Archive for May, 2007

May 30 2007

The Hegemony of Neo-classical Economics

Two heterodox economists respond to an article I blogged about last week, Hip Heterodoxy, published in the Nation, written by Chris Hayes.

Challenging Orthodox Economics – Part I | TPMCafe by Thomas Palley

Economics Outside the Mainstream | TPMCafe by David Ruccio

As our year winds down and we begin getting our materials and lessons in order for our next batch of AP Econ students, it’s unlikely we’ll pause to ask a rather important question: “Is the economics I’m teaching my students the correct and immutable truth?”

After all, isn’t economics still a young science? It’s only been a few generations since Smith, Riccardo and Locke laid the groundwork for what has become the mainstream, neo-classical/neo-Keynesian theory that makes up every major economics text and principles course out there. Who’s to say that in another one hundred years these views, products of the late 20th century themselves, will still be considered the correct solutions for dealing with the economic problem?

As mentioned in a previous post “Keynesian vs. Neo-classical Economics – and what is Heterodox Economics?”, the field loosely described as “heterodox economics” raises difficult questions of human behavior and thinking that challenges the neo-classical view of perfectly rational actors and the efficiency and perfectibility of free markets (the view that we teach in AP Economics). David Ruccio, econ professor at Notre Dame, laments on mainstream economists:

All reasonable arguments are accepted in the marketplace of ideas. Except they (mainstream economists) never read any heterodox economics, and have no idea how the hegemony of their favorite theory shuts out all other ideas…That’s the situation that heterodox economists are trying to change. By using economic theories other than those of the mainstream… By forming journals and associations apart from those of the mainstream (in which their ideas never get aired). And by challenging the mainstream conception of the discipline itself
(including its notions of what science is, and what it means to “think like an economist”).

We do heterodox economics, or what some refer to as political economy—as against economics (which, as Chris correctly argues, has become identified with a tiny number of theoretical approaches). We write about rates of exploitation and the role of power in increasing inequality and the existence of patriarchy and structural racism. Not only do we want to argue that economic actors are sometimes irrational or guided by norms and values; some of us also want to analyze economic institutions and events without even starting from individual actors. Or efficiency. Or constrained optimization.

So, do you feel guilty yet about teaching only the mainstream view in your course? Don’t fret, even Professor Ruccio has to teach his students the neo-classical approach; here’s how he deals with the status quo in his courses:

In all honesty, I mostly prefer not to read maintream economics these days. Either it says nothing of interest, or it gets me very angry. But I teach it, and I teach it in a way that is more rigorous than my mainstream colleagues. Because I teach its basic assumptions (and not as a kind of common sense) and because I present alternative views, heterodox economics. And then I read and do heterodox economics, independently of the mainstream. Because if we spend all our time worrying about mainstream economics, attempting to do mainstream economics (with a tweak here and a changed assumption there), we’ll never get around to developing alternatives.

Professor Ruccio makes an important point here. Before students can become agents of positive change, aware and capable of making the world a better place (and the field of economics a better science) they must first know what needs fixing. I know as much as any AP Econ teacher how rushed this course is, how little time is really left for discussions beyond the basic principles in the syllabus; but in the future, I think I’ll challenge myself and my students to take a little time and find out what alternative approaches to the economic problem are being researched, published, and put into action out there. Technology, the web, blogs: these are the tools that will enable us to easily connect our students to alternative, heterodox economics despite the hectic pace of our AP course. And if your school has access to online journal databases, here’s a few suggestions for economics publications that give a voice to heterodox economists like Professor Ruccio:

The Review of Income and Wealth, the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the European Journal of Comparative Economics, Research in Economic History, Industrial and Corporate Change, CES Ifo Economic Studies, the Eastern Economic Journal, the BNL Quarterly Review and The Economist’s Voice.

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May 29 2007

Hello future AP Economics students…

Hello future AP Economics students,

As the school year comes to a close, I thought I’d send a short message to introduce myself and the other AP Econ teacher, Ms. Close (who many of you have had this year). We’re looking forward to a great year of econ next year; we think you will all find this class very interesting, exciting at times, and challenging always. If you do not know me or Ms. Close, please take a moment before school ends next week and introduce yourself, so we can put a face to your name!

As you likely know, AP Economics is a challenging course; it’s actually TWO challenging courses: one semester of Microeconomics and one of Macroeconomics. In fact, you will be sitting for not one but two AP exams in economics next May. To help prepare you for the first week of class, Ms. Close and I are asking you do complete a couple of simple tasks over the summer. No, we’re not giving you chapter from a text, and no you won’t be given a quiz on the first day of class; rather, we want to get an idea of what you already know about economics, and we want you to begin thinking like an economist before the first day of school next year.

Here’s your first assignment:

  • Follow this link to your class Wiki, and complete the assignment as described on the page.
  • Follow this link to your class Wiki, and read the course description and have a look at the course syllabuses for Micro and Macro.
  • Finally, follow this link to Welker’s Wikinomics Blog and have a look at some of the articles posted this year, which will give you an idea of what kinds of things you’ll learn in AP Econ. If you feel confident, post some comments to articles that look interesting to you; feel free to share your opinions, ideas or thoughts about the topics covered. This is where we are going, by next spring you will understand almost everything posted at this site!

If you really want to impress me or Ms. Close, visit a bookstore or Amazon.com this summer and pick up one of the following titles. These are books about Econ written for someone who doesn’t know much about Econ. These are fun, entertaining, and very interesting books that demonstrate how economics can be used to understand the world around us.

Finally, have a great summer and do not hesitate to contact Mr. Welker or Ms. Close with any questions! welkerjason@yahoo.com and michelle.close@saschina.org. -Mr. W

Kudos to Economan at Squidoo.com for the book list!

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May 29 2007

Thoughts on integrating blogs into an AP Econ course

NOTE: You may wonder why I’ve got so much time to blog these days. Well, first of all I’m at an international school and have only about 83 students between my grade 9 Asian History, two AP Econs and one IB Econ, so I’ve caught up with all my grading for the semester. This may be my last post in a few days, however, since tomorrow and Thursday my 38 remaining students sit for their final exams which means, I’m guessing, about 10 hours of grading before next week. For now, however, I have a nice class-free day ahead of me, so away I blog!

As my list of other AP Economics teachers’ blogs grows, I continue to hear from teachers around the US and the world who are enthusiastic about integrating this tool into their courses. This is great! If econ professors are out there blogging for the world to read, imparting their knowledge and analysis of events to those interested, why shouldn’t we be doing the same, connecting world events to the often drab details of the AP Economics syllabus, adding relevancy and urgency to what we teach?! Anyway, I heard from another teacher today, Dave Prudente of Delaney HS in Maryland. He’s just joined the blogosphere, starting his own AP Econ blog. Dave sent me the following email, which got me thinking more about how I intend to make this site a useful part of my course next year:

Dear Mr. Welker,
It’s a pleasure to hear from you and it was quite a surprise. Ironically, I’ve just started my blog because I saw your blog last week. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while but have had little time to even contemplate it. I would appreciate it if you would link my blog to your site and I would like to do the same for your site (with your approval).

I would also love to hear about your experience using the blog this year. I’m trying to figure out how to integrate a blog with my classes next year. My problem is that I have five sections with about 145 students. I’m not sure I can keep up with administrating the site if my students really use it. Knowing my students, they’ll flood me with comments…which I suppose is the goal.

In addition, I have to complement you on your site. It’s like a central repository for all the econ material I’ve used and found on the Internet…great job Would love to hear back from you.

Best Regards,
Dave Prudente
Dulaney High School

I replied to Dave with some of the ideas I had for how to use this blog next year, and thought I might as well publish the email here since these ideas might be useful for other teachers out there who stumble upon this blog and are thinking of creating their own blogs for Econ classAplia Econ Blog

Hi Dave,

I’ve also been brainstormng the optimal way to integrate the blog into class next year. The other day I found the Aplia Econ blog (http://econblog.aplia.com/). While this is actually written by employees of Thompson Publishing, who produce the Aplia program, I do like the format of it, to some extent. It is mostly made up of links to articles relating to the content being covered in the econ course, followed by analysis by the author of the post. This is basically what I’ve tried to do this semester, but what the Aplia blog does in addition is include “discussion questions” which I have not up to this point done. Perhaps the “discussion questions” are a good way to start a comment string among students.

When I read other economists’ blogs, like Mankiw’s and others, readers get their own discussions going through comments. This is what I envision my students doing. It happened a few times this semester, on some posts back in April and early May, but the blog was still new and I had not built it into my teaching yet, which is my goal next year.

So, how do we keep track of who’s contributing? Like you said, with 145 students that sound like a full time job. A science teacher at my school who’s used blogs for a while had a good suggestion. Each week you assign one person from each class to go onto the blog and record the names of everyone who’s contributed a comment for that week (or unit if week is too often). Students whose names are not on the list given to you will not receive their “comment credit” for that week or unit. I thought this was a great idea of delegating responsibility among students, and took it to another level by creating a page on my class wiki where every week the student who’s job it is to monitor the blog can tabulate the contributions from that week. Check it out here: http://welkerswikinomics.wetpaint.com/page/Blog+Contributors

In a way I’m jealous that you have so many students to get involved with the blog. I’ll have around 30 myself, and my colleague Michelle will have another 30 or so, so we’ll have a total of 60 kids reading and commenting on the blog next year. In a way, the more the better, because more diverse views and opinions will be expressed. Man, how do you grade 135 econ tests, though? Don’t envy you there!

Anyway, I’m glad you find my blog useful. Every time I find another good blog or website I think can benefit my students (or other econ teachers) I post a link to the blog. I figure the more useful the site is, the more students will use it. Oh by the way, I have created “categories” into which I place each post I make. My goal is that by the end of next semester there will be a category for every section of the AP syllabus, so at any point I can tell students to go on the blog and comment on a post about “externalities” or “current account” or any other section from the syllabus. They can click on that category and find all the posts I’ve made that relate to that section of the syllabus and post their comments! Pretty cool!

Well I’ve already posted a link to your blog on my own under “AP Econ blogs” and would be honored if you’d do the same for mine! Again, the more connected teachers and students are to others around the world, the better! Keep in touch as you develop your blog, and hopefully we’ll all find ways to make this a useful part of our programs in the future!

Best of luck, Jason Welker

I am wondering how other teachers envision the use of blogs in their Econ courses. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please post your comments here!

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May 28 2007

Irrational behavior leads to larger rewards

Scientific American: The Traveler’s Dilemma

A student sent me the above article. It’s late, and tomorrow I only have one class, so I think I’ll have to tackle this one in the morning! I can already tell this is going to be a good one to use in AP when we study Game Theory, dominant strategy and Nash Equilibrium. Can’t wait to read it!

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May 28 2007

Look, I’m not alone!

Since I began blogging a few months ago, I’ve discovered that the blogosphere is full of teacher like me who are using this medium to communicate and connect with their students, each other, and the world beyond their classrooms! Several of the teachers who created the sites below I have been in touch with and notified that I’d be adding their link to my page.

I would love to create a forum through which high school Econ teachers could collaborate, communicate and share teaching ideas and resources with one another (besides the AP Econ listserve, which tends to be dominated by a small minority of very vocal and strong opinioned teachers who prefer to use it as a forum for voicing their own narrow views about the American economy). I’m thinking an AP Econ teacher Wiki. I’ve had a great experience with my class wiki, and can’t wait to have my students working on that from day one next fall. In the last couple of weeks I’ve found that I’m not alone, that there are many many Econ teachers in the world venturing into the blogosphere to broaden their students’ learning. If you’re one of these teachers, let’s try to figure out how we can harness the web in new ways to strengthen what we’re doing in our classes! Here’s I’ve found so far:

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