“You could make a good case for requiring only the core and a dissertation [and eliminated all other economics courses, e.g. economic history, history of econ thought, behavioral economics, etc.]. Getting a PhD in economics is about acquiring some basic tools, then learning to do research, which then directs what you read.”
Here’s the problem I see with that from my finance PhD experience (which involved taking about half of the econ. PhD required classes): After the classes are done, there’s very quickly huge pressure (and penalties) to finish the dissertation and write papers as fast as humanly (or super-humanly) possible.
Thus, the pressure is to stop spending time learning anything besides what you need to publish papers as fast as possible. And, the fastest way to crank out paper after paper is to narrowly specialize. Then there’s a lot less constant new learning necessary to produce.
So the great incentive if you want to advance in the field (or not fall back), and everyone does after having worked massive hours for years and years, is to only spend time learning about and producing in your narrow specialty. Unless you’re forced to learn about other economics, by say a PhD program requirement, you spend time on it at your own risk, because it’s doing way less to add to your production than if you had spent that time working on your specialty. And the competition you’re judged against knows that too.
NOTE: “Idiot Savant” was a term describing recent econ Ph.D. grads coined by members of the AEA Committee on Graduate Education in the 1990s, to characterized their math dominated, surprisingly limited understanding of economic phenomena and economic science.
The post title indicates the topic of discussion — the cognitive environment in which academic economics is done.