Krugman Paper: A Serious Comment
As it happens, my first published article in economics, written at about the same time, was on almost as odd a topic–an economic analysis of the size and shape of nations, purporting to explain features of the changing political map of Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present. It was, however, intended seriously, and is one of the pieces I'm still proud of. A few years back I came across someone's discussion of the literature on the size of nations. My article was the first one listed and the second, by Jim Buchanan, was about ten years later.
I think it's still an important difference among economists and economics departments, and one that young academics ought to care about. I remember a long time ago commenting to a graduate student at Chicago that it seemed to me that there were a lot of economists who didn't really believe in economics. It was what they did in working hours, not how they thought about the world. His response was that some of his fellow graduate students had noticed that–when visiting other schools.
I was reminded of that incident when visiting one of the colleges my daughter is considering for next year. Wandering around the economics department to get a feel for the place, I spoke with three faculty members–none of whom struck me as an economist in my sense of the term. My daughter, having audited an econ class, commented to me on the fact that a student had made a comment which any economist should have responded to with some version of "that sounds plausible but is wrong because"–a point that would seem obviously right to a non-economist, obviously wrong to an economist. The professor simply let the comment go.
I don't know enough about economics department to say which ones currently are in what category, with two exceptions. Chicago, so far as I can tell, is still a place where economists believe in economics. So, less obviously, is George Mason. One simple test, I suspect, would be to have lunch with members of the department, perhaps also with graduate students, and see what they talk about.
I should add that my point is not that economics is true, although I think it largely is. I am not inclined to take theology very seriously. But if I did take a course in it, I would expect to learn more, and have a more interesting time, if the professor was a believer than if he were an atheist.