Comments: /Teaching_Folder/Econ_210a_f99/Econ210a_Fall99.html : LUSENET : Economic History (and Related Observations) : One Thread

Economics 210a Syllabus: Fall 1999

-- Bradford DeLong (, May 04, 2000


Thanks Prof Delong for setting this up. I'm hoping it takes off, so I'll put something down to start, even tho. I don't have anything intelligent things to say. Just a few questions.

In class we talked about why we should do economic history, But will we in time learn how economic historians do it? And how to appraise their work? (this matters now, and will probably matter even more when we start writing the research paper :P ).

For instance, in the QWERTY-Dvorak comparison, we didn't eventually find out who was more accurate about the history of the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. Thats really troubling, cos we can't really be confident in conclusions formed from flawed data, right? Or are we supposed to forget the facts and concentrate on the lessons of the story, that path dependence matters? (gee, that sounds alot like how neoclassical economics handled lighthouses and bees)

Well, anyone who's interested can find lots of supporters of both QWERTY and Dvorak on the Internet (just type QWERTY or Dvorak on your search engine).

Ok I gotta go back to 201A problem set 1.....

-- Kok-Hoe Chan (, May 04, 2000.

Thoughts regarding QWERTY and Dvorak, based on my experience doing clerical work in 1993-96...

(1) Temp agencies and potential employers would always give me a typing test. This was done on a DOS-based machine with a QWERTY keyboard. Even if I could have typed faster on a Dvorak keyboard, I don't think I could have done much to demonstrate that skill to the tester; the staff administering the test would probably not respond well to "here, before you run that testing program on me, let me reconfigure your computer". Also, I suspect that very few people at any company would know whether the desktop machines in use could be easily reconfigured to use Dvorak keyboards; if their decision about whether to hire or not hire me depended on that one piece of information, how much effort would they be willing to spend to obtain it?

(2) Secretaries and other office workers have to do more than just type. For every job, employers will usually post some threshold of typing speed required (e.g., 40 words per minute), but once I'm above that threshold, how much more employable does an extra 10 wpm make me? And therefore, if I'm trying to learn something to improve my employability, is learning the Dvorak layout really the best use of my time?

(3) So, although I've known about the Dvorak keyboard since middle school, I've never bothered learning it. (When I was in high school, we had an Apple //c computer, which had a "keyboard" button that switched to Dvorak. So back then, I even had the opportunity to learn it.)

-- Seth Gordon (, May 04, 2000.

Some thoughts on week 1 readings:

What disturbs me about this "network externality" and "path dependence" debate is that it does not sufficiently seem to take into account the demand side of the problem. For how do we really know what the "better product" actually is, and how would we obtain the appropriate criterion as to whether market mechanisms have yielded the most efficient result? Maybe the "QWERTY"-story is a kind of special case in this context because there should be quite clear-cut criteria as to the technical superiority of a keyboard setup (though even that appearently is not as obvious as it might be at first glance). However, just look at the other example brought up by Liebovitz & Margolis, VHS vs. Beta; this battle basically seems to have been decided by consumers' preferences and demand resulting from these, as it should be according to standard economic theory as we know it since Menger's, Jevons', ... "marginalist revolution". Thus, the real problem turns out to lie in the emergence and evolvement of consumer preferences, which standard theory traditionally has very little to tell about. So, from my point of view, no objections at all against the notion of path dependence and its importance for explaining economic phenomena of all kinds; however my emphasis would be slightly different one. This stress on the demand side with all its psychological, sociological, anthropological etc. intractabilities seems to me one more proof that modern economics would greatly benefit from a heavy dose of interdisciplinary research ...

As concerns Keynes, I agree with the reading notes that his argument is wrong, even quite plainly so. Keynes actually recognizes the crucial point when he draws the distinction between absolute and relative needs (p. 365), but by almost completely neglecting the latter in carrying on, he gets to miss the point. The key to the "economic problem" to persist despite all spectacular growth in material wealth is the principal insatiabiliy of relative needs, and that's about it. As a refinement of this, I found Easterlin's article (week 2) highly interesting ...

-- Christian Hederer (, May 04, 2000.

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