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"Neil H. Buchanan" <[log in to unmask]>
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AFEEMAIL Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 23 Apr 1999 17:05:06 -0500
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David and John both make excellent points.  I concede that I was unfairly
insinuating negative things about those who take business-oriented degrees.
 Even so, as an educator I do believe that a college education should not
simply involve learning a trade, no matter how well-intentioned the
students who wish to take such courses might be.  I'll say it bluntly:
Accounting should not be an available major in college, even though I can
understand why some students might think that that's what they ought to
major in.  Yes, this is paternalistic; but that's what academic
policy-making is always about.

All of this is somewhat beside the original point, though.  We were trying
to understand why economics, the content of which is becoming ever less
interesting and ever more analytically sterile at most schools, is again so
popular on college campuses.  I think the answer is still that it's a proxy
for a business major.  Economics departments will not, therefore, be forced
by "market forces" to retreat from their current path, because this
particular market works in such strange ways.  Here's one way to think
about this strange logic:

Students want jobs, so
Students look for majors that will get them jobs, so
Students who want jobs in business want to major in business, but
Many excellent schools don't have business majors, so
Students substitute economics for business, but
Economics departments don't teach anything useful or interesting, but
Students don't care, because being an econ major gets them jobs, so
Economics departments don't have to teach anything useful or interesting.



At 04:40 PM 4/23/99 -0500, you wrote:
>All excellent points, David.  As a first generation college student, I, too,
>felt some pressure to get a "marketable" degree (little did I realize what
>taking economics at the University of Tennessee really entailed!).  In the
>all our majors must get jobs and earn income, regardless of their personal
>senses of avarice or community-mindedness--it's a requirement of our social
>And I have also found it to be true that business majors have no problem with
>Minsky, Keynes, or Veblen (provided you sneak up on them with the latter!).
>When I teach the MBA Economics for Business, I assing Alfred Eichner's
>AND OLIGOPOLY.  They thoroughly enjoy it, and rather quickly appreciate
the fact
>that "business" is about the accumulation of power, and only about problem
>solving if the latter happens to be instrumental (in the general sense of the
>word) in achieving the former.  I'll grant that they have rarely
considered this
>before my class, but I make sure they have confronted it before they leave!
>John T. Harvey
>Texas Christian University
>"David A. Zalewski" wrote:
>> I find some of the comments in this thread about business majors troubling
>> and would like to offer several comments.  First, professional majors are
>> seen as a necessity for many students - not just as a vehicle to get rich.
>> I grew up in a relatively depressed "mill town" in New England, where
>> all students who continued on to college majored in engineering, business,
>> education, nursing, etc... Many blue collar families sacrificed greatly to
>> send their kids to college, and few would major in any discipline that was
>> not instrumental to a better life. Although students may be more
>> materialistic today than 25-30 years ago, I think most desire a
>> stable life rather than opulence. Second, I sense from many comments that
>> business programs are overly vocational. In my department, majors are
>> required to take only six finance courses and two accounting courses. Over
>> half of the major is in the liberal arts and nearly three-quarters of the
>> courses are non-business. Although this is only one program, AACSB
>> requirements emphasize the liberal arts and require that no business
>> other than intro Accounting be taken before Junior year. Moreover, many
>> accounting majors must now attend college for five years because of
>> additional work needed in writing, speaking etc... Finally, perhaps because
>> they are more practical, business majors are more receptive to
>> institutionalist ideas (except anti-business ones, of course) than many
>> economics majors. I have used many JEI articles in class over the years and
>> have found business students favor the financial stability hypothesis over
>> the efficient market hypothesis, the monetary theory of production rather
>> than benevolent "helicopters," etc... For this reason, teaching business
>> students may be seen as an opportunity to "spread the word" about the
>> poverty of neoclassical economics and to shape their thinking about
>> issues.
>> David Zalewski
>> Department of Finance
>> Providence College
>> [log in to unmask]