When I returned to school, I thought I was all interested in macroeconomics. It was probably the ideological aspects of it that attracted me in hindsight. Lots of fuzzy data in macro, so you can add your own spices, cook it all up and take a stab at claiming your view is the right one. I skewed well over to the heterodox left-ish side of things (“naturally,” says nearly anyone who knows me).
Yet the more I learned about economics, the more this fascination wore off. Having to learn Mankiw’s principles, etc. (thankfully there are a number of writers out there trying to relieve the tedium of the 10 principles like this guy) just made me want to go to a place within economics where there was an endless stream of rather specific issues to wonder about and a burgeoning wave of pretty usable data to wade through in attempting to answer such questions. Thus: applied microeconomics, the path I am on now.
As I prepare for grad school application season this fall, my desire to focus on applied micro has made me more interested in rigorous public policy programs than straight econ grad programs, at least in large part because you can skip the macro! But also these programs tend to be pretty well loaded up with a bunch of people doing really interesting and relevant work.
Anyway, that is all just a long-winded wind up to sharing this nice piece by Frances Woolley over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. Two years ago I would have been scratching my head about some of the things in this post, but it really spoke to me, both the pros and the cons parts. I am, like FW, pretty optimistic about the ability of applied economics to give increasingly good and relevant advice to policymakers. The problem of people ignoring it persists, but the examples of Nudge and the “nudge units” and so forth that it and similar books has spawned makes one a bit more hopeful that as we become more resource constrained and challenged by population density and a number of other factors, more of the low hanging fruit may be picked as time goes on.