Friday, December 12, 2008

Economists Unsuccessful In Teaching

I've previously commented on Philip Ball's opinion of economics. He's recently offered an article in Nature. This is behind a pay wall, but Ball provides an unedited, longer version on his blog, and a comment on it.

Ball notices that mainstream economists often defend their discipline against critics by asserting that critics attack a straw person. Of course introductory courses are simplified, but sophisticated research has long move beyond such models. Ball's point seems to be that, if so, economists have not been successful in getting the public or policy-makers to realize the introductory nature of simplified models or to be aware of more sophisticated lessons. "Knowledgable economists and critics of traditional economics are on the same side."


Anonymous said...

Indeed, how many times do radicals get the "That's Economics 101" thrown at them? Or suggestions to read "Economics in one lesson" and other such nonsense?

Given that the introductory material presents such a wrong perspective, why does the economics profession do it?

I'm working on a review of Krugman's new book which, in part, contrasts it to his introduction to economics textbook. That introduction repeats the usual attacks on unions and minimum wages while his new book defends both.

In discussing the labour market, he, rightly, starts his discussing by noting that "most people have limited control over their work hours" but then immediately adds:

"To understand the logic of labour supply . . . it helps to put realism to one side for a bit and imagine an individual who can choose to work as many or as few hours as he or she likes"

In other words, to "understand" the "logic" of labour markets who need to ignore reality!

He does raise the issue of the backward bending supply curve for labour, before commenting that while "an individual labour supply curve may bend backwards, market labour supply curves are almost always upward slopping over their entire range." Which is handy, to say the least...

Little wonder Economics 101 becomes misleading...

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

I like Krugman more when he writes on politics.

Anonymous said...

In my Economics 101 course at the Australian National University, we were presented with a succession of general statements each labelled "Theorem" followed by a series of specific arguments labeled "Proof". In one case, the Theorem was: "All Government intervention in an economy reduces national welfare." The statements labeled "Proof" began with the words "Imagine a 2-person economy, one of whom is the Government."

Those of us in the class doing Pure Mathematics pointed out that the statements labelled as "Proof" would be better labelled as "Example", or even "Polemic", and that nothing the lecturer had said had convinced us of the truth of the statement he labelled "Theorem". We were told that this was how economic theory works, and to shut up.

What is clear, from a sociological perspective, is that mainstream academic economists have convinced themselves of the claims of the autistic theory, EVEN THOUGH THESE CLAIMS ARE SUPPORTED ONLY BE SIMPLISTIC EXAMPLES, ASSUMPTIONS AND METHODS. Who are we non-economists to doubt the power of the assumptions and methods used in introductory economics courses when these same assumptions and methods compel the beliefs of mainstream academic economists? Even Krugman believes in the benefits of international trade, for example, despite the empirical evidence obvious to anyone without pre-established beliefs.