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The Dangers of Economists Teaching ECON 101 Poorly

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My dear friend Dwight Lee – who is one of the greatest masters of the economic way of thinking – offered the following in the comments section (at the James Martin Center site) to my essay defending ECON 101 against the misunderstandings of law professor James Kwak [2]:

Boudreaux is correct about the ability of simple supply and demand curves to provide insights that seem to escape “deep” thinkers who dismiss those curves as simplistic.

The problem of teaching a beginning economic course as a highly technical exercise is an extremely serious problem. The introductory course is the only chance most students have to get an understanding of the benefits we all receive from the amazing economic cooperation made possible only by the markets. And few students gain that understanding from the highly technical presentation they get from many introductory courses. But these students do get clear presentations about market economies in many social sciences and humanities courses that are taught by teachers who have less than an introductory level of economics themselves. What many of them do have is a naïve view that markets are based on exploitation and injustices that can be corrected by government.

Dwight’s point is profound.  The teachers who can best enable students to see the unseen, to appreciate what largely goes unappreciated, and to understand the logic of markets too often are derelict in their duty.  Too many economics professors today teach ECON 101 as if it’s a course in curve-bending, puzzle-solving, and mathematics.  This approach to teaching ECON 101 does indeed, as Dwight observes, render the typical ECON 101 course dull, dreary, dry, devoid of any obvious significance, and unnecessarily intimidating.  Real economics goes untaught in too many ECON 101 classes while interesting and accessible (if largely mistaken) takes on markets, prices, and economics are offered in classes taught by economically ignorant sociologists, philosophers, English professors, and [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-name-of-your-pet-oppressed-group]-studies professors.*

It’s a shame.

* Note: I understand that there are some sociologists, philosophers, and English professors who are indeed very well informed about economics.  Many of these are my friends.  Yet they are the exceptions.

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