Having read Bruce Bartlett’s op-eds for many years, I was pleased to have him send me directly a comment on the column Noah Smith and I wrote: “The complete guide to getting into an economics PhD program.” He kindly gave me permission to reprint what he wrote here. His main point is that there are many good careers in economics that do not require a PhD. I agree. Indeed, one of the reasons I feel good about Noah’s and my advice about working toward an economics PhD is that along that highway, there are many wonderful exits along the way, should you choose not to go all the way to an economics PhD. And if you do get a PhD, there are many careers outside of economics, as well as in, that you will be well prepared for.
Here is what Bruce wrote to me:
I realize your column was specifically about getting a Ph.D. in economics, but you might have also discussed the options for working in economics with no degrees in economics at all. I don’t have any and I did pretty well and landed some high level government economics positions. My career path is probably not very transferable, but I would mention journalism as one place one can write about economics without a degree in the subject. Catherine Rampell, a NYT business reporter, for example, has only a BA in English and she’s very good. Another option is law. Many areas of law intersect with economics—tax law, antitrust, many areas of economic regulation etc. The law reviews are filled with articles about economics that would never be accepted by any actual economics journal, but that will get you tenure at a law school, where all you need is a law degree. Political scientists and sociologists also do a lot of quasi-economics work. So if you are just interested in being an economist without wanting to jump through the hoops to get a Ph.D. in the subject and teach it at the university level, I would suggest there are other options.
I would also mention that there are a lot of jobs for those who only have a master’s degree in the subject. That is often good enough for government work or a job in a think tank or as a business economist or at an international financial institution such as the World Bank.