George Tracey, 23, MA PPE and Austrian Economics student at the Cevro Institute and recipient of the Mises UK scholarship.
What does CEVRO offer that most masters courses do not?
CEVRO’s small class sizes completely change the nature of study in such a fundamental way. They allow students the scope to debate and develop our own ideas that wouldn’t be possible in a larger institution. One of my favourite ways to learn, which CEVRO manages to embody frequently in its teaching, is a much more Socratic approach to study. We use lecture time to debate and discuss our understanding and insights on various papers with world leading academics to help steer the conversation and share their knowledge as well. At CEVRO learning is an active pursuit, not passive absorption of PowerPoints.
Does CEVRO’s size and youth as an institution affect how you learn?
Absolutely, CEVRO treats its students as adults, with the privileges and obligations that come with that. Professor Šíma encourages us to take on as much as we can and is always willing to make things work for students that ask (this semester I am auditing 4 classes beyond my original 5). I have already mentioned how the small class sizes affect the teaching, but they also of course affect student-lecturer dynamics. CEVRO has a great tradition of continuing the debate after class, where students and lecturers get together and drink fine Czech beer. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been possible so far this year due to COVID restrictions. One of CEVRO’s greatest strengths is its connection with other institutions on a global scale, Professor Šíma introduced me to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) after a discussion we had, and since I have applied to go there as a Junior Research Fellow this fall. The personal connections you make with the members of CEVRO really helps to enable this individually focussed development and advice from fellow students and lecturers.
How has your study been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the most obvious thing that you miss out on is living and studying in Prague. I was there for 6 weeks before I had to return to the UK in November 2020, it is an amazing city (and the beer is unimaginably cheap) and it has been a real shame having to study online from the UK instead of in the Czech Republic. Naturally, the move to online learning had some teething problems, not least getting used to tracking two different time zones to live in UK time and study in Czech time. The end of my undergraduate degree was also taught online due to COVID but the problem I found with traditional lectures online is that the passive nature of watching them lead to me getting distracted and losing focus easily. Luckily most of CEVRO’s lectures are much more interactive and discursive and this helps negate some of the drawbacks of online learning.
Can you say a little bit more about what topics you’ve studied?
CEVRO’s MA syllabus really is diverse, as any good PPE course ought to be. Naturally, there is a compulsory course on Economics in the first semester to make sure everyone is on the same level. Due to our diverse academic history this was really helpful- I myself studied Philosophy as an undergraduate and despite being familiar with economic principles, I benefited greatly from a more solid grounding. Most of our topics are quite difficult to clearly delineate into any specific school, for example one of my favourite modules so far has been ‘Law and Economics of Property Rights’ taught by Dr. Katerina Zajc (Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Dr. Boudewijn Boukaert (Ghent, Belgium). This topic really pushed home the interplay between legal systems and economics, but also history and political philosophy (for example having a common law or civil law tradition). Another Brilliant module I’m currently studying is ‘Advanced topics in Austrian Price Theory’ taught by Mateusz Machaj (Assistant Professor at Wroclaw, Poland), in it we delve into a specific issue within Austrian Price Theory (as the name suggests), I’ve especially enjoyed the discussions about whether market socialism can address the calculation and knowledge problems Mises and Hayek posed against socialism almost a century ago.
Most importantly, would you recommend CEVRO to a friend?
I would definitely recommend CEVRO’s MA in PPE to anyone who has an interest in the overlap between the disciplines. The interplay between politics, philosophy and economics truly is fascinating, and CEVRO’s approach to economics isn’t just the dry mainstream of econometrics or statistics a layman assumes when he hears economics. CEVRO teaches the much richer world of mainline economics, this tradition heralds from Adam Smith, and takes economics proper as the study of how we interact with and within the world and so includes institutions like laws and religions within their scope of economics. Some of my most interesting lectures have been discussions about how self-governance systems in prisons changes from ‘convict’s code’ to prison gangs as the population in a prison increases and reputation tracking of individuals becomes unfeasible. Cevro has opened my eyes to how much of the world can be understood through an economic lens, properly focussed, and it’s an experience I recommend to anyone. There are of course drawbacks to CEVRO, like with everything. One example is dealing with the Nostification process which is required by Czech law to check the validity of your previous studies, the hassle has been exasperated by the COVID restrictions. In my opinion however, it is an inconvenience well worth putting up with.