I took this class in Spring of 2005. Let me preface this by saying that I got an A+ in the class, so this review is purely a matter of my frustration with Professor Mundell over the term, instead of grade revenge:
Robert Mundell is the Howard Hughes of economics -- a genius of the 1960s (most notably for his work on the Mundell-Fleming Model and on optimum currency areas, which is the work for which he got his Nobel), who somehow became crazy as a loon in the 1970s and never came back. Mundell's brand of craziness unfortunately includes being "abusive-crazy." Let me relate to you an interaction I had with him in the middle of the term (after it was too late to drop the class!):
Mundell's lectures were fairly difficult to understand. His lectures on the geometry of international trade were a series of unmarked random wavy lines on the chalk board, and, in another lecture, when trying to draw some bubbles to describe the international monetary system, he drew something resembling a La-Z-Boy recliner with a foot rest. A group of friends and I put together a study group, to put our heads together and make something of his lecture notes. We got nothing. No one had any clue what was going on.
Right before the first midterm (he calls it a "quiz"), I asked Mundell if I could meet with him for the whole hour during his office hours, in order to go over the class notes about which I was confused. I told him that I understood that this was a long time, and that I would step out temporarily if he anyone else needed to see him during that time. He was very nice about it and happily agreed.
Two days later, I come to his office and begin asking him questions about the class notes. On almost every question I asked, he would answer by saying, "I don't know. You tell me. They're your notes." I would ask him about a graph he had written on the board -- about what variable was being represented on the horizontal axis, and I would get back the same answer, "I don't know. You tell me. They're your notes."
At one point, in the middle of me asking him a question, he starts reading a magazine. I thought this was pretty rude, but, I also thought, "Who am I to question a Nobel Laureate -- in his own office no less." So I kept going.
At one point I asked, "So your notes here say that 'Wealth equals income over the interest rate' --" Mundell looks up from his magazine. Then he starts yelling, "What?! Wealth equals income? That's not right! How could you say something so stupid . . ." And he went on this tirade about how stupid it is to say that wealth equalled income.
So I told him, "No, if you'll just look over here at my notes, you'll see that what I just said was that wealth equals income *over the interest rate*," and then I pointed at my class notes, which said exactly that. He looked over at my notes, and, after a pause, began yelling again, "No, you said that wealth equals income. How could you . . ." And he went on berating me for something that I clearly had not said.
So I kept asking questions and trying to get some answers out of him, and, when we reached almost the half-hour mark, Mundell said to me, "Look, I'm going to give you five more minutes and then that's it."
I should reiterate that these were his designated office hours, and there was nobody else waiting outside his office who wanted to see him. So I said to him, "But you promised the other day that we could meet for the hour --" Mundell interupts, "Well, you didn't prepare your questions in advance; they're not well-formed. . . ." So I told him that I wanted to leave right now, and I got the hell out of there.
Later in the semester, Mundell tried to pull the same thing when a friend of mine (to whom I had complained about the above incident) went to his office hours. As soon as Mundell got aggressive with him, my friend (unlike me) stood up for himself and told him to stop. And surprisingly Mundell backed down. A lesson: If you take this class and ever interact personally with Mundell, you should be aggressive with him so that he knows that he can't push you around.
So that's my litle anecdote about what Mundell is like on a personal level. Here's how the rest of the semester went:
I went into the first midterm armed with a skeletal understanding of his notes. I received a score of 81 out of 100, with the comment next to my score "Highest mark in the class."
I attribute my good grade in the class to the fact that I had already taken both International Macro and International Trade (and I generally love economics and do not forget the material after I take the classes). These are not official prerequisites for the class, but I knew quite a few other people who had not taken these courses, and they did not do very well.
Intellectually, the one thing I got out of this class was a general version of the Mundell Fleming model that allows for varying degrees of capital mobility. It provides a better understanding of the perfect capital-mobility model (a special case of the general version) about which I learned in my International Macro class. The problem is that you won't realize that Mundell is doing this unless (a) you think really hard about what Mundell is trying to say and (b) you have already taken International Macro. Anyway, I really did not need to go through the agravation of his class for such little pay-off. Everyone else I knew seemed to have gotten nothing out of this class except frustration.
I had hoped that he would give a rigorous treatment of the domestic tax cuts of the Reagan years (Mundell is considered one of the father's of supply-side economics, although this is not among the things for which he received his Nobel). He actually said very little of substance on the topic. At its heart, this is an empirical debate, not a theoretical one. Mundell gave us little more than the statement that U.S. GDP growth was pretty bad before the Reagan tax cuts and pretty good afterwards, and better for the U.S., which cut taxes, relative the Europeans, who didn't (maybe Europe had other problems besides taxes, such as labor market inflexibility). No counterargument to the claim that the Reagan boom was mostly a restoration of aggregate demand rather than an expansion of aggregate supply, although he did acknowledge it. No mention of the expectations-augmented Phillips curve, which says that, if you start out with unemployment way above the NAIRU, then even if unemployment begins to fall, you will see (regardless of tax cuts) a simultaneous fall in inflation, as long as the level of unemployment stays above the NAIRU. This undermines the supply-siders' claim that the simultaneous fall in unemployment and inflation during the 1980s was somehow due to the miracle of tax cuts. I can't imagine that Mundell does not have an empirical counterargument to this, but he did not provide it. No mention of estimates of elasticity of labor supply with respect to the after-tax wage or elasticity of saving with respect to the after-tax interest rate. If these quantities are high, then Reagan was an economic miracle, but, if they are low, he was a disaster. These are among the central issues in the debate over Reagan's economic legacy, and Mundell really gave them short shrift.
Disorganized and difficult-to-understand lecturer
Incoherently abusive personality
Hard tests (called "quizzes") unless you already know international trade and international macro
Very little intellectual payoff.