Monday, July 28, 2008

Wanted: The History of Economic Thought Course

When Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-jakti was appointed as the RI's Ambassador for the US, and later Coordinating Minister for the Economy, I was thinking whether the benefit justifies the loss of the FEUI for not having him teaching The History of Economic Thought. Dorodjatun is always an engaging speaker, and was the best for the course.

In fact, when he was away from the academic, upon hearing that the Faculty was considering to get rid of the course, perhaps due to lack of capable teacher, Aco and yours truly (yes, shamelessly I) had planned to take over and co-teach for the course. Not because I am good at it, but we think the course is too important to be scrapped out from the curriculum.

Fortunately, now Dorodjatun is back to Depok and, I assume, so is the course.

On The History of Economic Thought, Sukasah Syahdan of Akal & Kehendak lamented (liberally translated):
On one hopeful side, there are many young economists who have been and are studying in the UK, US, Australia, and other developed countries to specialize in this science. Yet, economics itself consists of various fields of specialization. Most of the country's economists have had high interest only in the applied and pragmatic side of the science. This is my subjective and non-permanent judgment. Nowadays, not many Indonesian economists are interested in specializing in economic thought; or if they did, only as supplemental trim. Nowadays, the History of Economic Thought is hardly taught in (the universities -my note) in the country. Thee Kian Wie, senior economic historian, to whom I sometime keep in touch with by email, is the only exception today.

Isn't it sad?
Well, it's the catch-22. Those young economists, being trained in mostly mainstream higher education have faced a trade-off between mastering those (bloody, bloody) quantitative approach and techniques to understand those so-called applied and pragmatic side of economics and spending more time reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics (heavy, heavy) textbooks.

Most opt for the former, simply because to survive you need to work on what they demand you to --at least in the first and the second year. By the following years, you'd get the comparative advantage in doing the applied economics and by then there is less reason to work on the economic thought.

But I am still optimistic. Coming from various schools of thought and traditions (either European-North American or Freshwater-Saltwater rivalry), we can expect those new breeds to be engaged in more fruitful public discussion in the near future --not the ones we observe in the media now, between economists and faux economists, or, even worse, amongst those faux economists themselves.

Few of them, I personally know, are real good on the History of Economic Thought and PPE in addition to their superb applied economics analysis.


  1. The plan is still on, Jal. Get done and go home soon, so we can make that happen...

    Yup, Pak Djatun's course was fun. I recalled those days when he introduced us to Bohm-Bawerk, Schumpeter, and even Oscar Lange...

  2. Yup, Rizal...we are waiting for your coming back to drive out the so called faux economists. I expect that you will be the next KOMPAS real economist. Also, probably you may drive out Rizal Mallarangeng hahaha...

  3. I too enjoyed Pak Djatun's HET class immensely. If FEUI scrap the course it will be lamentable but it also reflects what has been happening throughout many undergraduate and graduate programs for some years. Years ago I took a HET class from Jeff Biddle who was in the middle of his fight to keep the course from being scrapped as a degree requirement. Some classmates postponed taking it in the hope that the course will be dropped.(It wasn't). I did enjoy the course but the time trade off was significant and I'm not a bit surprised that if it's not everyone's cup of tea.

    Related but a bit different - and for me a little more exciting- is the field of economic history, which is more like archeology: you look at data/archives from years gone by and try to make sense of them using state of the art econometrics and modeling as well as learning from the historical context. I saw a presentation by this guy when he was preparing for the job market and it was an eye opener of how exciting the field is. On Indonesia this guy is one the few whose work I'm somewhat familiar with.

  4. Right, Jang. Also don't forget Jared Diamond, Douglass North, Jeffrey Williamson, Angus Maddison; and among the younger cohorts, Timur Kuran, Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson, Benjamin Friedman, and others.

  5. Yes, Jang, Pe. Economic history is exciting! In my case the eye-opener was Greg Clark's "Farewell to Alms" -- which I think better than Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel"

    As for Indonesian context, I'm very fortunate to meet frequently with the real expert: our respectable Thee Kian Wie.

  6. Those names, including the great Pak Thee (lucky you Aco), are the big and well-established names (but is Jared Diamond even an economist?). The point being: this field is alive and well (economic historian still ask interesting questions and get good jobs) and that people close to home are doing it. Sukasah Syahdan shouldn't be too worried.

  7. Ah, bugger. When I wrote Jared Diamond, I meant to write David Landes instead. Then I realized I haven't put Greg Clark in the list. Thanks, Co. And yes, of course the 'unsung hero' pak Thee.

  8. And Sukasah (halo, Mas Kasah, piye kabare? Nice meeting you last week)wasn't quite right in his post. Pak Thee repeatedly says that he is NOT an expert in HET. Instead "my area is economic history... which is quite different from history of econ thought". Although I'm sure that Pak Thee knows way much more than he admits.

  9. On the HET, beside the standard books, Lionel Robbins' A History of Economic Thought is great. But for newer development in the field, particularly in relation to growth theory, it's David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.

    On (Western) Economic History, I agree that Greg Clark and Acemoglu rule.

    On (Indonesian) Economic History, apart from Thee Kian Wie, we also have our friend in London, Anne Booth, who wrote The Indonesian Economy in the 19th and 20th century: History of Missed Opportunities. (What a title!).

    So, yes, to restate Ujang's words: Sukasah shouldn't be too worried.

  10. Thanks guys; actually, I’ve not been worried, just sorry. The lament’s not really gravitated over the lack of such economists per se, but rather on something of somewhat different nature that our mention of foreign names--economists or historians alike--does not appease. Aco-san, thanks for the correction.