Suggested Term Paper Topics (partial--updated 3/1/2013)
Here are just a few among thousands of possible topics. You are welcome to define your own topic, but I would urge you to discuss it with me so that you can avoid tackling an unmanageable task. Some of the following involve more intricate economics, while other topics are more philosophically complicated. If you have trouble getting hold of any of these materials, please contact me.
1. There are a number of extremely interesting blogs authored by economists that might form the basis for a term paper. In some cases the authors of the blogs argue with one another, which is both entertaining and informative. Many of these blogs include material tht is not relevant to economics or indeed to anything academic. So you will have to use your judgment. And one of the most interesting blogs is Paul Krugman's at the New York Times web site, which is not accessible without a subscription (though you can access entries through 2012 through the UW Library's web page. Here is a list of blogs with an indication of the politics of the authors, which has a huge effect on what detailed positions they take. Though it will be hard to extract material and define a manageable paper topic, these blogs are a great place to observe the interaction of economics and ideology.
- Brad DeLong Grasping Reality with Both Invisible Hands: Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based: A Semi-Daily Journal [Liberal, pro-stimulus]
- Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal [Liberal, pro-stimulus]
- Marginal Revolution: Small Steps Toward a Much Better World (Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarok)[libertarian, stagnationist]
- Greg Mankiw's Blog: Random Observations for Students of Economics [Mainstream conservative, against taxing the wealthy]
- The Becker-Posner Blog (Gary Becker and Richard Posner) [Traditional conservative]
- Mainly Macro: Comment on Macroeconomic Issues (Simon Wren-Lewis) [British, liberal, anti-austerity]
- The Grumpy Economist (John Cochrane's Blog) [Conservative, anti-stimulus]
- Dani Rodrik's Weblog: Unconventional thoughts on economic development and globalization [liberal, focus on international development]
- Beat the Press (Dean Baker) [liberal; critiques of news articles and other blog postings]
- Economics One: A Blog by John B. Taylor [conservative, anti-stimulus]
- Matthew Yglesias [moderate liberal, pro-stimulus, often concerned with detailed policies]
- Casey Mulligan (conservative, anti-stimulus)
2. Read Chapter 15 (Conclusions) of Mark Blaug's The Methodology of Economics: Or How Economists Explain and write an essay reacting to his Popperian interpretation of economic methodology.
3. Read (i) D. Bear and D. Orr, "Logic and Expediency in Economic Theorizing," (Journal of Political Economy 75 (1967): 67-91) or (ii) K. Brunner, "Assumptions and the Cognitive Quality of Theories" Synthese 20 (1969): 136-51) or (iii) Eugen Rotwein, "On 'The Methodology of Positive Economics.'" Quarterly Journal of Economics ue (1959), pp. 554-75 or (iv) Alan Musgrave, "'Unreal Assumptions' in Economic Theory: The F-Twist Untwisted." Kykos 34 (1981): 377-87 and write an essay commenting on their interpretation of Milton Friedman's methodology.
5. Write an essay contrasting Mill's view of theory appraisal in economics to either Popper's or Friedman's views.
6. Read the selection by Robbins in Hausman's anthology The Philosophy of Economics (any edition), and write an essay comparing Mill's view of theory appraisal in economics to Robbins' views.
7. Read Alan Gibbard and Hal Varian, "Economic Models," (Journal of Philosophy 75(1978): 664-77) and discuss their views. You might want to compare them to the views of economic models defended in chapter 5 of D. Hausman, The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
8. Read and evaluate some aspect of the critique of behavioral and neuroeconomics developed by Faruk Gul and Wolfgang Pesandorfer in "The Case for Mindless Economics," pp. 3-39 of Andrew Caplin and Andrew Schotter, eds. The Foundations of Positive and Normative Economics(Oxford University Press, 2008).
9. Comment on the scientific method employed by D. Grether and C. Plott in their essay, "Economic Theory of Choice and the Preference Reversal Phenomenon," American Economic Review 69 (1979): 623-38.
10. Comment on the view of economics and economic methodology defended by Frank Hahn in "The Winter of Our Discontent." Economica 40 (1973): 322-30.
11. Read D. McCloskey, "The Rhetoric of Economics," Journal of Economic Literature 21 (1983): 481-517 or the exchange between McCloskey and Rosenberg (Economics and Philosophy 4 (1988): 129-49 and 150-66, and offer your appraisal of McCloskey's critique of economic methodology and his call for its replacement with a rhetoric of economics.
12. Comment on the controversy concerning realism in economics started by my essay, “Problems with Realism in Economics,” Economics and Philosophy 14 (1998): 185-213, to which Tony Lawson replied with "What Has Realism Got to Do with It?" which is reprinted in the anthology and to which Uskali Mäki replied in “Reclaiming relevant realism”, Journal of Economic Methodology, 7, No 1, March 2000, 109-125. My response to Lawson appears in "Ontology and Methodology in Economics," Economics and Philosophy 15 (1999): 283-88, and my response to Mäki appears in "Realist Philosophy and Methodology of Economics: What Is It?" Journal of Economic Methodology 7 (2000): 127-33.
13. Paul Samuelson criticizes Friedman and defends a much more behaviorist view of economics in "Problems of Methodology – Discussion." American Economic Review 54 (1963) pp. 736-40. Write an essay discussing his views.
14. In his essay, "Appraising General Equilibrium Analysis," Economics and Philosophy 1 (1985), pp. 23-38, E. Roy Weintraub applies Lakatos' Methodology of Scientific Research Programs. Write an essay commenting on his application.
15. Write an essay commenting on Alvin Roth's essay, "Laboratory Experimentation in Economics: A Methodological Overview," Economic Journal 98 (1988): pp. 974-1031. Be sure to compare his view with the essay by Vernon Smith in the anthology.
16. Herbert Simon criticizes the "substantive" view of rationality that in his view is standard in orthodox economics and argues instead for a procedural view. Write an essay assessing his views as developed in "From Substantive to Procedural Rationality," pp. 129-48 of Spiro Latsis, ed. Method and Appraisal in Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
17. We are skipping Chapters 12, 13, 14, and 15 in Reiss's book. One possibility for a term paper would be to write on one of the themes or arguments developed in Chapters 13, 14, or 15 of Reiss. I would not recommend writing on Chapter 12, because we are going to cover that material from other sources.
18. The most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives contains an essay, "The Case Against Patents," b y Michele Boldrin and David Levine that makes a combined moral and economic argument against patents, which would be well worth discussing in a term paper.