Friday, March 23, 2007

Economics 101

Via the Economist, I doubt there is anyone with an economics training who, on trying to make an economics argument in a debate of some kind, has never been told that economics is just 'more complex than that'. Julian Sanchez is right that it can all get rather frustrating:

". . . a defense of (relatively unregulated) markets in this or that case is (profound sigh) so Economics 101. Because, you see, you learn about things like "supply and demand" in intro courses, so they must be terribly crude and misguided notions. Interestingly, people lacking even an Economics 101 background seem to feel few compunctions about deploying this trope.

Now, the perfectly accurate core idea here is that with greater theoretical sophistication, you find plenty of conditions under which the generalizations of the first-pass, stripped-down model don't hold. (In the pedagogical context, this is probably close to being a definitional truth: There would be little point to developing and teaching a more complex model unless whatever new wrinkles you added yielded some difference from the simpler one.) . . .

What's annoying about the "Economics 101" line isn't (just) that it's a noxiously condescending way of making such an argument. It's that quite a lot of the time, it's a substitute for such an argument. Instead of being a prelude to an elaboration of why the instant case constitutes such an exception, it's treated as a sufficient dismissal in itself—as though if a more sophisticated model incorporates more exceptions to general economic laws, the ne plus ultra of sophistication must be to assume everything is an exception. But the general rules remain general rules because they're still generally true, and indeed, are often predictive in circumstances far removed from the idealizations of blackboard models. Even when you really do have an econ 201 exemption to an econ 101 rule, it's still poor form to be too supercilious about advancing it. After all, your interlocutor might have an econ 301 riposte."

Hate world. Revenge soon. Take out on everyone.

1 comment:

Communication consultant said...

As I've been teaching "Economics 101" all day I feel your pain. For more on 16-year-olds and advanced economic theory see my post today. They were obsessed, as ever, with using half-digested technical jargon (Marginal Propensity to Consume, Externalities, Indifference Curves) but not so hot at predicting what happens when interest rates rise. We can but try.