Sunday, June 30, 2019

Movie Recommendation

I saw the movie Yesterday yesterday. It is excellent. The best romantic comedy (an underrated genre, imho) I have seen since The Big Sick.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Not So Fast

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson argues "It’s time we tear up our economics textbooks and start over." He uses my book as a prime example. Perhaps not surprisingly, I disagree. My summary of Samuelson's article: Economics textbooks should be more like economics journalism, says an economics journalist.

Mr. Samuelson fails to fully appreciate the difference between journalism and textbook writing. Journalists are always looking for things that are new, for how the world has changed. That's why we call it the news. The editor of the science section of a newspaper would not be interested in a article explaining that Isaac Newton figured out the workings of gravity. Not newsworthy, the editor would say.

Textbook writers, on the other hand, emphasize those things that are true, important, and unknown to the typical reader (an 18 year old college freshman). Newness has little relevance. The lessons of Adam Smith do not apply only to the 18th century, the lessons of David Ricardo do not apply only to the 19th century, and the lessons of John Maynard Keynes do not apply only to the 20th century. They are timeless ideas that may not make good news stories but should be central to introductory economics. Just as Newtonian mechanics should remain central to introductory physics.

Yes, textbooks need to evolve as we learn more and as the world changes. New examples also show students how to apply the classic ideas to the issue of today. (The 9th edition of my principles text, available in about six months, includes a feature discussing social media like Facebook as a common resource.) But it would be a mistake for teachers of introductory economics to focus excessively on today's hot topics at the exclusion of timeless truths.

I had a 6th grade teacher who used to refer to newspapers as a "perishable commodity." That seems right, given their relentless focus on newness. Good textbooks, however, are more like durable goods. They do not go out of date nearly as quickly.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The National Debt Is Still a Problem

Click here to read my column in this coming Sunday's NY Times.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Bowles and Carlin on Econ 101

Here is a paper by Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin on teaching introductory economics. It is scheduled to be published in the JEL, along with my essay on textbook writing.

Reading their paper, I learned something about my own text. In footnote 17, they tell us the following:
Standard tools originally developed to compare the complexity of the language in training manuals in the US Navy are used to compare the readability of the textbooks. The result of the Flesch test is that the CORE text is somewhat more complex than Mankiw’s but less so than Krugman-Wells and Samuelson 1948. The tests are based on syllables per word / proportion of multisyllable words, and sentence length. The use of multi-syllable words is virtually the same across the four texts, but Krugman-Wells and Samuelson use longer sentences. The F-K measure’s output is the US grade level needed to comprehend the text, according to which, Samuelson 48 and Krugman-Wells are comprehensible to a 12th grade student, Mankiw to a 10th grader, and CORE to an 11th grader. 
I was pleased to learn this, as I try to write in shorter sentences to make the text more readable. Learning economics is hard enough. So the style of writing should be as accessible as possible.

Addendum: For comparison, according to this source, academic papers are written at about the 12th grade level. Malcolm Gladwell writes at the 9th grade level, F. Scott Fitzgerald at the 8th grade level, Stephen King at the 6th grade level, and Ernest Hemingway at the 4th grade level. It also says that only about 1 in 8 U.S. adults can read at the 12th grade level.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Teaching Intermediate Macro

Click here for a new, brief article of mine about teaching intermediate macroeconomics.