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Ruggles-Friedman correspondence on Draft Report on Graduate Training in Economics, 1955

 

A transcription of the complete printed Report of the Panel Discussions on Graduate Training in Economics at Yale (1956) was provided in the previous posting. A copy of the draft of that report from December 1955 can be found in Milton Friedman’s file of correspondence with the chairperson of the Yale Committee responsible for the report, Richard Ruggles, along with Ruggles’ cover letter and a copy of Friedman’s response. The first couple of pages of the draft are transcribed below because they provide a little bit of the backstory for the Report as does Ruggles’ cover letter. Otherwise the only substantive change between the two versions, aside from a rearrangement of a few sections in the Report, comes from Friedman’s reservations concerning the publication of doctoral theses in a university series. These were incorporated into the final Report. 

Fun Fact: Richard Ruggles graduated from Harvard in 1939. Classmates included his later Yale colleagues James Tobin and William Parker. The composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein was also a member of that Harvard class of ’39.

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Letter from Richard Ruggles to Milton Friedman
Requesting Comments on Panel Report

 

YALE UNIVERSITY
Department of Economics
New Haven, Connecticut

Richard Ruggles

December 12th 1955

Professor Milton Friedman
Department of Economics
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Milton,

At long last a preliminary draft of the report on the panel discussions held at Yale last spring has been prepared. This draft is based on notes taken on the discussions in the five panel meetings, and the draft has been gone over and revised according to the interpretations they placed upon the discussions in which they participated. Although the same agenda was followed in all the panel discussions, the amount of time spent on the various topics differed considerably.

Our intended procedure is as follows. We would like all the panel participants to send in their comments on this draft. In light of these comments one or more of three possible courses of action will be taken on each specific part of the draft. If numerous comments of the same general nature are made, the draft will be revised to present these views in the body of the text. This revision may consist either of replacing present sections or adding alternative views. In cases where only one or two individuals disagree on a particular point in the text, this disagreement may be handled by appropriate foontoe references. In instances where an individual panel member feels it desirable, he may write a section embodying his views and this will be appended to the report as a supplementary statement. It is not the object of this report to come out with an appearance of any greater degree of consensus than actually exists.

There appears to be widespread interest in the results of this inquiry. Numerous requests for copies of the final report have already been received. We had expected to publish the report here at Yale, but in view of the very great interest that has been shown, the committee has instructed me to ask the panel members whether or not they would approve of having the report published in an economic journal such as the American Economic Review. I would therefore appreciate it if, when you send in your comments about the panel report, you could also let me know whether or not you would approve of such publication.

Sincerely yours

[signed] Richard

ssk
enc.

________________________

Introduction to Draft Report of the Panel Discussions on Graduate Training in Economics

Confidential Preliminary Draft;
Not for Distribution

REPORT OF THE PANEL DISCUSSIONS ON GRADUATE TRAINING IN ECONOMICS

The program of graduate training in economics at Yale, and generally elsewhere in the United States, is the result of an evolutionary development. The changes that have occurred over the last two or three decades have taken the form of specific improvements in already existing programs. Although this approach can be expected to improve a graduate training program, it will in all probability lead to an end result quite different from, and not necessarily superior to, that which would result from a comprehensive reshaping of the program to meet the changed requirements, new objectives, and shifting substance in the field itself. Any minor change in an existing program must necessarily tie in with those parts of the program which remain unchanged; because the system as a whole has not been subjected to an overall redesign, it will be found necessary to modify any partial revisions so that consistency, equity, and flexibility will all be preserved.

Revision by such minor steps has a number of advantages. The degree of risk involved is minimized. Also, the changes undertaken can be expected to be within the capabilities of the organization which puts them into force. Finally, if changes are undertaken by small stages the existing program will usually be flexible enough to incorporate them without disruption.

A major reorganization involving the setting up of an entirely new program, on the other hand, faces many problems arising from lack of experience. Because such a system is new, it is often impossible to judge whether it can be carried out with the resources available. Finally, the implementation of the new system completely different in structural form may require flexibility on the part of those responsible for carrying it out that cannot be achieved quickly.

Thus it is no accident that change is usually of an evolutionary nature, but the possibility of setting up a completely new system should not be ignored. Evolutionary development, if not subjected to periodic overall review, can easily proceed in a direction which turns out to be sterile and unsuited to the needs of the society. Because evolutionary development is piecemeal, it tends unconsciously to take the underlying assumptions of the system for granted, and not to question the overall objectives and goals in relation to the requirements which must be met. Even if a comprehensive reorganization is never undertaken, it should be considered periodically. Even a complete failure in the attempt may breed new insights and suggest new directions that an orderly evolution should take. It was with these considerations in mind that the Department of Economics at Yale undertook to review the problem of graduate training in economics.

The monograph on graduate training published by the American Economic Association was extremely instructive with respect to the current status of economics training in the country, and the possible standards and improvements in such standards that might be established. The monograph, however, did not attempt to explore any major changes in the system itself.

Participation in an overall review should not be restricted to those who are administering the present system. Individuals concerned primarily with the substance of the field often have ideas that should receive consideration. Similarly, those who make use of the people who are trained, who may themselves be very little concerned either with substance or with training methods, will have valuable contributions to make concerning the areas of strength or weakness in the products of the training.

A considerable period of time was therefore invested in searching out new ideas from people in charge of administering programs, people interested in specialized areas of economics, people in business, and people in government and international organizations. During the fall and early winter of 1954-55, a great many interviews were conducted with representatives of these groups. These people were encouraged to discuss any portions of the overall problem they thought important, and no set questionnaire was used to elicit their responses. This procedure had two advantages. First, the influence of the preconceptions of the interviewers was kept to a minimum, and second, the interviews provided a sort of ink-blot test which was useful in assessing the kinds of problem that generally worried people in the different groups.

The material gathered from these interviews naturally lacked order and did not readily fit into any single comprehensive organization, but it was extremely useful in providing a basis for an agenda for a more orderly and comprehensive discussion. Such an agenda, together with a brief discussion of the various ideas expressed by individuals in the interviews, was therefore drawn up, and on the basis of this agenda a series of six panel discussions were held at Yale in the spring of 1955. The topics chosen for panel discussion covered only a few selected problems of graduate training in economics. In view of the limited time available for panel discussion, it was thought preferable to focus on a relatively small number of major issues. The choice of problems to be included was based on (1) their relative importance in suggesting possible new directions for graduate education, and (2) the amount of controversy they generated among the people with whom they were discussed.

The following report presents the results of the discussions of this agenda by the six panels.

[…]

________________________

Carbon copy of Milton Friedman’s Response to Ruggles

9 January 1956

Mr. Richard Ruggles
Department of Economics
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Dear Dick:

Your report of the panel discussions strikes me as an excellent statement though my recollection of the discussions themselves are so vague that I would hardly feel competent to testify to the accuracy of the summary of the views expressed at the particular discussion that I participated in.

I find myself in substantial agreement with almost the whole of your report, the one point about which I have real doubts is the bottom half of page 15. While there are clearly some advantages to having a publication in the form of an annual series, it seems to me that most important of all that the better theses or redrafts of them will be worth publication in the regular professional journals and this would be much preferable. I feel that an entirely University series will not offer any substantial incentive to high quality but may well have the opposite effect.

Aside from this one point, the questions I have about the report are on a different level. My major question is whether you want to present the report as an observer’s summary of the panel discussions on the one hand or as the conclusions which the Yale committee drew from the panel discussions on the other. The present draft has more of the flavor of the first yet it seems to me that you would do better to do the second, making it explicit that the report records the judgment of the particular people in the Yale committee but is based on the discussions with the panels. This would seem to me to have two very great advantages. In the first place it avoids committing any of the panel members or giving the impression that they are responsible for or in agreement with what was said. In the second place it makes it easier to be firm and to avoid wishy-washy statements.

This choice ties in very much with the question you ask about publication. If the report takes the second form suggested, there is no need to ask panel members whether they approve of publication but only whether they are willing to have their names listed as having been participants. If the report takes the first form, I am at a loss to know what my approval signifies. I think it would be useful to publish the report. I agree generally with it but I would not want to be listed in the capacity of a co-author or as one who lists himself as fully responsible for it.

My second main question about the present report is whether it would not gain greatly by being less hypothetical and arid. What I have in mind is that there are no references at all in the report as to what is happening at any other institution except in the vaguest terms. Yet almost every suggestion that is made is now in effect in one or more institutions. The report, I think, would gain greatly in effectiveness and persuasiveness if it referred to the experiments or named institutions as evidence of the feasibility of the various changes and of their desirability. The outstanding example, it seems to me, is materially the suggestions with respect to the thesis which is here put forward as if it were an untried suggestion, whereas our experience—and for all I know that of other institutions—gives very relevant evidence on both its feasibility and desirability.

I hope you will pardon me for commenting so fully on questions not really covered in your letter. I am sure that the report of your committee will have an important influence on the course of graduate training in economics.

Sincerely yours,

Milton Friedman

MF:pan

Source: Hoover Institution Archives. Milton Friedman Papers, Box 32, Folder 16 “Correspondence: Ruggles, Richard”.

Image Source:  Richard Ruggles, noted economic statistician, diesYale Bulletin & Calendar Vol. 29, No. 23 (March 23, 2001).

 

 

Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier

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