Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Economics program exposes students to diverse thought

In the recent turmoil that has been shaking the financial markets and some of the leading financial firms, some observers have been citing the ideas of less recognized economists. 

“An appreciation of the history of thinking about economics allows students to take a more critical perspective toward economic ideas and to teach students to think for themselves by analyzing these ideas rather than feeding them a particular set of canned answers,” says Tracy Mott, associate professor and former chair of the economics department

Lekan Ayanbule (BA ’01, MA ’04) was one of those students. He is now vice president of analytics and design for JP Morgan Chase in Chicago. Ayanbule received a masters in DU’s economics program and completed his thesis on an economist named Hyman Minsky.

Minsky, a 1954 Harvard economics PhD, is best known for his “financial instability hypothesis.” Modern financial economies exhibit fluctuations, Minsky believed, due to tendencies to accumulate higher levels of debt in an economic upswing, which sows the seeds of an ensuing recession when the debt burden must be reduced through bankruptcies and reductions in business and household spending. Minsky taught at Brown University, the University of California-Berkeley and Washington University-St. Louis.

“Minsky was not in the mainstream,” says Ayanbule. “But he’s beginning to spread like wildfire now.” 

For example, Minsky has been cited in several articles talking about financial turmoil, including a story in the August 18 Wall Street Journal, where reporter Justin Lahart profiled his life and work. 

Peter Ho, associate professor and chair of the economics department, says university economics curricula can too easily become narrow and over-standardized. To avoid this, the DU Economics Department intentionally exposes students to a broader spectrum of thought, even hosting Minsky as a guest speaker in 1993. 

Ayanbule says having the exposure at DU set him apart and allowed him to articulate non-mainstream ideas to professional colleagues. 

“DU economics students have a leg up in that respect,” he says.

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