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From Greg Mankiw’s Advice to a Young Economics Student

December 26th, 2008 . by economistmom

Despite Greg’s post on Christmas Day which was much more cynical than mine in his choice of a YouTube clip, today he gives some advice to a young econ student that I find much more “merry and bright” about our profession overall.  We are not always and all a disagreeable, dismal, disdainful bunch:

The current economic environment is a particularly hard time to learn economics. There are a lot of topics about which economists agree, but the diagnosis and best remedy for the current economic downturn are not among them. It is therefore no surprise that your econ profs express disparate views about the appropriate policy in the current environment. Don’t read too much into this fact. I bet there are many other topics about which these economists would come to similar conclusions. Ask them about rent control, or international trade, or Pigovian taxes, for instance, if you want to find broad areas of agreement…

[D]on’t expect to reach unequivocal positions easily. In my view, it is best to consider all knowledge as tentative. The best scholars maintain an open-mindedness and humility about even their own core beliefs. Excessive conviction is often a sign of insufficient thought, which in turn may be derived from a certain pig-headedness. Intellectual maturity comes when you can maintain the right balance between informed belief and honest skepticism…

As I (today) try to work on writing about environmentally-motivated taxes (which qualify as the kind of “Pigovian” taxes Greg refers to above) as part of my contribution toward a bipartisan tax policy paper, Greg’s words are good motivation.  (More on my thinking about carbon taxes to come in the next few days.)

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