How should we introduce economics to the interested public?
This year I have the privilege of helping to run ICES’ High School Economics Workshops. In doing so, I get to introduce interested students to the economic way of thinking, and take them on a romp through all the various sub-fields, and analyze all the classic economic & policy problems from minimum wages to rule of law. But the most important and most difficult (at least in my view) lecture is the first one – a cold introduction economics.
I’ve always thought that Principles courses are the most important in undergraduate economics departments – they’re the classes that most students will take (by requirement) and it will be their only exposure to [good] economics, quite possibly in their lives. Don’t worry about the actual Econ majors – sure they’re important too, but there’s several courses in Micro, Macro, and 3 or 4 field courses for them to hone their skills and beliefs. I’ve learned from some of my mentors and professors that Econ 101 is really the chance to correct all of the fallacious beliefs that today’s youth have about the world, and replace them with solid, economic thinking.
If we’re being honest, in Econ 101 we’re spreading “good” propaganda to counter all the “bad” propaganda that students have been exposed to their whole lives (and will continue to be overwhelmingly exposed to). It’s Econ 101 that correctly teaches that protectionism, tariffs, minimum wages, & government regulation tend to be bad, decentralized markets & voluntary cooperation tend to be good, and that we need to restrain ourselves from our overconfidence in forseeing unintended consequences. It is often the first course (maybe the only course, other than those in philosophy) that actually teaches people to critically analyze their sincerely-held beliefs.
So how do you teach it? What do you focus on? What’s the style? Continue reading