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Thursday, September 08, 2005


(Be forewarned, this is a boring post.)

We finally had our first real class this morning -- Applied Microeconomics. I was feeling fairly nervous about Econ because I've never taken a class in it before and it has always seemed to me that it operates in the same realm as computer science and math, i.e. a certain type logic and procedures that I'm not particularly good at. But class today was fairly reassuring. We jumped right in (and since class is 2.5 hours long, we got through several items), but I followed everything pretty easily. I'm sure it will get much harder, but it is no longer an unknown quantity.

That said, Econ annoys me. It's all about boiling down complex relationships to equations based on cost, benefit, etc. and most of the time failing to acknowledge that there are many, many things not included in the model. It's useful to get a background in it so that I can think about things in this way when it's useful, but the discipline's smugness is going to continue to grate on me. Luckily, IPS as a whole is explicit about balancing the quantitative with the qualitative, so I think we'll use Econ principles in our policy work in a way that isn't too simplistic.

Our class schedule is a little weird for me, compared to undergrad: One class per day (though long sessions), and no classes at all on Thursdays.

Monday - The Policy Process
Tuesday - Policy Analysis for the Real World
Wednesday - Microeconomics
Friday - Stats and Data Analysis for Policymaking

All are in the morning, except for Policy Process, which is in the early evening. It will be strange to have afternoons free every day.

I talked with my advisor today, who I'm also going to be working for as a Research Assistant. What he needs help with is evaluating a Hope VI housing grant in Frederick, MD. Most of the work will be in the spring -- on-site interviews and such. Sounds like I'm only going to take on some very light work this semester, maybe a bit less than 10 hours per week. But apparently the workload from our classes is very heavy in the first semester, so not having that many RA hours is recommended. So this will probably turn out well.

O'm off to a happy hour event where we can meet more of the second-year class. Yeah, a lot of the social events seem to involve drinking. I'm riding my bike downtown to go, so I'm keeping it to a single beer...


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt said...

It's tough to follow anonymous with a more cogent or coherent comment... That must be part of the blogosphere that I'm unfamiliar with.
Anyhow, I'm glad you're cultivating a dislike for economists! Perhaps we can commiserate at some point in the future. That said, I don't think all quantitative work is necessarily oversimplified beyond usefulness (my bias as a sociologist) - it just makes things much messier when you don't get to assume everything works based on rational choice models.
I hope you keep using some of your posts to talk about what you're doing/learning in your program; I don't find it boring in the least. It will be nice to see you in Baltimore and get to talk about some of this stuff!

teague said...

Matt, I deleted that comment spam going on there. Anyway, I think we would all do well to remember anonymous' wisdom that "the alluring part of shopping at home isn't the shopping." That is so true.

Anyway, glad you didn't find it too boring. And you're right that I was painting quantitative analysis with too broad a brush. See you and Risa soon!

LJ said...

I missed the comment...add for viagra or something?

I'm enjoying this, too, Teague. The economics viewpoint sometimes drives me nuts, as well--in Madison one of my officemates (from Carleton) had some econ background, and I'd get into arguments with him sometimes. Basically about what you said--that I felt that decisions based on economics sometimes missed some really important factors.

That said, it does seem to me to be a good idea to say, in situations with an overwhelming number of factors, "okay, this is too confusing...but if we ignore some of these, can we say something useful?" After all, that's where the natural sciences get a lot of their power.

You mentioned econ's ties with math--perhaps you can take heart in the fact that mathematicians often like to look down on economists. I've heard "jokes" like, "oh, so-and-so who won a Nobel Prize for applying a fixed-point theorem..." i.e. "all economists do is take some theorem that a mathematician proved 40 years ago and point out that it still applies if the variables represent economic quantities."

The aforementioned Carleton econ/math student's description was that when economics was getting started, the economists weren't aware of current mathematics so they reinvented on their own as they went along. That's why they draw the axes backwards and such.

LJ said...

Oh yeah, I also meant to comment on grad schools and drinking--now just imagine that you're in grad school in drunken Wisconsin. The TA union, especially, was always providing free beer.

teague said...

Yeah, the realization that the math in econ isn't as high-level as I thought (at least in our microecon course) was key to me feeling more comfortable with it. Seems like the hard part is applying the math/theories to the real world, which I think I'm better equipped to handle. (Though me saying all this after precisely one session of econ is a little silly.)