Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is Economics too Important for Economists?

Like piranha fish in a feeding frenzy, different research tribes fight furiously to stake claims in new areas like financial engineering and risk management. Fringe players, in particular, often strive to move toward the center, or to redefine the center in ways that feather their nests.

Such competition is desirable, but healthy competition is based on merit, not mudslinging. Hence my disappointment when watching the video preview for "Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part I," a massively open online course (MOOC) by Martin Haugh and Garud Iyengar (H&I) at Columbia, to be given soon on Coursera. H&I come from Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, and they conclude their sales pitch with the brazen proclamation, "... it's often said that economics is too important to be left to economists. Well, we feel the same way about finance and financial engineering. It's too important to be left to economists..."

Wow, strong words. So what's in their syllabus? Here it is:

- Introduction to forwards, futures and swaps
- Introduction to options and the 1-period binomial model
- The multi-period binomial model and risk-neutral pricing
- Term structure models and pricing fixed income derivative securities
- Introduction to credit derivatives
- Introduction to mortgage mathematics and mortgage-backed securities

Huh? What? Isn't that largely financial economics, pioneered and continuously refined by an ongoing parade of financial economists? Of course. Indeed what else could it be?

A quick glance at the web indicates that H&I's research is high-quality, and I hope that the same will be true for their course. (I have registered.) I'm also glad that H&I are contributing to the wonderful Coursera MOOC phenomenon, and I applaud their declared desire to increase lay financial literacy. But I suggest that they and their tribe give credit where credit is due -- is that not necessary for true literacy? -- and think twice before glibly biting the financial economics hand that feeds them.