Arnold Kling  

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Entitlement Arithmetic... Environmental Economics...

My TechCentralStation friends let me write a pitch for my book.


I believe that economists have a right to feel that we have superior knowledge on issues of public policy. However, the implication of this is not that we should be given deference and power. Instead, I believe that economists have an obligation to explain our thinking to novices, and novices have an obligation to attempt to understand economics.

...Learning Economics shuns diagrams and other mathematical apparatus. I am trying to teach economics without the math barrier.

...my goal is to raise the level of debate, so that those who disagree with me are able to address the economic arguments, rather than evade them.


For Discussion. Which economic concept is hardest to explain without using diagrams?


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/126
The author at Catallarchy in a related article titled Learning Economics writes:
    Arnold Kling has a nice article over at TCS plugging his new book and talking about the role of math in learning econ: Mathematical constructs in economics have a similarly divisive effect. They make it easier for students with a gift for abstractio... [Tracked on September 23, 2004 1:22 AM]
COMMENTS (6 to date)
Mark writes:

Well, I don't know if it's the hardest concept to teach without a graph, but the concept of basic market equilibrium--Marshall's scissors--is made extremely clear using a diagram.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

The hardest thing for most people to grasp, with or without graphs, is comparative advantage/international trade. But I agree with Mark about supply and demand. It's hard to imagine teaching it without the visuals.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Funny you would ask this... I just ran across an example where math and diagrams are a self-fulfilling prophecy of economics, i.e. if you can't math it out or diagram it out, then economic analysis does not apply!!

David Weinberger pointed to a paper by the CBO discussing path-forward on copyright issues. Here's the key quote:

Furthermore, not all aspects of markets for creative works lend themselves to economic analysis. In particular, while economists may confidently expect that abolishing copyright protection altogether will reduce the level and quality of creative output, they cannot easily predict how a less dramatic change in compensating copyright owners will affect the number or quality of creative works being produced.

Arnold, you have to fight this mindset. Without the ability to consider economic consequences without a formula nobody will understand, we are left with a giant p*ssing match.

L.F. Brown writes:
I believe that economists have a right to feel that we have superior knowledge on issues of public policy.

I'd say that economists who are right may have the right to feel this way.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

The hardest element of Economics to teach without Math or diagrams must be Price theory. Labor Economics comes in a close second. lgl

Nick writes:

Economics concepts can all be taught without diagrams. Any subject matter can be taught at different levels of complexity and mathematical sophistication. For example, physics concepts such as string theory and mechanics can all be presented to the "lay" public without use of mathematics. They can even be taught to elementary school students who have no knowledge of algebra. How a subject is taught all depends on the audience. For example, Shakespeare's King Lear would be presented differently to a class of junior high students than to a graduate English literature class.

As far as economists being "right", I don't believe this is true. Many areas of economics are based on reason, logic, and fact, but when it comes to public policy, economics can not be the last word. There is an enormous amount of disagreement amoung economists on public policy issues. The classical economists were rather wise when they refered to what they were discussing as political economy. They recognized the inherent relationship between economics, politics, and ethics. Economists can advise policy makers, but it's our elected representatives who should be making the final decisions. Public policy should not be driven by what economists think is right but by what they think is right.

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