Econ Primer: Starting Soon with a Purpose

Late this spring, I mentioned that I was hoping to post articles on basic economic concepts. As it turns out, this idea will serve a purpose: I'll be teaching a writing course within the economics degree programs at a leading university business school. When invited to teach at a top university, one with a gallery dedicated to its Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences honorees, there's a fair amount of humility required. My doctoral research is in the field of how we communicate technical ideas, such as economic theories. Now, I have to demonstrate to some of the best students in the world that I know that on which I lecture.

Conveying economic ideas is fraught with challenges. Even when you present basic ideas as neutrally as possible, someone will find bias in your words. Of course there is "bias" involved even when deciding on which topics to write. Why is one topic, one issue, important within economics? Once you select a topic, choosing the experts to quote and the studies to cite might be shaped by biases — or even an attempt to counter your own biases. I'm far more likely to include some schools of thought simply because I don't want to overlook views with which I disagree. Efforts to strike balance still omit some lesser-known views, too.

On this blog, "The 90 Percent Tax Rate Myth" [] remains my most popular post, in terms of traffic and links. It is reviled by some, praised by others, but at best it represents only a sliver of my views and an analysis of only one concept (effective tax rates). When writing about economics, you cannot address everything in every paper, article, book, or blog posting. The result is, someone is going accuse you of bias, poor scholarship, ignorance, or worse.

Economics is a complex field and I reject simple, purely ideological perspectives. Being "almost" classical reflects this pragmatism.

Last week, I was called a "communist" by a reader. I've never rejected the label "capitalist pig" simply because I think it is an absurd, but funny, phrase. Yes, I like making money. I also believe over-zealous regulation is bad for the economy. I dislike public employee unions. Yet, I also believe that public universities should be free, that public works matter, and that our tax system favors the wealthy. I support private unionization, and employee ownership whenever possible.

Writing about economics is challenging. You have to explain complex mathematical models, behavioral economics, neurology, psychology, sociology, political theories, and much more. Add to this my specialty, rhetoric, and you can see that "economics" is more than money. It's more than the creation and distribution of goods. Economics is also the communication and debate about all these things… and more.


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