Quote of the Day: December 4, 2011: Edmund Burke on Wars of Ideology
Econ 1: Spring 2012: Topics

Peter Dorman on a Better Way to Teach Econ 1

Peter Dorman:

EconoSpeak: The solution is not to simply throw mainstream economics into the dumpster.  There is a lot of good, useful stuff, and students should be exposed to it.  But the assumptions should be discussed openly and honestly, so that students can develop a sense for when economics has more to say, when it has less, and how its insights can be combined with those from other intellectual traditions….

It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is a central narrative at the introductory level… perfectly competitive markets composed of rational, unconnected agents as the benchmark, from which specific deviations, like externalities, behavioral anomalies, sticky prices, etc., are considered one at a time….

A huge gap has opened up between the introductory course and the work professional economists are actually doing.  Each departure from the narrative is considered one at a time, even though research has chipped away at all of them.

Unfortunately, this feeds back to the self-understanding of the researchers themselves: they get their central narrative from the vision of Ec 10 (or 101 or whatever) and see their own work as deviating in just one specific way from the benchmark model…. Thus the introductory course still looks like a distillation of the research frontier, even though, if you put all the research results together, you would have something quite different. Consider, for instance, the vast amount of work that has gone into the analysis of cooperation and its relevance in a wide range of economic situations.  Is this work mainstream? Yes. Has it entered the core narrative?  No.  It’s just another wrinkle, taken up at one juncture and then put aside when the next wrinkle is introduced.

The introductory economics course is a big, big problem…