Rajiv Sethi: The CORE Project on Teaching Economics

Warning: below the line toward the bottom of this post is my reaction after actually having read some of the book mentioned in this article.

On Naked Capitalism, Lambert Strether has posted this article, Rajiv Sethi: The CORE Project on Teaching Economics.  Strether comments that,

I like the CORE slogan: “Teaching economics as if the last three decades had happened.”

Besides discussing the content of the course, Rajiv Sethi remarked,

But far more important than the content innovations in the book are the process innovations. The material was developed collaboratively by a large team, and made coherent through a careful editing process. It is released under a creative commons license, so that any user can customize, translate, or improve it for their own use or the use of their students. Most importantly, we see this initial product not as a stand-alone text, but rather as the foundation on which an entire curriculum can be built. We can imagine the development of units that branch off into various fields (for use in topics courses), as well as the incorporation of more advanced material eventually making its way into graduate education.

I am going to look at the materials online to see what I can learn about what is new in the field of economics since I first studied it over 50 years ago.

One reader of the article made the comment,

I would say if economist could agree on terminology it would correct the problem of difference of opinion on what is or is not the cause of a problem.

I don’t think it is nearly that simple.

Agreeing on what is or is not the cause of a problem may be a pipe dream for now. The response to a cause is usually delayed by an indeterminate amount of time. The economy is a highly complex, non-linear system with many causes and reactions happening at the same time. The economy, as in any other activity involving humans, is made up of people who read the explanations of what they are doing, and can change their behavior depending on what they learn from what is said about them. This is Soros’s reflexive property.

You can build a complex model of the system, and see if the model behaves the way the real world does. That still does not prove that the model has got the causes correctly identified. If another model with different causes (or different emphasis on causes) also matched reality as well as the first model, that would just show that the definition of the causes that will match reality is not unique.  How could one decide which model was more correct than the other?

Only if you can find a model that uniquely matches reality with outstanding accuracy, far and away better than other models, do you have the beginning of the ability to say that you can identify causes with any certainty. This is a goal to which economists ought to aspire.

Well, I have read the first few paragraphs of the book. My initial reaction is that this is one of the biggest piles of crap I have ever read. It jumps to bold conclusions based on averages that do not represent much of anything. A few outliers in the data are so far away from the average, that the average itself is skewed. This is not a good way to start teaching anybody about making rational analyses about anything.

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