Plotting a Post-Crash Course
By Amy Willis
What’s wrong with economic education today? That’s the question at the heart of this EconTalk episode, in which host Russ Roberts welcomes Maeve Cohen, Co-director of Rethinking Economics to the show. Cohen argues for a more “human-centered” approach to economics, and she and Roberts find much to agree about. Both worry about a lack of economics “common sense” in people today, even those who have taken economics courses in university. So why aren’t they getting it?
What was your experience in economics classes like? Are you one of the majority of undergrad econ students (and/or AP students) who did not or will not go on to graduate work in economics? If you did go on, what persuaded you to do so? What did you read in your economics classes? What should you have read?
1- Cohen describes the two key tenets of Rethinking Economics: democratizing economics and economic pluralism. What does she mean by each of these, and how do they compare to the traditional mode of teaching economics?
2- Cohen argues that most reading lists in economics course are sorely lacking and do not present an appropriate variety of thinkers and perspectives. This, she holds, hinders the development of students’ critical thinking. So what are some readings you think Cohen would advocate in building a better reading list? What would you suggest? What reading(s) were missing in your own experience?
3- What does Cohen mean when she says that economics is “detached from people?” How does Roberts respond to this challenge? With whom are you more sympathetic, and why?
4- Roberts spends some time discussing the “romance” that surrounds Big Box stores. How does Roberts describe the costs and benefits of these behemoths in the economy? To what extent do you share Roberts’s enthusiasm for outlets such as Walmart and Amazon? While Cohen shares much of Roberts’s feelings, she adds that in cases such as these “the price mechanism doesn’t really work? What does she mean by that? To what extent do she and Roberts agree on this point?
5- The episode closes with Roberts reminding Cohen that by and large he and she do not agree. Given the similarities in the things both don’t like about economics, what is the basic nature of their disagreement? How true does Cohen’s explanation for the roots of their difference(s) strike you, and why?
BONUS- What would you like to ask Cohen and Roberts that they didn’t cover in this conversation?