|George Mason University|
I have often described GMU's PhD program to prospective students as "the best weird place to study economics in the world." When Colander and Klamer did the interviews for The Making of An Economist, they mainly limited their interviews to the top 5 schools, but this was my professional cohort, and I was interviewed by both. Colander has never talked much about the interviews outside of the elite programs, but Klamer has. In Klamer's interpretation, the students at schools such as The New School, UMass-Amherst, and George Mason University, had a different passion for economics than those at Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton. It was this difference of passion among the students for the discipline of economics that fascinated Klamer. The issue of passion for economics was not the primary target that Colander was focused on in that book, or in his follow up project two decades later.
GMU has since the establishment of its PhD program in the early 1980s always chosen to "dare to be different". The intellectual environment here for research and graduate education is unique not just due to the presence of the different paradigmatic perspectives: Austrian, Public Choice, Experimental, New Institutionalism; but also the blending of these traditions to form something unique (Masonomics) --- Austrianism Institutionalism; Experimental public choice; Austrian experimental, etc. Moreover, GMU has also offered fields that are not always offered at other programs: Law and Economics, History of Thought, Economic History, Comparative Economics, Constitutional Political Economy, Development, etc. Yes, we have Industrial Organization, Public Finance, and Monetary, but we also have the more specialized specializations listed above. In fact, this is one of the issues that confuses prospective students and outside observers of the program when they try to figure out ranking issues. We have alternative paradigmatic training (among the best places in the world to be trained in those perspectives) and we have specializations which are under-represented elsewhere (and we are among the best places to study in those areas). Conventional rankings often don't look at those areas of specialization, but when they do we don't just come out "good" we are listed among the elite departments.
My colleagues Dan Klein, Russ Roberts and Don Boudreaux are continuing in this tradition of "daring to be different" and starting next academic year will be offering graduate students in our program an opportunity to get a "field" in Smithian Political Economy. Students will be able to take a course sequences concentrating on Smith's works, and also participate in various reading groups and seminars that Dan Klein will run. Dan and Russ recently had a 6 part conversation on Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments at EconTalk. Dan has also provided a list of sample field exam questions.
In addition to this Smithian political economy research and education program that Klein, Roberts and Boudreaux will be initiating, there will remain the traditional history of thought track (taught by David Levy and myself) as well as the unique paradigmatic and field specialization mentioned above.
Anyway, the development of this unique research and educational opportunity for students to specialize in Smithian Political Economy is just another example of "GMU is the best weird place to study". We dare to be different here at GMU and do not pursue a cookie-cutter approach to research and graduate education. As I have written before, you can get a very conventional education at GMU if you want to -- you just have to be wise in your course choices and be entrepreneurial in looking for opportunities in Computational Sciences, Center for Social Complexity, School of Public Policy, etc. to supplement your standard training in the first-year. But why would you? As Pete Leeson often stresses to students, the signal isn't sent by class selection, the signal is sent by school selection! (I think he might have first heard that from me, but I will give him credit for it).
Go dig up Klamer's interpretations of those interviews from the mid-1980s, read what he has to say about the passion the students had about the discipline of economics (its history, its current practice, how to teach it best, and what questions to research and what puzzles to solve). Then visit GMU today and you will see the same passion exhibited among the faculty and students. Arjo got it, Deirde McCloskey got it during her visits throughout the years, Jim Buchanan created it, Vernon Smith re-established it. GMU is a very unique place. But it is also a place rooted in the long history of our discipline. As Lord Acton once put it: "it is not the popular movement, but the traveling of the minds of men who sit in the seat of Adam Smith that is really serious and worthy of all attention." We, at GMU, aspire to sit in the seat of Adam Smith. In this we are all Smithian's now.