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I'm not in the GMU econ program, but I could add perhaps another reason for considering it: the cohort you'll be with. I'm a student in a "Top 20" program right now, and my cohort, while smart and not unlikable, is, on the whole, a total bore.

Having interesting conversations over one's doctoral studies with fellow students and faculty surely contributes to research ideas and, well, just one's general happiness. (The blogs and podcasts from GMU faculty and students is really what has kept my passion going!)

The intense mathematics in the field--though I might personally find it to be a good thing overall--can unfortunately allow a lot of people who are actually clueless about the economic way of thinking get through their program with ease and maybe be fine on the job market too.

It seems at GMU, however, the students are generally more thoughtful and genuinely interested in economics than the average graduate student in economics. It's certainly something applicants should consider.

Great post Pete! I say exactly the same thing about GMU to all my students who consider applying for graduate programs. I am not personally a former graduate student from GMU but after reviewing many many job applications from candidates graduating from other Ph.D. programs, there is one thing most GMU students have when they come out on the job market: PUBLICATIONS!!!! Most GMU graduate students are encouraged to do research and submit their work to journals and get familiarize with the process of publishing articles. They are encouraged to prepare themselves for the tenure process. Most other graduate program students come on the job market with no publications. On paper, they are better but the fact that they come supposedly from better programs does not tell us anything about their actual research skills as translated by a publication record. I certainly encourage all students to also apply to the best Ph.D. programs but I also remind them that they should also take into account the possibility that they could not go through because they do not have the quantitative skills.
This has been a source of discussion with some students or colleagues who do not necessarily understand that coming out of a higher-ranked Ph.D. does not necessarily mean that you will be a better economist --- except if you believe that a better economist is one who has better quantitative skills. And, if this latter definition of better economist is the right one (which I do not agree with), well I am entirely wrong. As Charles Barkley wrote: I may be wrong but I doubt it.

I agree with the main points of Prof. Boettke.

I am also one of the applicants to the Ph.D. program this year and hope to be part of this excellent institution and do research on the connection between Menger and Marx. (which might be surprising for some but actually it shouldn't be to those who have at least read the magnum opuses of both economists)

Pete, I think the intuitive questions (with the 85% pass) should be an additional part of the micro prelim, not a means to avoid the course sequence.

I understand your reasoning. The number of graduates who master the subject at the PhD level and have little intuition is astounding. Ideally they ought to be tested on that, but not as a substitute for doing graduate level micro work.

I have a lot of great things to say about Mason, and I do not see the technical deficiency (if there is one) as anything to be ashamed of -- different programs excel in different areas. Of course, it would be great if there is a route for the technically-minded. This requires courses from the first year to cover enough of the basics to establish a foundation for elective courses to build upon. As I understand it, some of the most technically minded can take those 1st year courses at other universities (e.g. U of MD).

This is similar to e.g., The New School, where there are areas (in economics as well as other social sciences) where to get a traditional education one might have to take courses at other universities like NYU for some foundation, but then the electives and other advantages of the alternative education at the New School make this worthwhile for many students.

However - if there is one issue that does concern me, it is this: "Since most of us agree about free markets and the need for limited government, we tend not to debate about that. Instead, the conversations that dominate GMU economic discourse tend to be about alternative methods of analysis, appropriate methodologies, and boundaries of economic science. Lunch conversations traditionally range all over the place, but do not harp on questions of public policy."

Isn't there a danger of an echo-chamber effect? If most professors are already sure of the superiority of markets to other institutional and policy solutions, who will challenge the theories at a fundamental level? What if there is a flaw in the basic model that illustrates the advantages of markets in some areas--won't it be a less challenging environment for those presenting such models if 90% or more of professors and students already believe markets are efficient?

One finds this at the New School too, of course (in reverse). But this is a greater problem than a special emphasis on certain alternative methodologies, in my opinion.


You sold me. You almost make me feel like going to graduate school again, almost but not quite!

I just read through the jobmarketrumorsblog comments (extensive), and there is a name currently associated with Mason that I have not seen mentioned there or here by anybody: Kevin McCabe. When Vernon Smith arrived at Mason he came with 7 others, of whom Kevin McCabe was the most senior. He is the founder of the Neuroeconomics Society, and is probably part of the reason that Dan Houser did not leave with Smith, Houser also doing neuro.

If a Nobel is given in neuroeconomics (not at all out of the question) McCabe would be a leading candidate to be one of the recipients. He was the lead author of the first paper in the field, published in 2001 in the NPAS (arguably more prestigious than most top econ journals, although probably a lot of the more full-of-themselves commenters on the job market blog do not know what it is). The other coauthors were Houser, John Dickhaut of Minnesota, and Vernon Smith. He continues to run a very active lab at the Krasnow Institute.


Kevin is indeed still very active here at GMU. And ICES also hired two additional faculty last year --- Marco Castillo and Ragan Petrie.

Vernon Smith is technically still on our faculty, but like James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, his absence is very much felt.

One of the things that many outsiders fail to appreciate is the interaction between the various intellectual strands at GMU. Vernon (as his Nobel address demonstrates) is intellectual drawn both to the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers Smith and Hume and to Hayek, and also intrigued by the theory of the dynamic adjustment of the market process. So as Smith often would say --- Austrian economics provides the questions, experimental economics provides the way to answer them.

Dan Houser and Thomas Stratmann have started an experimental public choice group. Kevin McCabe worked with Doug North at Wash U so he has a deep appreciation for institutional economics (see his RAE paper on neuroeconomics and development economics).

It is the blending of the various traditions that produces something unique. The research programs are not in conflict with one another, but exist in mutual respect and mutual learning. This gets lost, but look at the dissertation committees and the mix of papers that comprise many of the dissertations.


I think you took an interpretation of my point about policy debates which I didn't intend. There are of course very heated debates about where to draw the line on the scale and scope of government, and also what are the mechanism by which that line could be enforced. These debates go back to the establishment of the graduate program at GMU. But it is not a debate based on rights-speak, but has always been one based on economic reasoning and appeal to empirical argument.

Moreover, during the past year we have very heated discussions concerning monetary policy and fiscal policy in response to the economic situation. It has been fascinating. But it has been productive precisely because we also share a certain common basis for the conversation.

Unusual fields and a unique niche? To me it seems as if GMU offers a broad and balanced mix of specializations, while most other PhD programs are one-sided and only offer a specialization in the "equilibrium-model-plus-perhaps-econometric-testing" niche. And it is worth mentioning that the fields mentioned at the beginning are associated with at least nine Nobel laureates (Hayek, Coase, North, Williamson, Ostrom, Kahneman, Tversky, Smith, Buchanan).

I will apply to GMU economics programs when I am reborn. Unfortunately I'm 30 and already have a PhD (in engineering), although I found out I'm interested in markets more than in circuits when my PhD had already started.

Although given my predilection for macro, I would try with Garrison at Auburn.


Unfortunately, Auburn no longer has a PhD program.

And, Larry White is teaching both macroeconomics and monetary theory at GMU now. BTW, he is teaching from Garrison in one of his classes (along with other materials).

David EA,

Tversky did not receive a Nobel. He died prior to the one being given to Smith and Kahnemann. The committee did say that if he had been alive, he would have shared it.

I have just noticed that a comment has appeared on the jobmarketrumorblog wondering why I am "wasting" my time with this thread. Well, to whomever posted that, if reading (and you had better not be one of those who has been proud of not having heard of James Buchanan or Oliver Williamson), I do think the economics department at GMU is a very interesting place doing a lot of interesting things, even if it is weaker than most in mathemtatical or quantitative areas (and, yes, I do take math seriously as the recently published festschrift for me would indicate: Nonlinear Dynamics in Economics, Finance, and the Social Sciences: Essays in Honour of John Barkley Rosser, Jr., edited by Gian-Italo Bischi, Carl Chiarella, and Laura Gardini, Springer 2010).

In that regard, although it also has not shown up on any of these lists (and would not impress those obsessed with what goes on at "top 20" schools), James Madison University has hired in its history two GMU Ph.D.s in economics in tenure track positions, as well quite a few others in temporary slots. So, yes, we take the program seriously, even if MIT might not (yet).

I went to one of the "top 6" grad schools.. (This always seemed like a misnomer to me, given the strength of many other places, but that's the profession.) I think that GMU would have been perhaps a more interesting place to study (especially for one who believes that most, if not all, positive research should have a normative implication). But, after talking with and meeting with many people who have gone through the GMU program, it seems to me that very few are sufficiently "skilled up" to speak the science of modern economics. I am willing to concede that modern economics has taken a wrong turn. But if you really want your graduates to be successful, then they must be able to converse with their colleagues. And most are not. I think this shows up in their placement record. I know that you, Pete, think this record is great (or, at least, very good). But, really, it isn't. It is heavily dominated by market-oriented, non-research departments (if one can get a teaching job at all) and non-profits and think tanks. So, even though I might have preferred going to GMU, I think it would have been a "consumption" degree, as some GMU graduates grudgingly admit.


When you say that GMU grads aren't skilled-up to "speak the science of modern economics", does this imply that their actual conceptual understanding is weak, or that they just don't have the technical proficiencies to communicate their understandings on the level of abstraction which is necessary for publications in high-ranking journals? Because even the sharpest academics, from my experience (certainly from my experience with blogger exchanges), tend not to communicate to eachother on substantive economic issues in the language of measure theory and differential geometry.

I can be okay with a GMU education knowing that there are some things I won't know, but it bothers me some when I feel there are things I don't understand about what I'm expected to understand, so hopefully this can be clarified some.

Prof. Boettke. Thanks for the info. I can't invest more than some of my spare time to my economics interests. However, I hope I will be able to attend one FEE seminar this year.


I am confused. What are disputing about the positions? Jon Klick is at U of Penn Law School; Sahar Akhtar is at U VA philosophy; those two have dual degrees PhD in economics and JD in Klick's case (also at GMU) and PhD in Phii (from Duke) in Sahar's case.

I taught at NYU for 8 years coming out of GMU, among around me at the time at GMU Dave Prychitko did a post-doc at Cornell, Samson Kimenyi first went to U of Miss and then to U Conn, and now to Brookings. Are you denying that these are research universities?

More recently Erte Zhao did a post doc at Penn and then got a faculty post at Carnegie Mellon; Ryan Oprea is teaching at UC Santa Cruz; Pete Leeson first taught at WVU, then moved back here (and this year is a Visiting Professor at U of Chicago), Chris Coyne is teaching now at WVU and Ben Powell is teaching at Suffolk. Again are you denying that these schools are PhD programs?

So I am not sure what your claim is? Do our students get hired by the top 20 departments? NO, as far as I known I am the only one in the history of GMU's program who was hired by that sort of school and I was denied tenure at the end of my time there. But do our students who are pursuing an academic career find faculty positions? YES, those who follow the basic formula find teaching positions -- some better than others. And yes we do have a market niche among some teaching schools -- what is wrong with getting a job as a teacher of economics in a liberal arts college?

Do some students not go into academics? Of course. And they find employment in government, in think tanks, and in the private sector.

Going to GMU is NOT a consumption good, but an acquisition of human capital (just as you did in attending your school).

Finally, you claim that your conversation with GMU students mean they are unprepared to talk to other professional economist. That is very interesting. Please give examples. Pete Leeson doesn't seem to be having a problem, and like me he suffers the fate of not only going to GMU, but having gone to Hillsdale (I went to Grove City). Is Chris Coyne having problems -- just had a paper accepted at the Journal of Law and Economics?

Let me be clear, do I think our placement record is the best placement record around? NO, I wish it was much much better. We are constantly trying to improve that. Do I think our placement record would be better IF we tried to imitate MIT? Definitely not -- we would never be able to beat MIT at MIT's game. We should demand excellence, but also dare to be different. Our graduates (the ones who succeed) can talk to their scientific peers (see my four audience point in my original post).

BTW, one of our current students is going to Oxford to present his paper in one of the research center's seminar series there (expenses paid) -- how many of your cohort from your "top 6" program had that done for them in their 3rd year? Students get these sort of opportunities here at GMU because they have something to say of value to other interesting scholars in the social sciences. We are a small department specializing in some non-traditional fields of research. We are striving to be the best we can be and give a great educational opportunity to our students. As I pointed out, if students wanted to get more "skilled" as you put it, there are classes available for them to do that. But they shouldn't take my class, I am doing something different than that. I have NEVER claimed different.

But please stop trying to defeat facts (about the placement record) with fiction (from your head and some conversations you have had with unnamed students). Why not come over to GMU and try to talk to Pete about economics, or talk to some of our current students, or go up to NYU where Adam Martin is doing a post doc and talk to him (he also did a pre-doc at Cambridge so he has been around).

These are some of the 'students' I work with --- I think you will find them conversant. And there is a seminar in Arlington every Friday at ICES, you could visit with those students; or on Wed at Public Choice. So it is easy to track them down and ask, but can they ask you some questions as well?


One last thing --- it is in conversations like that that the cloak of anonymity does its most damage. Now you are not anonymous, but it is unclear where you went to school or what you are currently doing. You merely claimed to be at a top 6 program. Now a google search reveals an Eli Feigenbaum who works at the Social Security Administration and whose degree is from Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins is a great university, but I don't think I ever seen a ranking that puts in that top 6 category (perhaps I am wrong). Also, I am not sure if the Social Security Administration --nothing against working hard in government office --- would be a job I would use to snear at GMU graduates teaching at schools such as SJSU or Hampden Sydney or Utah State or WVU, etc.

So when making sweeping claims about the professional competence of others, it might be useful to have more specific information on the person making the judgement. To use a sports analogy, it is one thing when John McEnroe talks about players, it is quite another thing when Bud Collins does so.

I apologize to everybody here for commenting again about stuff on the econjobrumors blog, but I have been criticized there recently (although also defended, thanks to those), and when I earlier tried to post a comment there I was told by their system that I was "malicious" and had engaged in "bad behavior" (oh, so true). In any case, I could not post there, so was left with posting replies to comments there here.

Anyway, I am not going to reply to the criticisms of my activities or views (everybody is entitled to their opinions), but I did want to answer a question directed at me by someone who was watching things here. Apparently I did not answer the right question when I commented here last on this. It had been asked there why I was "wasting" my time "on this thread." I misinterpreted that to mean the thread here on Coordination Problem, but apparently the questioner meant the thread over there, so I shall reply to that.

First of all, I should acknowledge a broader matter: my wife thinks that I waste my time blogging too much. I fear she is right, and I confess it to be a vice. Once that vice is admitted, then it is not a big deal that I would see a link to the jobrumorsblog in the comments section here (where I was indubitably wasting my time, although I defended hanging out here, if I am going to be wasting my time in the econoblogosphere) and would go over to see what the fuss was about.

It is only the second time I went there, and like the previous time it had/has the fascination of watching a train or car wreck. The first time was when they posted on the most recent Nobel Prize winners, with the poster complaining about the prize because s/he (probably a he) had not heard of either Williamson or Ostrom and somehow thought that this indicated something other than that the poster was an ignorant moron whose foolishness was compounded by an absurd arrogance. Needless to say, that thread hit the news media and became an embarrassment not only for that blog, but for the entire economics profession.

I will add another reason for my interest. I am part of the demand side of the market this year. That previous thread led us in our interviews in Atlanta to inquire of job candidates what they thought of the work of Elinor Ostrom. A minority were able to make intelligent comments and had heard of her prior to the award. The majority admitted to not having heard of her prior to the award, but at least had the good sense to be sheepish and vaguely embarrassed by this, with most having done some checking on her after the award and able to make some brief remark based on that.

Rather more astounding was that there were a small number who had still not heard of her, people who were unaware who had received the Nobel in economics most recently (I know, I know, it is not a real Nobel, blah blah). To really top it off, there was one candidate from a top ten school in industrial organization of all things, who had not only not (still) heard of Ostrom, but had also not heard of Williamson as of the time of the interview. I have no further comment on all this other than to say that this exercise proved to be most interesting and would not have been carried out if not for the spectacle that went on over at jobmarketrumors previously.

For students or researchers: I have just added a Reference List to my economics blog with economic data series, history, bibliographies etc. for students & researchers. Currently 100+ meta sources, it will in the next days grow to over a thousand. Check it out and if you miss something, feel free to leave a comment.

Here's the direct link:

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