How to teach economics if you have a dissenting perspective

19 Mar, 2019 at 12:22 | Posted in Economics | 6 Comments

teaching-economics-6-638Issue #1: How do you teach the introductory economics courses if you have a dissenting perspective? Mankiw lays out three alternatives, teaching the mainstream and suppressing your own views, teaching minority or fringe views (i.e. your own), or not teaching introductory econ at all. He says the second option is “pedagogical malpractice” … I opted for an approach neither of them consider, to present mainstream economics in the third person: this is what that particular group thinks. Allow for a critical distancing, which is not the same as critique. I didn’t write “this stuff is garbage”, but “here are the assumptions that conventional economists make that distinguish their approach from others.” Whenever possible, I point out where other disciplines differ, and while I encourage students to judge for themselves, I don’t pressure them into adopting any one point of view. This is called critical thinking, and it barely exists in the world of economics textbooks, which proselytize shamelessly.

Issue #2: What should be the role of supply and demand theory and, in particular, the welfare interpretation of it? Mankiw feels welfare economics gets short shrift in the typical intro econ course and text … I am mostly on Mankiw’s side here, but from a critical perspective. I agree entirely that welfarism underlies virtually all applied econ work outside macroeconomics, and it’s important for students to understand what it means. We just saw a “Nobel” prize awarded to an economist, Bill Nordhaus, whose primary claim to fame is an application of the welfare framework to climate change. Nearly every economist working on climate issues adopts the same approach. It would not be an exaggeration, however, to say that the vast majority of climate scientists regard their work as nuts. Clearly there is a pressing need to present the underpinnings of welfare economics to as wide an audience as possible, so they can understand these disputes.

Peter Dorman


  1. Being American I and rather blunt I prefer the polite neighbor to the North: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Microeconomics” by Rod Hill, Professor Tony Myatt –

  2. Here is my basic take. Our children’s and our grandchildren’s future depends on debunking this bullshit of mainstream economics. If we don’t want them (the ideologues preaching pseudo-science in the name of science which is little more than ideological cover for predatory capitalism) to win we had better make it plain to the common man in street. And wishy washy comparisions won’t cut the mustard. Look at America. Academics are bringing knives to a gunfight.

  3. I think Nordhaus’ work on climate change is nuts. It displays its absurdity plainly in any summary form. But, trying to “understand” it is a fool’s gambit. It is absurd, yes, but also seductively complex and esoteric, an invitation to follow the white rabbit down the hole into Wonderland, where believing several absurd things before lunch is normal. Having a distanced, critical perspective on absurdity does no one any good.
    Climate change is a challenge to think critically about the actual system of political economy. It can not be met by thinking instead about the esoteric conventions of an absurd doctrine left over from the 19th century and kept alive because it serves the interests of corrupt plutocrats.

    • Makes me come to think about Solow’s approach to Chicago economics nonsense: “Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I’m getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon. Now, Bob Lucas and Tom Sargent like nothing better than to get drawn into technical discussions, because then you have tacitly gone along with their fundamental assumptions; your attention is attracted away from the basic weakness of the whole story. Since I find that fundamental framework ludicrous, I respond by treating it as ludicrous – that is, by laughing at it – so as not to fall into the trap of taking it seriously and passing on to matters of technique.”

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