor Boettke. Sorry, George.

In many ways, this year has been my full-fledged attempt at understanding and discovering the type of economics I want to do. In my coursework at Barcelona, I am experiencing a fairly typical introduction to Samuelsonian economics. Maximize, maximize, and then when done, maximize again. This is my first true exposure to this one particular method and the experience has highlighted some of the costs and benefits.

I am trying to conduct methodology outside of the classroom, too. Slowly, I am working my way through three different methods of basic economics with Rothbard, MWG, and Stigler- using the man's book to go against his professional advice. I know that next year in my PhD it will be more difficult to take the time and think about these big picture questions. This year has clarified the type of work I want to do and the type of program I want to attend (more on this in the coming weeks).

With methodology always on the back of my mind, I was ecstatic to discover a PDF of James Buchanan's What Should Economists Do? I had read his opening essay of the same title before, but the book has much more depth. In this book, James Buchanan is asking all the questions I am asking at this point of my career, and coming to a lot better answers than I can. Buchanan has a unique insight into the differences between Austrian and Chicago economics, having worked with the best of both types.

While I plan to have a longer post of this great work (after exams, wish me luck), I just wanted to encourage (both) readers of this blog to check out Buchanan's book. My friends, who are beginning PhD's next fall, are especially encouraged to give him a read. After that, read Peter Boettke's book Living Economics which tackles some of the same questions.

It is too easy to go on auto-pilot. Buchanan forces us to take a step back and clarify what we are actually doing. I think we should know what we are doing before devoting our lives to a science. Or is it an art?

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