Many years ago during a faculty debate at NYU on the fate of history of economic thought as a requirement in the graduate curriculum, I had to excuse myself to go teach my class. Janus Ordover, one of the main advocates for abolishing history of thought from the graduate curriculum, shouted out, "undoubtedly to go teach history of thought." I just nodded my head, yes that is what I was going to teach. In my absence, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to eliminate the requirement. And just for the record, the leading voice pushing for the abolition was none other than William Baumol. The opportunity cost, Baumol argued, was just too high for the current student of economics.*
We don't have the requirement at GMU anymore either. That was abolished in a meeting in the first or second year that I was back on the faculty in the late 1990s or very early 2000s -- cannot remember precise timing. But we have a strong reputation for history of economic thought at GMU, largely because of the work that Karen Vaughn did in the field, and the dynamic and brilliant work of my colleague David Levy (and his co-author Sandra Peart, see Levy's How the Dismal Science Got Its Name and Peart and Levy, The Vanity of the Philosophers to get a taste of their fascinating work). David is one of those thinkers that may at times be hard to follow in real time, but down the road when it finally hits you what he is arguing, you realize that what he was saying was absolutely brilliant -- perhaps a stroke of genius. David is like talking to Gordon Tullock, except Tullock's genius was immediately seen in real time whereas with David (for me at least) it usually takes a few moments, days, months, and sometimes years till I realize just how brilliant his comment or analysis was on any range of topics in economics. It is a privilege to work alongside of him in promoting history of economic thought and constitutional political economy here at GMU.
Anyway, this fall I will be teaching the modern history of economic thought. I plan on teaching this course regularly for the next few years as I work on 2 projects --- one dealing with the modern history of economics, and another dealing with the fate of moral philosophers in the age of economic scientism. This is the first time in close to 20 years that I will not be teaching a graduate course in Austrian economics, though the works of Mises, Hayek, and Kirzner will continue to permeate my reading lists in my other graduate courses (Comparative Political Economy, and Constitutional Political Economy) and the history of the Austrian school is obviously a major part of my narrative of the history of modern economic thought.
Here is my syllabus for the course.
*Let me be clear, I am not for re-establishing the requirement of history of thought, but I am very much in opposition to the opportunity cost is too high argument. It is this opportunity cost argument that is the most widely used argument to eliminate history of thought not only from being a requirement but from being offered as an elective in the graduate curriculum. I am, in this, moved by Jacob Viner's "A Modest Proposal for Some Stress on Scholarship** in Graduate Training."
**In a conversation with Thomas Sargent on the beautiful Stanford campus in the early 1990s (and in the context of the great Robert Conquest winning the Jefferson Award), I heard for the first time the term scholar used as a term of denigration. Sargent insisted that what we needed in economics was scientists, not 'scholars'. This negative connotation of 'scholar' I would hear more often over the years and coming from individuals of far less accomplishments than a brilliant mind like Thomas Sargent. It is this intellectual zeitgeist among elite economists that has been a major stumbling block for the development of economic thought in the 20th and now 21st century. Or at least that is part of the argument I will present. Download Boettke on 20th Century Methodology