pondělí 14. listopadu 2005

Sharper Views or Sharper Tools?

When teaching Economics, you constantly struggle with the issue of relevance. You feel that your lectures are not up-to-current research, but your students complain about abstract models lacking links to their own real-world observations. I am trying to tackle this trade-off at my best, since in most cases, it is possible to make any topic more interesting (topical, understandable) as well as more rigorous. Sometimes it is beyond my capabilities, however, and then I'm seeking a constrained optimum, a balance between attractivity and rigorousness. My approach is that in the optimum, my supply is more rigorous than what is subjectively optimal for the demand side. Why?

I hold that academia is here not to 'cultivate public opinion', nor listen to the 'heart beat of the present day'. We are here to give students instruments which provide results with certainty. In the after-school life, the students will use non-certain language and non-certain instruments every day, because the world prefers cheap uncertain instruments over costly certainty. Because of that, I see the purpose of teaching twofold: firstly, we should decrease the costs of certainty by making modelling and testing easier to comprehend, and secondly, we should let the unaware students that certainty is available, and that it is costly.

In a pub debate on Thursday, someone raised a concern that Master students have no arguments and opinions on pending issues such as EU-China economic relations; another friend complained that we don't teach them to argue. I don't see either a problem. If we allow students just argue, we replace straightforward reason by unfounded judgements, let values - not clear facts - dominate the problem, and after all, we will have to resort only to simplistic applied economics. Some schools tend to use this model of teaching. We at IES don't. If we did, we would devalue the research aspect of the institute, which would be - I believe - a kiss of death for prospective elite economists raised at IES.