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Is a Master's degree in Economics a waste of time?


The formal study of economics at any level is the very definition of a waste of time. There have been some brilliant minds in the field of economics,, and being conversant with some of the key ideas is deeply important in many contexts, both practical and theoretical. But when you study economics in a classroom, all you are doing is doing monkey math that relates to monkey models that have zero predictive or explanatory power and will just rewire your brain in a way that makes it useless to everybody, especially employers.

Nobody pays anybody to be an economist. They pay them to be accountants or brick-layers—-but to ‘economize’? Ha! If you ask a pan-handler and an economist what will happen to the local (or national or international) economy in one week/month/year/decade, the pan-handler is more likely to be right. The reason is that knowing where the economy is moving is about knowing specifics and it is most definitely not about knowing of some economic ‘model.’

After all is said and done, some economist can stand on the rubble and pontificate with some model, but basically he’s delivering a eulogy. If you want predictions, ask the guy landscapes your garden or fixes your car. Don’t ask an economist, at least not an economics professor.

If you want to get a master’s degree that sharpens or broadens your mind, study Medieval folklore or machine learning or Scandinavian poetry. If you want to turn your mind into innumerate taffy that is stuffed with idiocies relating to game-theory and other attempts to breath fake mathematical life into one third true models of human conduct—then have at it!

Let me put these vituperations into a little context. I got my PhD in philosophy, got a professorship, wrote a million books (two while still in grad school), then noticed that the discipline was stagnant. So I looked for new intellectual hunting ground, and chose economics.

I did this because I noticed that the behavior of people in institutional contexts was ultimately to be understood in economic terms (in terms of their needing a paycheck) and that their psychopathologies affected only the particular manner in which they acted out these economic forces. So I then read some economics—Smith, Marshall, a bit of Keynes, Jevons, Friedman. And it was enormously illuminating, especially Smith and Marshall.

Fast-forward ten years. I run a tutoring business for people in college and graduate school, around 50% need help with finance and economics. So I had to grind through millions of problem sets about demand curves and Cournot equilibrium and Keynsian range of the aggregate supply curve, etc. In fact, I’m doing this right now. (Client on bathroom break and therefore away from Skype.)

The take-home: not illuminating. These people—these econ undergrads and grad students—-spend their time staring into the abyss of hybrid logic puzzles that have nothing to do with economic reality but are also too impure to even be good intellectual exercises. Works for me, though, since I pay people to babysit these tragedy-cases and keep a cut. But in terms of doing it—well, been there, wouldn’t recommend it for anyone.

Last point: If you read the really old economists, Hume, Smith, Marshall—-they’re pretty darn good. But they are also very specific, as in, they aren’t really putting forth models, except occasionally and with heavy reservations. But at some point, something horrible happened to the discipline; they tried to model it on physics or some such, and it lost all contact with anything real. So now all you get are get screw-up ideas seem to have written by malfunctioning cyborg. But anyway—-an economist degree doesn’t impress anybody. Not anymore. Maybe in 1980, but not now.

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