Facts about MIT economics

1. It is believed that MIT graduating Ph.d. students are more likely to stay in academia than those from any other school or field.

2. Across 1977-2011, MIT economists made up 34 percent of the members of the CEA, and Robert Solow supervised one-third of that group.

3. Even in the early days of MIT, Paul Samuelson was not a major thesis advisor, and his students were not so likely to return to MIT as faculty.

4. Out of 35 J.B. Clark medalists until 2012, 47% of them have some affiliation with MIT, either a degree from there or teaching there.

5. As of a few years ago (I am not sure of the exact date), there were 1316 holders of an MIT Ph.d. in economics.

6. In the 2000s, Daron Acemoglu was the most active thesis advisor at MIT.

That is all from “MIT’s Rise to Prominence: Outline of a Collective Biography,” by Andrej Svorenčík.  There are various versions of that article here, the jstor version here, and it is reprinted in MIT and the Transformation of American Economics, edited by E. Roy Weintraub.


How could you fail to mention MIT alum Paul Krugman.

It's good bait for more comments.

Maybe they should changes its name to Mass Institute of Technology & Economics: MITE.

How do the economics students feel surrounded by engineers and physicists who really can do maths?

Happy that they can find a husband who has a good job? The economics students obviously can't. See Point 1.

(Warning: This post may contain some irony)

dearieme March 29, 2015 at 6:17 pm

How do the economics students feel surrounded by engineers and physicists who really can do maths?

That MIT needs to teach Psychology so they can look down on someone whose mathematics skills are worse?

The song I heard while I student there was "MIT is easy when you study bio-lo-geeeeeee" (sung to the tune of "Karma Chameleon")


I don't know if Steven Pinker's Intro-to-Psych lectures are online.

You forgot about the math majors ..... The fact of the matter is very few undergrads go to MIT wanting to study economics. In the mid 1980s I think a typical graduating class had at most 20 people (out of 1000+). Both my impression and some hard data a Sloan school TA showed me once suggests that econ majors were middle of the pack in terms of general academic ability. The truth was that there were "easier" things to major in if you felt you had problems competing. It was not some sort of default thing to major in like it seems to be at, say, Harvard or the University of Chicago.....

This paper was entirely about MIT's graduate program and not their undergraduate school which has not been particularly exceptional in producing economists. Undergrads mostly didn't go to MIT to study econ. But for graduate school, it was arguably the first choice of 90% of econ students up through the early 1990s.

Economics (as well as political science, linguistics, and other non-STEM disciplines which are excellent at MIT) tends to be a forgotten stepchild at MIT. Even the Nobel prizewinners in econ don't tend to impress the rest of the campus, where the departments can come up with their own plethora of Nobel winners.

I think there are two reasons for eon's lack of prominence on campus: economics does not bring in multi-million dollar grants; you don't see big buildings like the Whitehead Institute or Broad Labs being built to support the economists' activities. And, as others have mentioned, at the undergrad level economics is way down the list of majors that students are interested in. The undergrads mainly take economics classes because it satisfies their distribution requirements (at MIT, all of the humanities, arts, and social sciences are combined into a single school, HASS).

Indeed, the MIT women's Ultimate frisbee team is name sMITe.

"6. In the 2000s, Daron Acemoglu was the most active thesis advisor at MIT."

Does this have anything to do with why so many people in the economics business seem to take Acemoglu's Gladwellian assertions seriously?

I'd be more impressed with the J.B. Clark medalists but:

It is somewhat hard to swallow that MIT students and faculty are so much better than the rest, but one cannot discard the possibility that this could happen. What is more suspect is the composition of the committee: of the seven, three have an MIT PhD (Abel, Crawford and Hoxby), and one is faculty at MIT (Banerjee). What is the American Economic Association thinking? If you want to lend any credibility to this award, and you know who the prime candidates are, you put together a committee that does not look like it was constituted at the MIT ASSA cocktail party. It is true that in the past years, MIT PhDs were a majority on the committee, so there is progress, but the longer the streak goes, the more it looks dubious. It is especially annoying that Banerjee was put back in the committee two years after he gave the award to his colleague and lover (not a secret any more now that they have a baby).


Interesting. I wasn't aware of this

The AEA is a joke-ass organization.

In any case, recent winner MG has a standing offer to return to MIT too.

It's mainly a network effect on the quality of the inputs.... Not sure how it is today, but in the late 1980s, it was common for a majority of NSF Graduate Fellows to attend MIT. In 1987, if I remember correctly, 11 o the 12 or 13 decided to matriculate.

Air conditioning and MIT!

+1, that made me laugh!

It is published by Duke University Press. What is the Straussian reading of that?

I bet most of these MIT economists believe in some variant of monetarism or Keynesianism, despite the evidence that neither one exists beyond the laboratory.

Ray Lopez lacks the intellect to even know what other people don't believe in.

The only solution is obvious.

1. Call for a simultaneous reunion of all the MIT economists past and present to the MIT campus.

2. Carpet bomb it with about 12 B-52s.

If they do so, I ask you to please be attendance.

Some sort of insider network re the Clark medal certainly seems a possibility.

Sadly, Henry Manne is unavailable for comment.

1316 holders of an MIT PhD in economics.

Quite a network.

You could explain a lot about the conventional wisdom in academic economics just from that fact alone.

I wonder how the statistics from Chicago and Harvard compare?

In terms of attractiveness of the program to top graduate students, as others have alluded one could get a pretty good approximation just by counting how many NSF fellows went to each econ department each year.

In the early 1980s, MIT had a better taught, more coherent core program than Harvard or Yale did. And Chicago was infamously failing 2/3 of its entering students (do they still do that?) in order to be able to concentrate on teaching just the best 1/3.

So is Weintraub's book a collection of articles an essays, including Svorencik's? According to the Amazon website, the book is almost 400 pages long, which seems like a lot of words to expend on one single department. Econ profs at Chicago like to write intellectual autobiographies of their department, but I don't think even they have stretched one out to book length. There may be histories of Harvard's econ department but I haven't seen one.

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