Economist Angus Deaton's Vision for Development Economics

For the more academically inclined among you, Princeton economist Angus Deaton offers his appraisal of the state of development economics.

Deaton writes:

The wholesale abandonment in American graduate schools of price theory in favor of infinite horizon intertemporal optimization and game theory has not been a favorable development for young empiricists.

Empiricists and theorists seem further apart now than at any period in the last quarter century. Yet reintegration is hardly an option because without it there is no chance of long-term scientific progress.

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  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    Well, I am academically inclined.

    This paper makes a few points and wanders aimlessly through 56 pages stabbing at this or that obvious point. ( I counted 23 errors which any editor should have caught…and then I quit reading).

    Isn’t Strunk and White available anymore?

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  2. Econ Grad Student says:

    As a current PhD student, I agree that I haven’t seen much price theory (at least it hasn’t been called that). However, aren’t intertemporal optimization and game theory ways to provide new methods to solve old problems?

    Isn’t the entire goal of the study of economics to advance and come up with better ways of solving problems?

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  3. Kevin H says:

    yes, we want new solutions, but there is a danger in becoming so involved in the quirks of the solutions in abstract games and equations that people actually forget to check them against the real world. That is why Deaton wants to make sure that empiricists and optimization/game theorists continue to work together rather than in their own separate camps.

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  4. Angelo says:

    Sorry Angus, Did you forget about the new area of games’ estimation?

    Ariel Pakes can give you some references…

    By the way, price is endogenous…

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  5. Paul says:

    My development class covered most if not all of the points in Deaton’s class so I can’t agree with that quote. One criticism not mentioned is that there are no general equilibrium effects in a small randomized trial, but there could be if it was implemented on a wider scale.

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  6. Anon says:

    Didn’t really feel like reading a 56-page paper on my screen. But based on the first sentence, maybe along with Math for Economists courses, there should be Writing for Economists courses, too? Small words > big words; short sentences > long sentences…

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  7. DJH says:

    Eric M. Jones (#1) asks: “Isn’t Strunk and White available anymore?”

    Of course it’s available, even online. It’s just considered obsolete now, that’s all.

    Another Eric, Eric Blair (better known as George Orwell), once penned an essay on the trend toward hypercomplicated and overblown language in academia and political contexts, in his famous essay, Politics and the English Language. He wrote this in 1946, long enough ago that we should have learned from him … but clearly not enough of us have done so.

    The rules of language have, indeed, changed. Instead of the speaker or writer making an effort to be understood, using concise and correct language, it is now the reader or listener’s burden to take in whatever gibberish someone spews, and somehow make sense of it. Anyone who cannot or will not do so, is “un-hip,” out-of-touch, or a living throwback.

    Even worse, reliance on good language can now be viewed as a form of tacit racism — grammar is listed as #99 on the list of Things White People Like.

    As for me … they’ll have to pry my worn copy of The Elements of Style (1979 edition) from my cold dead fingers.

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