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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting off-course

It's a frustrating time to be an economist, though I can't decide if it's worse to be a micro- or macro-economist these days - I have to assume that many macro folks are tearing their hair out over the stupid things Washington is doing and the even stupidier things the media is often saying but at least when someone asks a macro person what they think of all this stuff going on, they supposedly are in a much better position to talk about it than most micro people (I'm not saying that stops me from talking anyway; I'm just sayin' that as a micro person, I don't spend my life studying these things and really, my understanding of things is only slightly better than what we teach in Econ 101). I've almost entirely stopped reading anything about the economy from regular news outlets because I kept seeing things that made me wonder if I had some basic economic concepts totally wrong, only to realize that my understanding is fine but reporters apparently didn't learn anything in Econ 101. So I've largely kept up with things this summer through blogs written by economists, though sadly, the news isn't any less depressing when analyzed accurately...

But regardless of my somewhat basic grasp on macro policy, one thing that has crossed my mind a few times this summer is that I hope economists are talking with their classes about what's happening, even if it isn't directly related to the course material. It seems to me that the issues the country has been grappling with - how important is debt reduction, why hasn't the unemployment picture been improving and what needs to be done about that, etc. - are things that our majors should be aware of, even if they don't happen to be enrolled in a macro class. Perhaps even more important, they should be thinking critically about what is going on and what the media is saying about it. For example, does it make any sense to them that the stock market plunge was 'a result' of a the S&P downgrade, as many news analysts have been saying? Does it make any sense to them that huge cuts in government spending will somehow reduce unemployment, as some politicians have been claiming?

When I was teaching Principles, it wasn't a big deal to bring in current events, even if they were macro issues and the class was micro (since usually, macro issues can still be discussed in terms of core principles like incentives or supply and demand). But when teaching more narrowly-focused upper-division classes where the course subject may have nothing to do with the events that are happening, it seems harder to justify taking class time to talk about things that are not directly course-related. Still, it seems to me that we should, at least given the historic magnitude of what's going on right now. I'm not sure how I'll fit it in to my data analysis course in the fall but probably when the 'super-committee' comes out with its recommendation later this year, I will try to spend at least a part of a class talking it. What about you? Do you ever take class time to discuss 'off-topic' current events?

1 comment:

  1. As long as they are economic off-topic current events, I talk about them (no celeb news). I think that discussing current events from other fields of economics helps students see the big picture.

    I also use them as a way of drumming up interest in our other course offerings. I mention that if the current event is interesting to them, that we offer a whole course in that topic.

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