Economics Education Has It All Wrong

Photograph by Marija Strajnic

It’s long overdue to bring the outside world into the classroom at the beginning of the economics syllabus, not at the end, and to teach students how to use the tools we give them to make sense of the problems that excite them.

—Wendy Carlin: Bringing the Back of the Economics Textbook to the Front, posted at British Politics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science. Carlin is project director of the INET CORE curriculum project, professor of economics at University College London, visiting professor at the University of Oxford, a research fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research, and a member of the Expert Advisory Panel of the Office for Budget Responsibility in the U.K. With David Soskice, Carlin has co-authored two macroeconomics books: Macroeconomics and the Wage Bargain and the textbook, Macroeconomics: Imperfections, Institutions and Policies.

I give the professor a lengthy bio because Carlin has major credibility on how and why economics is so messed-up.

We’ll commence with two vignettes. A few years back, Alan Krueger appeared in the sub-basement of the Hilton in Chicago . As pre-chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, the professor from Princeton suggested that economics was structured to bore students to death in their freshman and even sophomore years. Too many were not maing it to issues of interest. At the minimum, Krueger asked that economics wage a battle against math for math’s sake.

Driving west 1,006 miles to Denver and a second hotel: Frederic Mishkin of Columbia did what Krueger suggested. The former governor of the Federal Reserve System wrote an introductory macroeconomic text that put policy first. This was a brave and courageous affront against the first 12 chapters of any economics text.

Enter Professor Carlin.

Carlin is Carlin of Carlin & Soskice. The United Kingdom knows; the colonies have not a clue. Wendy Carlin brings major Krueger- and Mishkin-like cred to your desire to have your kids not drop out of economics.

Her macroeconomic doorstop—a 40-mile-per-hour gale wouldn’t budge it—is a minor algebraic miracle. The professor of common sense actually believes we can resurrect interest in the dreaded science.

To be sure, it’s an entrenched rail. They want pain, blood and Slutsky and Hicksian dynamics early and often in a core curricula that hasn’t changed since Richard came back from the Third Crusade.

Carlin and a growing horde disagree.

There is precedent. Eric J. Pentecost in his Macroeconomics: An Open Economy Approach starts with the history of it all. How quaint. (Let me get your attention. The Pentecost is $2,396.21 used—used!—on Amazon.)

Carlin and her team at LSE are working diligently to upset the apple cart without making DSGE sauce. Constraint! Utility! Multiplier! How ’bout what Italy should do?

Enough. Agree or disagree, Professor Carlin is doing important work. Turn the donkey around. Economics is ass-backwards.


Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.