It seems to me that the proper reference point to address the question of
whether or not to use a micro text, or the extent to which neoclassical
principles should be taught, would involve what constitutes the role of
Principles in general education. For myself Principles develops two
fundamental learning competencies. The first is quantitative reasoning.
The second is critical thinking. Neoclassical principles, with their rich
heritage of marginal analysis that effectively employs algebra and geometry
to both illuminate and obscur economics and economic processes
provides an effective avenue to develop quantitative skills. Yeah, I know
this may make many institutionalists squirm, but marginal reasoning has a
place (which is not to better understand the human condition). Marginal
reasoning is one way of thinking, one way of gaining insight. But it is
limited which is where critical thinking comes in. Neoclassical
propositions constitute but one way of analyzing the provisioning process.
Institutionalism provides an interesting and useful contrast. By working
from a different set of first principles a different set of questions are
asked. Solutions thus differ greatly. My students want the neoclassical
stuff and they get a generous and rigorous dose! But they also want the
alternative perspectives stuff too because it does teach them critical
thinking. Consider the course descriptions THEY wrote.
Principles of Macroeconomics. Various theories are used as tools for
critical thinking to reveal how the US economy operates, with an emphasis
on the causes and effects of unemployment and inflation. Government
spending, taxation, and the monetary system will be examined. The role of
energy and natural resources in shaping our economic future is explored.
Principles of Microeconomics. The course promotes the use of critical
thinking to explore the individual's relationship to the supply and demand
of goods and services. The tools of economic analysis are then used to
investigate the management of environmental systems.
AFEErs, my students wrote these course descriptions at the end of the
quarter a year ago (they didn't like my descriptions -- sounded too
boring). It was they who wanted the critical thinking lines put in. And
it was they who asked "How can anyone understand economics if they only
learn one perspective?" Smart those students...
Daniel A. Underwood
"I know you believe you understand what you think I said,
but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."