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Reforming economics teaching

I have a fair bit of sympathy with some of the complaints in this The Guardian article about economics teaching. We do need to teach more about institutions and we do need to be more pluralist. Economics is much more than a quantitative methods “hurdle-jumping” contest though, to be clear, quantitative methods are very important.

But I have far stronger complaints about the role of untrained administrators “dumbing-down” business curricula by leaving out virtually all economics and statistical training and replacing such with courses involving low level, non-analytical nonsense and psycho-babble. This is a crime that will take years to undo and will lead to many students ending up with poor business educations and making poor business decisions. A business curriculum which doesn’t teach how consumers and firms make their decisions, how public goods should be supplied, how levels of employment, economic activity and interest rates are determined, what determines international trade  and how externality issues should be addressed is inevitably of low usefulness.  Finance courses which teach people investment analysis without teaching the basic consumption-smoothing rationale for lending and borrowing is likewise of limited worth.   Finance grew out of microeconomics and indeed is inter-temporal microeconomics.  Separating finance from microeconomics and teaching finance to students who don’t understand government budgeting and interest rate/exchange rate determination is a waste of intellectual endeavour.  Students who study marketing without knowing some consumer demand theory know only a fragment of what determines consumer behaviour. Students who study “human resource management” without having a basic course in labour economics likewise know very little.

Finally, it is ironical that those administrators and business academics who so vehemently detest economics training often themselves need of a sound economics education.  Their poor decision making skills that downgrade curricula and worsen the financial position of universities are often the result of poor economic decision making.


2 comments to Reforming economics teaching

  • derrida derider

    Hard to disagree. Economics and statistics training is useful way beyond being part of management training – but is also a foundational part of that training.

    But then again, cocksure ignorance of your own ignorance serves a vital function: it preserves the narcissism and certainty needed to get ahead in any modern, dynamic worlds-best-practice corporate hierarchy. As Lady Bracknell said “natural ignorance is a delicate fruit, not to be lightly tampered with. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.”

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