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Econ 101 Is All About Revealing Reality’s Complexities

Here’s a letter to a Facebook commenter:

Mr. Craig Bolton

Mr. Bolton:

If I read you correctly you share Noah Smith’s assessment that Econ 101 courses present overly simplified views of reality – views that are improved by advanced economics courses that (in your words) “account for some real world complexities.”

Whatever the merits or demerits of advanced courses in economics (themselves largely determined by who teaches such courses), it is a mistake to accuse Econ 101 of necessarily presenting an overly simplified view of reality.  Indeed, good Econ 101 courses have it as one of their chief purposes to immerse students in real-world complexities.

In a good Econ 101 course (such as is taught at George Mason University), students learn that most of what passes as sensible economic commentary by politicians, pundits, and preachers is but a torrent of extraordinarily simplistic myths.  In a good Econ 101 course, students learn to peer beyond and behind the surface phenomena that most non-economists simple-mindedly presume to constitute the whole of economic affairs.  After completing a good Econ 101 course, students understand that the economy is far too complex for the tinkering and social engineering that is routinely advocated by elected officials, academics, and “activists” to succeed.

It is not a stretch to say that no collegiate course does more to reveal to students the complexities of reality than does a good course in Econ 101.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030