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The Power of the Economic Way of Thinking

The state of the world of late has for me, as for many libertarians and true liberals, been especially dispiriting. The rise of economic nationalism, an environmentalism the adherents of which are oblivious to the massive benefits of modernity, a parade of politicians each apparently intent on winning the prize for who can prove to be the most ludicrous and potentially dangerous, the academy increasingly dominated by self-important yet hyper-glib idiots, and a media incompetent to its marrow at the task of exposing this foolishness – all of this is deeply disturbing and sad. It conduces to despondency.

But this evening in my International Economic Policy class (ECON 385) I enjoyed a moment of escape from my sour spirits. One of my students – a young woman who is majoring in Global Studies – said aloud during class discussion that one thing she likes about my class is that “it teaches us to look beyond the obvious.”

She then reminded her classmates of a few of the “unseen” realities that I noted in earlier lectures are made visible by the economic way of thinking. She is obviously impressed with the fact that economics makes visible that which to many people remains invisible and (hence) ignored.

I don’t know this young woman beyond her being an undergraduate student of mine since late August. I’m unsure of what her political priors and beliefs are, but – especially given that she majors in Global Studies – I can guess with some confidence that her priors and beliefs are not friendly to free markets or to genuine liberalism. And yet… and yet… and yet she gets what I’m teaching. She understands it. She appreciates it. She values it.

It’s not me. It really is not me. As a teacher I’m ordinary. Thoroughly and incontestably so. I possess no special talent, no unusual charisma or classroom charm or galvanizing eloquence, no unique or inspired ability to connect with students. What it is isn’t me; it’s the economic way of thinking – a way of thinking that I do do my modest best to convey to all of my students. Upon encountering the economic way of thinking – upon learning that there is a vast and fascinating landscape of unseen reality beyond that which is immediately visible – the best students get it. Their world is rocked. They change. They are changed forever. They become more-informed and wiser individuals.

This young woman today sees the world differently – I dare say better, more fully, and with greater clarity – than she saw it just a few weeks ago. She is a beneficiary of the economic way of thinking.


When the notion occurred to me a few moments ago to compose this post I arrogantly assured myself that my goal was not to boast but, rather, to sing the praises of the economic way of thinking. I think that’s what I did. But if you detect in this post some boasting on my part, well, I cannot sit confidently in critical judgment of your impression.