Monday, September 29, 2014

Some thoughts about economics education

When I was in high school, I learned that my class would be among the first at Prescott High School to be required to take an economics class in senior year. I remember resenting the requirement, and even expressing this resentment to one of the older students who had been involved in making the decision to require it. (He took my outburst well, and we have remained friends to this day.)

My introduction to economics in high school

But when I took the economics class in senior year, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The subject had a lot of things about it I liked: politics, practical business applications, and a penchant for analytical thinking. I could see the practical arguments for having this be a subject required for seniors, because many of them would need basic economics knowledge when entering the workforce after their upcoming graduation. The class taught in high school almost seemed more like a consumer ed class - a useful one, to be sure, but more focused on business applications than political ones - and although it had some political content in it, I had not really gotten a taste for the political side of economics classes; or for the civic reasons for requiring some basic knowledge about it of high school graduates.

My introduction to economics in college

But when I entered college, I took a microeconomics class which got me excited about the analytical aspects of the subject; and the political applications that content like supply and demand could have. I will not go into the entire story of my fascination with economics, because I give it in some detail in another post about my experiences; so suffice it to say here that I enjoyed the subject enough to consider majoring in it - and eventually, to actually get a certificate (which is comparable to a minor) in economics.

Economics should be taught to high school seniors

During my college education about economics (and since graduating), I have come to the conclusion that it is a subject that ought to be taught to high school seniors, or even required of them. I recognize that as with any curriculum decision, an increased focus on one thing always necessitates a reduced focus on something else. But I think that economics education is vital - something I would not say about my major (which was business). Surely much of the liberal garbage that passes for curriculum could be gotten rid of to make room for more important things. Economics is something that should be learned by everyone as surely as American government is; for they both are a part of the necessary civic education of the country. Laws and regulations may change, but the ways of measuring economic productivity seldom do; and the laws of economics never change.

Universal laws of supply and demand

A knowledge of the Constitution will not necessarily help you to understand the rules governing other countries, because it is not the supreme law of other countries. But the laws of supply and demand govern wherever you go, rewarding those societies with sufficient market freedom to govern them, and punishing those societies that interfere with this balance through attempts at price control. In saying this, I do not mean to downplay the importance of the Constitution - it, too, is vitally important; and we are paying a price for our unwillingness to value it. But our Constitution has governed only one country for only two centuries; whereas the laws of economics have applied to all societies, past and present; in faraway places with exotic cultures, and close to home, in our own backyard. The laws of economics will not go away any more than the law of gravity will, because they are too fundamental to the realities of scarcity, and how societies make decisions about what to do with their limited resources. All people want to buy low and sell high; and thus, the laws of supply and demand are here to stay.

The price of ignoring economics

I use supply and demand as an example, because it's the area of economics that interests me most; but analogous things could be said about almost all areas of economic thinking. We pay a price at the ballot box for our ignorance of economics; a price which is felt every time we pay higher taxes than we need to, and every time we suffer from the inability to find work. I could go on about the country's economic problems; but given the limited time I have here, suffice it to say that many of them are due to our collective ignorance; and many of them could be solved through proper economics education.

Knowing economic realities can change political thinking

Now, it might be objected by fellow conservatives that the economics education would be done by liberal teachers; who would advocate the same kinds of failed policies that have produced our current mess. I won't lie and say that there aren't liberals in the economics field, but economics actually has quite a few more conservative professors than most subjects in the curriculum do - higher even than business does. It would seem that a confrontation with economic reality often necessitates a change in one's political thinking - not often enough to make conservative economists a majority, but often enough to change the minds of many in economic matters.

There is a risk of liberal indoctrination ...

But it should be noted that there really are a lot of liberal teachers out there, who spread the kind of muddle-headed economic thinking that has caused our current mess. Why, you might be wondering, would a card-carrying conservative like me advocate furnishing liberals with even greater ability to indoctrinate?

... but the benefits are still worth the risks

For one, because I think the teaching of how economics actually works tends to convince many students to change their minds; even when the teachers' spin on it is decidedly contrary to proper policy. I never really saw much problem with the minimum wage or the maximum healthcare price when I was younger; but a knowledge of supply and demand taught me the necessity of the kinds of surpluses (over-production) and shortages (under-production) that follow these policies. Despite being taught these concepts by a liberal professor (self-identifying as "left-of-center"), I became passionately interested in both the concepts themselves, and their powerful argument for a free market. Enough of the economic reality got through to create some passionate belief in free markets, and make me a tireless advocate and defender of them.

Economics should be required of high school graduates

So that's why I think that economics education should be required of high school graduates. I hope that even if you have not agreed with my arguments, that you have found my post thought-provoking.

Other posts about economics

Civics education

Business education

What history can tell us about economics

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