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Feldstein Tweaks Ec 10 Curriculum

Behavioral economist included as a guest lecturer

By Yailett Fernandez, Contributing Writer

Professor of Economics David I. Laibson ’88 will lecture on Behavioral Economics in Social Analysis 10: “Principles of Economics,” Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein has announced.

“Behavioral economics emphasizes the psychological factors that contribute to economic decision making,” Laibson said.

“It tends to be skeptical of the assumption of perfect rationality” of the players in economic dilemmas, he said—an assumption at the core of neoclassical economic theory.

The announcement of Laibson’s addition to the course comes just two days after the Department of Economics rejected a proposal for an alternative to the popular core—which is required of all economics concentrators.

Ec 10, as the course is popularly known, has come under fire recently, with students from a group called Students for Humane and Responsible Economics (SHARE) petitioning for an alternative introductory course to be taught by Barker Professor of Economics Stephen A. Marglin ’59.

Behavioral economics is a relatively new way of looking at economics, dating back to the 1980s, Laibson said.

“It is an expansion of the curriculum,” said Laibson, but it is “a part of a long time tradition” of encouraging professors to share their views and research with the Ec 10 class.

Laibson said that the issues of behavioral economics have always been considered in the course but that now there would be an “increased coverage.”

“Ec 10 has always had guest lecturers to give students a perspective in economics and current research,” Laibson said.

His lecture, Laibson added, will not represent a big change in course policy.

“Ec 10 lecturers change all the time,” Feldstein concurred in an e-mail.

Laibson attributed the constant flow of lecturers to the course’s commitment to “reflect cutting-edge research in economics.”

But Marglin, who has said that Ec 10 fails to sufficiently question the assumptions of economics, wrote in an e-mail that the addition of Laibson to the lineup of lecturers would only go so far in helping to broaden the course.

“I’m sure [Laibson’s] lecture will add to Ec 10,” wrote Marglin. But he added the lecture will not “make the class balanced enough.”

Several Members of SHARE said they were pleased that Laibson will serve as a lecturer in the course.

“Ec 10 needs to be reformed and it sounds like a step in the right direction,” said Michael Y. Lee ’02-’03, a member of SHARE.

However, Lee, who said he doubts that Laibson’s lecture was introduced in order to make the class more balanced, said that it will not be enough.

“We think that a lot more needs to be done to make Ec 10 a balanced and critical introductory course to economics,” he added.

Economics department Chair Oliver S. Hart declined to comment for this story.

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