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韦森  

复旦大学经济学院副院长

韦森,原名李维森,汉族,山东人,教授,博士生导师,现任复旦大学经济学院副院长。澳大利亚国立大学硕士,1995悉尼大学经济学博士。2000年至2001年曾为剑桥大学经济与政治学院正式访问教授。主要研究领域为制度经济学和比较制度分析,对哲学、伦理学、法学、政治学、人类学、语言学、社会学以及宗教神学等学科也有着广泛的研究兴趣。学术专著主要有:《社会制序的经济分析导论》、《经济学与伦理学:探寻市场经济的伦理维度与道德基础》、《经济学与哲学:制度分析的哲学基础》、《制度经济学三人谈》等。

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To appear in Singapore Economic Review

 

Orthodox Economics and Economists:

Strengths and Weaknesses*

(Part II)

 Yew-Kwang Ng,

Monash University, Australia

 

 

 

3. Looking Forward

 

Economists’ basic tools of constrained maximization and equilibrium are very powerful and will continue to be used. Extensions to beyond the simplified classroom models will continue to be made. Even now, there are already many rich results waiting to be incorporated into our textbooks to enrich economic analysis. The imperfect applicability of the simple models means that economists will benefit from knowledge in other areas, especially psychology, biology, institutional studies. On the other hand, associated with excessive formalism is the tendency towards increasing specialization, with specialists knowing very little beyond their own narrow areas of specialization. This raises a question regarding the training of economists. Economists should learn more than just a few highly simplified models. The basic analysis is important and should continue to be taught, but in a less dogmatic way, emphasizing its simplified nature with many  complications neglected.

 

On the basic analysis, there is something that is quite sad but should be reported. We teach the basic microeconomics and macroeconomics in the first year (some also in the pre-university level, especially in Hong Kong), then do them again at a little more advanced level and with a few more topics in the second, with many applications of the basis analysis to various areas of economics over the second and third year. Micro and macro are repeated again at the honours and/or the graduate level though typically using more mathematical analysis and with more advanced stuff taught. With so many repetitions, one should think that the basic stuff should be ingrained in the mind of our graduate students (which is partly why economists are too narrowly minded, being too much influenced by the highly simplified basic models). However, in my decades of experience, wherever I go, most graduate students and intending graduate students cannot satisfactorily answer simple questions on basic economics such as: why must the marginal-cost curve cut a continuous U-shaped average-cost curve at the minimum point of the latter. In particular, they cannot explain the relevant point intuitively, even for those who manage to provide a valid mathematical proof. I think this shows that our teaching focuses on techniques to the inadequate emphasis on conceptual understanding. Either for teaching, research, or policy advice, I would prefer an economist who really understands the basics to one who knows how to reproduce the bordered Hessian of constrained maximization without understanding the basic concepts of first-year economics. It is more important to make sure that our students truly understand the basic concepts than to teach them advanced mathematical techniques.

 

Perhaps the basic concepts of even just basic economics are too abstract for most students. I think it was Arrow who said something like, ‘You can teach all the important stuffs of economics within a few weeks, but it takes at least a few years for the students to understand them.’ Perhaps this is why we have to do micro and macro again and again. Now we argue that the basic stuffs are far from adequate and have to include many extensions. With more time spent on the extensions, wouldn’t a higher proportion of our students fail to understand the basics? The answer is that students need more time learning the important and expanded subject of economics. The recent proposal to extend economics degree from 3 to 4 years makes sense. Economics is an important, abstract, complicated, expanding subject. We need to spend more time and resources if we are to teach it properly, both to those majoring in economics and to students doing business or management.

 

References

 

ARROW, Kenneth J. (1951), 'An extension of the basic theorems of classical

welfare economics', in Proceedings of the Second Berkeley Symposium on

Mathematical Statistics and Probability, ed. NEYMAN, J.,

Berkeley:University of California Press.

BUCHANAN, James M. & YOON, Yong J. (1999). ‘Generalized increasing

returns, Euler's theorem, and competitive equilibrium’, History of Political

Economy. 31(3): 511-23.

CHIPMAN, J.S. (1965), ‘The nature and meaning of equilibrium in economic

theory’, in D. Martindale, ed., Functionalism in Social Sciences; reprinted in

Townsend (1971/1980).

EASTERLY, William (2001). The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’

Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, MIT Press.

ELLISON, Glenn (2002). ‘Evolving standards for academic publishing: A q-r

theory’, Journal of Political Economy, 110(5): 994-1034.

FRANK, Robert H. (1997), ‘Conspicuous consumption: Money well spent?’, EJ,

107: 1832-1847.

FREY, Bruno S. & STUTZER, Alois (2002a), ‘What can economists learn from

happiness research?’ JEL, XL: 402-35.

Guth, Werner, Rolf Schmittberger and Bernd Schwarze. 1982. “An Experimental

Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining,” Journal of Economic Behavior and

Organization, 3: 367-388.

HILLMAN, Arye L. (2002). “The World Bank and the persistence of poverty in

poor countries”, European Journal of Political Economy, 18: 783-95.

KAHNEMAN, Daniel, KNETSCH, D., & THALER, R. (1991), ‘The endowment

effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias’, J. of E. Perspectives, 5:193-206.

KAPLOW, Louis (1996), ‘The optimal supply of public goods and the

distortionary cost of taxation’, National Tax J., 49(4):513-533.

NG, Siang & NG, Yew-Kwang (2001), ‘Welfare-reducing growth despite

individual and government optimization’, Social Choice and Welfare, 18: 497-

506.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1965). “Why do People buy Lottery Tickets? Choices

involving Risk and the Indivisibility of Expenditure”, Journal of Political

Economy, October 1965, 530-535.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1977). “Aggregate Demand, Business Expectation, and

Economic Recovery without Aggravating Inflation”, Australian Economic

Papers, 130-140.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1980). “Macroeconomics with Non-perfect Competition”,

Economic Journal, September 1980, 598-610.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1982). A micro-macroeconomic analysis based on a

representative firm. Economica. 49: 121-40.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1986). Mesoeconomics. London: Wheatsheaf.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1992). “Business confidence and depression prevention: A

mesoeconomic perspective”, American Economic Review, 1992, 82: 365-

371.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1996), ‘Happiness surveys: Some comparability issues and an

exploratory survey based on just perceivable increments’, Social Indicators

Research, 38(1): 1-29.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1997), ‘A case for happiness, cardinal utility, and interpersonal

comparability’, EJ, 107(445): 1848-1858.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1998). “Non-neutrality of money under non-perfect competition:

why do economists fail to see the possibility?” In Arrow, Ng, and Yang,

eds., Increasing Returns and Economic Analysis, London: Macmillan, 1998,

pp.232-252.

NG, Yew-Kwang (1999a), ‘Utility, informed preference, or happiness?’, Social

Choice and Welfare, 16(2): 197-216.

NG, Yew-Kwang, (1999b), “On estimating the effects of events like the Asian

financial crisis: A mesoeconomic approach”, Taiwan Economic Review, 27 (4):

393-412.

NG, Yew-Kwang (2000a), Efficiency, Equality, and Public Policy: With a Case

for Higher Public Spending, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

NG, Yew-Kwang (2000b), ‘The optimal size of public spending and the

distortionary costs of taxation’, National Tax J, 52(2):253-72.

NG, Yew-Kwang (2003a), ‘From preference to happiness: Towards a more

complete welfare economics”, SCW, forthcoming. (Revised from a keynote

speech of the same title for a conference ‘Economics and the Pursuit of

Happiness’ at Nuffield College, Oxford, 2000.)

NG, Yew-Kwang (2003b), “Economic Policies in the light of Happiness Studies,

with Reference to Singapore’, Singapore Economic Review.

NG, Yew-Kwang (2003c), Welfare Economics: Towards A Complete Analysis,

Macmillan/Palgrave, U.K.

OSWALD, Andrew J. (1997), ‘Happiness and economic performance’, EJ, 107:

1815-1831.

ROTH, Alvin E. 1995. “Bargaining Experiments,” in John H. Kagel and Alvin E.

Roth (eds.) The Handbook of Experimental Economics, Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 253-348.

RAE, John (1834), New Principles of Political Economy. Reprinted as The

Sociological Theory of Capital, ed. Mixter, Charles W. (1990), New York:

Macmillan.

TOWNSEND, H. ed. (1971/1980), Price Theory, Penguin.

VEBLEN, Theodor (1899). The Theory of the Leisure Class, NewYork:

Macmillan.

YANG, Xiaokai & NG, Yew-Kwang (1993), Specialization and Economic

Organization, Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Endnotes:

*   This paper is revised from the Goh Keng Swee public lecture ‘Some Limitations of Economics’ delivered on 10 October 2002 at NUS and my talk in a panel discussion onEconomics: Present and Future with Jack Knetsch and David Reisman at NTU on 25 October2002.

1, This paragraph also appears in Ng (2003a, ch.10).

2,   However, generalized increasing returns at the economy level due to the economies of specialization facilitated by the division of labour may be consistent with perfect competition. See Buchanan & Yoon (1999); see also Yang & Ng (1993) for an analysis of such generalized increasing returns that dispenses with the dichotomy between consumers and  producers.

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