Bart Wilson  

Day One

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Today is my first day blogging at EconLog. I would like to thank Amy Willis for the invitation to guest blog for the semester and for her generous introduction last week. I also thank the bloggers of EconLog for their kind words of welcome. They have set a high bar.

Today is also the first day of undergraduate classes at Chapman. This fall I am co-teaching two sections of a freshman seminar course entitled, "Humanomics: Exchange and the Human Condition." The short story of the course is that about four and half years ago nine professors were sitting around a picnic table in sunny SoCal discussing an essay by Peter Singer. I have no idea how, but somehow the conversation became eight professors from the humanities college arguing that the world is falling apart at the seams and one economist optimistically countering with historical facts that the prospects for human prosperity are reasonably bright. After the discussion wound down, an English professor, Jan Osborn, and I agreed to continue the conversation: Why are the humanities and economics at odds with one another? Out of our conversations grew the idea to continue exploring the disconnect by co-teaching a neologistically entitled course in Fall 2010. Why not work out the tensions with some bright-eyed freshmen in a Socratic seminar? Education, like research, is about discovery.

The three organizing questions for the semester are: What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? Our two primary texts are The Grapes of Wrath and Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist. I expect to share how we integrate a few economic experiments into the course to help us answer the organizing questions.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Education



COMMENTS (10 to date)
Tom West writes:

I must admit, I *really* like the idea of this course.

There are super-basic economics ideas should as many people as possible should be exposed to that contradict the instincts of many, if not most people.

Simple things like a trade can bring benefit to *both* parties. Opportunity cost. Things happen when people are given incentives.

And fiction is certainly going to be a better way of making those concepts stick than the standard stick figures Adam and Betty on the black board who want to trade Apples and Bananas.

I'd not expect to make laissez-faire capitalists, but simply to give the tools to help evaluate the costs of policies they'll be called upon to judge for the rest of their life.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

WRT Grapes of Wrath, I hope you mention the AAA's influence on forcing sharecroppers off the land...

http://davidkretzmann.com/2010/06/grapes-of-wrath-and-the-great-depression/

"Oklahoma is the initial setting of the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath, so we’ll stick with Oklahoma figures for now.

In Oklahoma in 1933, 87,794 cotton farmers plowed under acres of their already-growing fields for a total payment of $15,792,287 from the federal government.

In 1934, Oklahoma pig farmers received more than $4 million to slaughter a portion of their sows and younger pigs."

Bret Sikkink writes:

Looks like a great class, and a great model for students to see their teachers appropriately working out a disagreement.

I will be interested in a follow-up evaluating the two reading sources. Good luck with the course.

liberty writes:

I absolutely love this - the course, the story: that is what teaching should be about, this type of thing should happen every semester somewhere around campus. Hopefully it does!

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bart,
Good post. Welcome to Econlog. I don't know if you have followed Econlog recently, but check this post of mine about Grapes of Wrath and how Steinbeck, had he talked to his friend Galbraith, would have understood who the real criminal was.

Brian writes:

Bart,

Welcome to Econlog! Like you I've experienced just how removed from basic economics humanities faculty can be. A faculty-wide e-mail conversation earlier this year that the standard position among humanities faculty is that "capitalism" is overwhelmingly a net negative contributor to human good. They are all misguided by Karl Marx, it would seem.
If your course can move students and faculty in the right direction, it will be a job well done.

Shane L writes:

Welcome Bart, I also think this sounds like fun and is praiseworthy, looking forward to your posts.

Roger Sweeny writes:

When I got to the last paragraph, I did the internet equivalent of "prick up my ears." I'm about 3/4 of the way through "Grapes of Wrath" and keep stopping to think about the economics.

Sometimes I'm impressed. And sometimes I'm frustrated. And sometimes it's just fun to put a fancy term on something: "Hey, those road camps are spontaneous orders."

I'll be interested to know how the course goes.

Luis Figueroa writes:

Welcome!!!! Great team there, congratulations!

Krishnan writes:

Sounds very interesting ... From what I recall, Ridley's book helped re-start my journey in economics - led me to cafehayek, this blog and related blogs ... Even as the world is improving in so many ways, I find it fascinating (and bewildering and annoying and infuriating) that there will be many who will see the glass as half empty and that the world will end tomorrow ...!

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