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Hoisted from the Archives: More Dilemmas of Teaching Political Economy Here at Berkeley

PEIS--Notes on Reform...: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: Consider PEIS 101, Modern Theories of Political Economy. As I see it, the course has three objectives:

  • To teach students that the classical theoretical traditions in social theory or political economy--chiefly those of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville, but also those of Marx and Weber--still have life and power.
  • To teach students the main other, more modern, currents of theory and analysis derived from or constructed in reaction to the classical theoretical traditions.
  • To survey what is going on in the world today.

Now any one of these three objectives would be enough for a full semester course. Trying to cram all three of these missions into one single semester-long course is asking for trouble. The problem is that we already have a substantial number of requirements for the major, cannot realistically add more, and could not pay for people to teach anything more even if we did add requirements. So we are trying to do too much in a small number of courses. But we don't have the budget or the resources to offer more. And don't get me started on the state of our anemic undergraduate thesis program.

And there's more. You see, I regard the best interdisciplinary work in "political economy" as resulting from the more-or-less equal mixture of political science, history, and economics, with dabs of sociology and anthropology thrown in. We have no trouble--even in our anemic, underfunded state--finding people to teach the political science, the history, the sociology and anthropology. We can find people to teach the economic theory--albeit with difficulty. But we have difficulty finding people to teach the applied economics part of the mix, which is a problem because the courses in the Economics Department we send people to are inevitably already oversubscribed.