The Economics of an Economics Ph.D.
By David Henderson
On this blog last month, my fellow blogger Arnold Kling wrote:
Then consider the Internet. For an autodidact, this is a golden age. For going to graduate school, not so much.
I agree with Arnold totally on the first. When my students graduate with an MBA and some of them express interest in getting a Ph.D. in economics but are “stuck” in the military for the next few years, I tell them to keep up the learning by going to Bryan Caplan’s web site and working their way through some of his courses. His lecture notes are awesome. (Try this, for example.) I tell them to do all the problem sets and not “cheat” by looking at the answers until they have really worked the set in not one, but two sessions.
I agree with Arnold on his second point also, but only literally. It’s not a golden age for getting a Ph.D. in economics, but it’s still a pretty good age. Take a look at Walter Block’s article on this issue last June. Here are two key paragraphs:
Gary North, Ph.D., (emphasis, mine) continues with his pessimistic outlook claiming that new assistant professors are typically given large classrooms, which do not usually allow them to do the research necessary for acquiring tenure. So they are let go after six years (not eight, as per North), and then confined to the swamps of community colleges, there to earn that proverbial “$10 to $15 an hour.”
Well, let’s see. According to this source, the average salary for a community college faculty member … nationally … was $53,934. Round this up to $54,000 (hey, give me a break, I’m trying to make a point here). Assume that the professor teaches 5 courses of 3 hours each for 30 weeks a year (yes, these people get long vacations too). That amounts to 450 hours per year (we ignore publishing requirements, committee meetings, marking essays, since there are virtually none in this sector of academia), or $120 per hour, roughly 10 times North’s estimate of “$10 to $15 an hour.” I wonder at the source of his calculations.
I think that Walter exaggerated substantially, as I noted to him in an e-mail. He’s left out preparation, grading, and office hours. Those three together can easily drive the 450 hours to 1,200 hours for the first few years. That would then drop the hourly rate to $45. But that’s still not bad if you’re doing something you like or even love. Moreover, as you teach more, the prep time falls so that the long-run equilibrium time for prep, teaching, grading, and office hours probably falls to 1,000 or so. That’s $55 an hour. And remember that you have a lot of say over how you teach and what you teach. Moreover, it can allow you to be a performer in class. I know a lot of actors who get paid less than $55 an hour–and they’re spouting someone else’s lines.
Then with the rest of the time you can free-lance write, speak, or consult. And remember that this was the worst case, the case in which you teach at a community college.
As I told Walter in an e-mail:
I will give this article to future students who are wondering about whether to get a Ph.D. in econ. Oh, and there was a lot of love in that article for young people. You’re a sweetheart, Walter.