Every day, people go to work in farms, factories, schools, hospitals, offices and shops. They use their time, talent and energy to produce, sell, buy and consume a bewildering variety of goods, assets and services. How are all these activities organized and connected? How do people, and more broadly societies, decide what to produce, who gets to consume what, and how much to invest for the future? Why do some people earn more than others? Why are some countries so much richer than others, and what might poor countries do to “catch up”? How has the economy changed over time, and how is it changing today? What role does government play in organizing economic activity? Economics is the study of these and many other related questions.
The Department of Economics includes 14 faculty whose research covers most major areas of modern economics. We are committed to the complementary goals of providing high-quality undergraduate education and producing high-quality economic research. The goal of our curriculum is to help students develop an understanding of how individuals, organizations and societies make the choices that determine how an economy’s scarce resources are allocated among alternative uses, and the consequences of those decisions. Nearly two-thirds of all Amherst graduates take our introductory course. For students interested in a deeper understanding of the discipline, we offer courses that teach the theoretical tools of economics, and applied elective courses that demonstrate how economists use these tools to study a wide variety of real-world economic issues. Specifically, students pursuing an economics major will
- Learn how economists use the tools of economic theory to gain insight into how individuals, organizations and governments pursue their goals, and how these decisions interact to bring about economic outcomes.
- Learn how economists use data and empirical methods to measure economic outcomes and test competing theories.
- Gain an understanding of the role of public policy in addressing economic problems and an ability to evaluate economic policy proposals and debates.
- Learn to effectively apply the theoretical tools and empirical methods used by economists to analyze real-world phenomena.
- Have opportunities and encouragement to pursue independent economic research driven by their own interests, and to assist faculty with their research.
The Department of Economics at Amherst College has a distinguished history. Among our former students are such well-known names in the history of economics as Francis Walker, John Bates Clark, and John Maurice Clark. It was while teaching at Amherst in 1924-25 that Paul Douglas (with his colleague in the mathematics department, Charles Cobb) devised the Cobb-Douglas production function. More recently, two of our alums, Edmund Phelps, 1955 and Joseph Stiglitz, 1964, were awarded the Nobel Memorial Award in Economics. Our department is committed to maintaining this tradition of excellence in teaching and research. Please see the links to the left for details of our courses, faculty, and major. We summarize a lot of important information about the major and much more in our Student Handbook. The Economics Department maintains vibrant connections with its alumni, and we invite you to read about their current jobs and activities. Visit our After Amherst page to learn about economics graduate programs. We also provide links to useful economics resources.