Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Economics Without Entrepreneurship or Institutions: A Vocabulary Analysis of Graduate Textbooks


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A teacher’s words reflect the theory and methods he uses. Words reveal theoretical structures, the problems identified as relevant, and how those problems should be analyzed. I investigate whether entrepreneurship-rich and institutions-rich theories are represented in Ph.D. programs in economics. I analyze textbooks for the presence of terms that fall naturally into two sets. One set deals with the knowledge and discovery: entrepreneur, innovation, invention, tacit knowledge, and bounded rationality. The other deals with social rules: institutions, property rights, and economic freedom. When the words appear I examine the meaning. I examine the textbooks used in required courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics and industrial organization in all Ph.D. programs in economics in Sweden. The investigation is not specific to Sweden, however, because Ph.D. programs in Sweden are virtually identical to programs in the United States. The same textbooks are used, and nearly all of the textbooks examined are written by economists in the United States. I find that (i) all programs are in the tradition of “mainstream” economics; (ii) by and large, the eight expressions scarcely appear in the textbooks; and (iii) when they do appear, their meaning is diluted or distorted, compared to their meaning in theories where the idea is more central. In my judgment, the results constitute powerful evidence that today’s doctoral programs do not train young economists to identify and analyze important economic issues in a relevant way.