Why isn’t more economics taught in high school?

by on June 22, 2016 at 2:42 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Todd, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

My kids are 11, 8, and 5. They go to the great [redacted] School. So far, they’ve been exposed to zero economic ideas. None. Why is this? Why do they learn about Beowulf, the Underground Railroad, and Spanish, but no basic economics? In fact, looking back at my own primary education, I had no exposure either. What explains the absence of basic economics education in primary education? Wouldn’t giving every kid an intuitive grasp of econ 101 at a very early age work a profound improvement on the state of private and public decision making in this country? Are we just a really good textbook (aimed at maybe 4th – 6th graders) away from big social gains?

I have heard related tales from others, so what are the possible explanations?

1. K-12 teachers do not themselves understand economics.

2. It is much easier to teach and test historical facts and Spanish grammar than economic concepts.  Note that many high school economics classes seem to devote a lot of attention to business taxonomy rather than actually thinking like an economist.

3. K-12 administrators may be hostile to economic reasoning, since said reasoning may paint some of them in a less than flattering light.

Anything else?  That all said, AP economics seems to be growing at a decent clip over the last twenty years, and in some states such as Texas senior-level economics is now required.  But at lower levels?  The progress is much less evident.

Here are some not always so useful discussion threads on this query.

1 Millian June 22, 2016 at 2:49 am

Because schools with Beowulf are better than schools in Texas?

Maybe because economics is speculative social science like sociology, with few clearly correct answers. Even the impact of a $15 minimum wage on unemployment. I guess it’s negative, but we don’t know what it is.

2 Rich Berger June 22, 2016 at 7:34 am

Ask the kids about something they buy regularly, say for $2. Tell them that the government passes a law that says that the minimum price is now $4. Discuss.

Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, would be a great intro text. Democrat, unionized teachers would go nuts.

3 Rich Berger June 22, 2016 at 7:46 am

Present some facts about recent Venezuelan history and the current situation. Ask students if actions of the government could have caused the current situation.

Point out that Cuba, a formerly wealthy country, is now impoverished. Discuss how that could have happened.

The goal of a high school economics course should be to teach economic thinking, not to create econometricians. A little Bastiat, a little Adam Smith would help.

4 JC June 23, 2016 at 4:38 am

I hope they go beyond the good Gov / bad Gov dichotomy because economics is way more richer than that.

5 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2016 at 9:13 am

“because economics is way more richer than that.”
But the ideologue’s thinking is not. Argentina, after the failed Peronist/junta interventionist disaster, liberalized the economy in the 90’s (to the point of being praised by Lawrence Summers as a model for the other Latin Americans) and crashed in 2001. Is there any lesson to learn from this?

6 Jeff R. June 22, 2016 at 9:58 am

Charity and minimum wage laws should not be conflated.

7 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

Good thing I wasn’t discussing charity and minimum wages at the same time then.

8 Jeff R. June 22, 2016 at 11:53 am

You can’t even comprehend your own comments. Awesome. Good thing you make up for their incoherence by making a lot of them!

9 Rich Berger June 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm

It’s like the old claim that we lose on each unit, but make it up in volume.

10 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Rare to see someone use the words “comprehend” and “incoherent” to near to each other and say so little of substance.

A 1 percenter of a special kind?

11 Got it in one June 22, 2016 at 7:42 am

Maybe because economics is speculative social science
>>yeah. How about just reintroducing Civics and teaching basic financial planning there?

12 derek June 22, 2016 at 8:40 am

Like the magic of compounding interest?

I learned economics in high school. We studied extensively the Soviet Union Five Year Plans.

Don’t, please don’t encourage them.

13 Otto Maddox June 22, 2016 at 9:12 am

Companies? Sure. National economies? Where has that ever worked?

14 Jeff R. June 22, 2016 at 9:59 am

Please stop commenting.

15 Garrett M. Petersen June 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

He’s not talking about the literal meaning of the words “five,” “year,” and “plan,” but about the actual five year plans actually enacted by the Soviet Union. Telling kids that Soviet economic policy was superior to other options is bizarre and I don’t know how you can defend it.

16 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:28 am

Endless horse trading in highly suboptimal (and pork barrel laden) policy frameworks just to get budgets through.

Public works spending is a tiny fraction of the federal budget.

17 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:29 am

Otto – Any comments on which country experienced the fastest growth in the history of humanity for 3 decades straight? I’m pretty sure they plan ahead (in fact they explicitly use 5-year plans as well).

They’re not on the technological frontier, and this was accomplished co-incident to partially dismantling central controls.

18 JWatts June 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

“Telling kids that Soviet economic policy was superior to other options is bizarre and I don’t know how you can defend it.”

There’s a meme going around Left wing circles that says the Soviet Union was actually an economic power house. It’s been refuted several times and it goes against the most obvious facts.

As to all good memes, there’s a kernel of truth to it. If you look at the “measured” GDP gains the Soviet’s did grow rapidly. Particularly when they were shooting and starving to death the Ukranian peasants (and anyone else they didn’t like). When you kill the owners and then ‘collectivize’ the farm, you go from a mostly unmeasured GDP family farm to a well documented Soviet farm. And there’s little doubt that the per capita GDP did in fact sky rocket.

19 other derek June 22, 2016 at 11:47 am

Folks, I am pretty sure that the quickly growing 5 year plan country Troll Me references is China…

20 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 11:58 am

Garrett – Soviet economic planning clearly had problems. But, Stalinism DID achieve its objectives of rapid development of heavy industry and modernization of the military in a way that would make them a world power.

Look back to 1917. Who the heck would ever have predicted that RUSSIA of all places would be one of two global centres of power to stand against the USA? Stalinism, which there a million reasons to despise, accomplished that.

Devil’s advocate, mostly, on the specific matter of the Soviet plans. But also, it’s really a lot less obvious than a first look suggests.

21 anon June 22, 2016 at 12:08 pm

Yes, China. And I think their pro-growth policies show that growth policies can work.

Also, that they are slightly more complex than “cut tax” followed by “magic.”

In related news: “Chattanooga mayor credits muni broadband with aiding city’s revival”

22 Got it in one June 22, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Yes, the magic of compounding interest. Here’s a more complete syllabus:

– The magic of compounding interest
– The economics of buying a car
– What a mortgage is
– A complete financial analysis of going to college
– How to achieve the lofty dream of retirement
– What inflation does to your money
– Basic investment vehicles, stocks, bonds
– How to negotiate salary

that ought to get them thinking!

23 Lord Action June 22, 2016 at 2:02 pm


Forget supply & demand and the dead-weight loss of taxation: teach them about 401(k)s, insurance, and borrowing.

Teaching economics when you really want the kids to learn personal finance is giving the teachers something fun to do at the expense of the kids. It’s like teaching Shakespeare when the kids can’t write a coherent email.

24 The Original D June 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Which points to the obvious reason why they aren’t taught in primary school: most of these concepts use algebra.

25 JWatts June 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm

“Folks, I am pretty sure that the quickly growing 5 year plan country Troll Me references is China…”

Well that would be a far more supportable & logical position, but the Leftwing meme is explicitly the Soviet Union as nutty as that seems.

And Troll Me confirms it:

“Garrett – Soviet economic planning clearly had problems. But, Stalinism DID achieve its objectives of rapid development of heavy industry and modernization”

26 Urso June 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Ah yes how to copy China’s growth. (1) start off desperately poor, so even modest gains look very impressive in percentage terms. (2) ignore all laws. (3) ignore all individual rights. (4) ignore all environmental or social impacts of your actions. Truly a model for the 21st century.

27 Ann S June 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm

About China’s economic growth and Five Year Plans, Art Deco has already pointed out that much of their growth was through catching up on technology, and much was from moving away from “planning”.

Also, why cherry-pick the last three decades when the Five Year Plans were less likely to be followed and were less extensive? The economic growth started with the Green Revolution where the government let it be known that farmers would not be forced to stick to the current Plan (i.e. stay in the communes). Farmers were allowed to deviate from the plan, and output skyrocketed.

I guess the attitude here is “three out of six ain’t bad”, but if you look at all of the decades since the Party took over, even the strong growth that began under Mao doesn’t really give them a good overall record. Starving to death literally tens of millions of people for no particular reason, while there’s food in the granaries, doesn’t speak well for the Five Year Plan approach.

28 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 5:25 pm

JWatts – a peasant economy of 1917 ended up one of two major powers. No matter that they had low grade consumer goods, clearly something went right. I’m not saying that it’s my preferred system, but clearly it wasn’t a failure.

I’m not saying that the system was better. I’m saying that, historically speaking, it was highly successful. The second most successful of the 20th century, the most advanced century in history, no? After all, how can you consider them a failure if the entire rest of the world had to band together to contain the threat?

29 anon June 22, 2016 at 5:35 pm

@Urso, for sure catch-up growth and low wages were important factors, but being “a nation of complainers” (a new meme) is not a counter-plan.

Many technophiles love examples of American progress, but take this Presidential campaign, what concrete is being said about progress? Something like a better, faster, cheaper Internet is not discussed in terms of progress rewards, but in terms of political boundaries. For the right if it harms a company it must be bad, for the left if it harms a company it must be good. No serious ROI judgement on this or any other number of progress ventures.

30 dan1111 June 22, 2016 at 8:30 am

“Maybe because economics is speculative social science like sociology, with few clearly correct answers.”

I don’t think this is a fair description of basic economics that might be taught to school children. There are many principles relating to markets, competition, supply and demand, etc. for which there is a clear consensus that they are correct, and which would be quite useful to be more widely known.

31 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:08 am

The basic principles, yes, but you’ve gotta be careful. Check EconLog today for Henderson’s status quo application of econ 101 reasoning on price controls and labour market regulations for an example.

It’s one thing to understand the basic notions of supply and demand. It’s another to teach students linear thinking on minimum wages, rent controls, and a diversity of other issues which are 100% clear in econ 101 but empirically and theoretically divided at more advanced levels.

32 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:18 am

but empirically and theoretically divided at more advanced levels.

You will not find an economist making the case for price controls who is not talking book.

33 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

I’m not sure what you mean by “talking book”.

34 kevin June 22, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Price controls for a completely inelastic good absolutely make sense. Otherwise you are counting on the “goodwill” of companies to stop the markup. See Turing, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/263553-report-ceo-that-raised-drug-price-4000-percent-arrested . If the demand line is vertical supply/demand graph’s helpfulness falls apart.

35 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 5:02 pm

He wasn’t referring to natural monopolies (for which there is an optimum price from the producer’s perspective) or to goods like insulin.

Rental housing, groceries, and gasoline have been subject to price controls in my lifetime, and, of course, you’ve had wage freezes and wage floors.

36 TMC June 22, 2016 at 8:45 am

“I guess it’s negative”

Sometimes it’s important just to get the direction right.

37 Ann S June 22, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Good point!

38 Gabe June 22, 2016 at 11:05 am

The government fears a economically literate public. The government runs the schools. Therefore they make sure not to teach stuff that could be dangerous to the expansion of government.

39 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm

The comment at11:33 is an imposter using my handle. I suggest the comment be deleted.

40 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:03 pm

No, it’s not an imposter, as the moderator will be able to tell.

41 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Suck my ass, it smells!

42 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Again, these need to be deleted and the perpetrator banned.

43 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:50 pm

And I need to go fuck myself.

44 John L. June 23, 2016 at 9:38 am

By “literate public” you mean one who goes with the “shock therapy” which made so much good for the Russians (it gave them a brand new dictatorship after they overthrew the old one) and Bolivia.

45 kevin June 22, 2016 at 4:27 pm

I just heard an argument today that minimum wage can be positive. Forcing a price cap on a monopoly results in additional sales (not profit to the company of course). If we have monopsononies a minimum wage would indeed result in more people working, granted at the monopsony’s expense

46 Jayson Virissimo June 22, 2016 at 9:58 pm

There are plenty of subjects that should be added to high school curricula before economics (logic, probability, accounting, etc…), but I don’t think this argument works. Yes, economics is a speculative social science, but history and civics implicitly assume a kind of folk-social science that has even poorer predictive power than does economics, yet these subjects are near universal in this level of schooling.

47 John L. June 23, 2016 at 9:55 am

Isn’t probability covered by high school Math?

48 Jayson Virissimo June 23, 2016 at 11:22 pm

Mine did not cover probability, but perhaps that was atypical.

49 BrianH June 22, 2016 at 2:55 am

I am a high school AP economics teacher. Both the micro course and macro course stress economic reasoning and intuition across a standard econ 101 curriculum. There were approximately 140,000 exams given in AP Macroeconomics this spring, an AP course that is still growing, but it is not nearly as large as AP US History or either of the AP English exams. AP Econ is still one of the “smaller” AP subjects

A few factors to consider.

Curriculums in any subject are set from “above” — whether the district or the textbook authority – in which case perhaps point to the university professors who write textbooks in other fields who do not including economic reasoning throughout.

Also, including more of one subject necessarily means removing something else. What are we taking out of the curriculum to make more fit? Don’t remove Beowulf- the English teachers won’t allow that! Same for any replacement.

One of the attractive features of being a teacher is “being your own boss.” I don’t think teachers liked their cheese moved.

50 Shane M June 22, 2016 at 8:56 am

This. So many comments seem to think something nefarious, but I think it’s more simply that there are many classes that you “have” to have (or think that you have to have if you’re college prep), leaving only a few electives.

If there’s an argument that economics should be part of high school core then that argument should be made and have the topic integrated w/ the understanding that it replaces something else – my guess is it would fit best mixed with History. Economic discussions often occurred there as background for major world events.

51 carlolspln June 23, 2016 at 12:28 am

“my guess is it would fit best mixed with History. Economic discussions often occurred there as background for major world events”

Interesting, in that the only university in the US that teaches the history of economics is the University of Missouri @ Kansas City.

Things that make you go, ‘hmmmmmm…….

52 angryanalyst June 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

This mirrors my own experience. I attended a fairly elite prep institution with all the resources in the world. I think I had few potential elective slots. Add to that a clear guidance towards certain classes for college admissions and the number of degrees of freedom was quite small. Should economics really replace chemistry?

53 cheesetrader June 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

Squares with what my kids experienced in HS – able to take AP econ – but little offered otherwise.

In an ideal world, there would be a combined class which has one semester of Econ w/o one semester of financial literacy

54 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Suck my ass, it smells!

55 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 12:54 pm

The moderator needs to ban the sock-puppet.

56 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Why would I want to ban myself? Makes no sense.

57 other derek June 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

I took Sociology in high school. It was kind of dumb. We could replace that with Econ.

But look, the real problem is that you want the Econ teacher to be slightly smart. But… all “good” teachers are probably teaching standardized-test subjects. So… who is going to teach economics? The gym teacher who used to teach Sociology or Health?

Only AP-level Econ classes are probably worthwhile, which is something that only the top schools are going to offer.

58 Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta June 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Well one district in California found the resources to make Mandatory Yoga a priority.


59 Justin Kelly June 22, 2016 at 3:10 am

I’ve been asking this a while. More relevant comparisons might be “Social Studies” into which some economics lessons could be integrated. Economics is in fact a social study. You would want to teach it to students in their early teens because it involves abstract thought, but as for math, comparative advantage can be taught with integer arithmetic.

Educators seem to be detached form the idea that schooling is to increase productivity of the labor force, instead they tend to think they are training “responsible future citizens.” This rationale could work in economics favor, as one could argue these students will need to be informed on economics when they vote later on, on the other hand I would expect stiff resistance. Schools may never teach real economics because they fear that it will undermine teachers unions.

I was excited to find my nephew learning about economics in middle school and terrified to learn that by economics they meant “Natural Capital, Social Capital, financial capital..” basically Forum for the Future hippy dippy BS: https://www.forumforthefuture.org/project/five-capitals/overview

60 Andrew M June 22, 2016 at 7:14 am

Human Capital and Social Capital are very real things, not hippy BS. Both have featured regularly on Marginal Revolution.

Natural Capital is debatable, but we can point to e.g. Saudi Arabia as having billions of dollars of natural capital in the form of oil. The hippies like to include trees and clean rivers in their calculations of natural capital (j/k – hippies don’t actually do any calculations), but it’s much harder to place a value on them. For example Central Park would be worth a fortune as real estate, but developing it would devalue the rest of the city.

61 Justin Kelly June 22, 2016 at 9:21 am

The definition for social capital varies widely, personally I prefer Haidt’s definition over what they have here. There are questions on where to include technology, on the human capital or manufactured capital end. And finally the inclusion of natural capital and references to “sustainability” all around betrays what is really going on. There is a lot of valuable, mature, relevant economic knowledge that could be taught but instead that is ignored and they opt to teach this debatable stuff as fact instead, all in order to promote an environmental agenda.

62 Justin Kelly June 22, 2016 at 11:07 am

That depends more heavily on what “capital” is in the first place, most definitions require it to be created, something you can’t do with nature. You could have nature without people, but would you have capital without humans?

Since managing scarcity is at the core of economic thought, so too is sustainability, unfortunately it may not be the way environmentalists politically want it to be.

Regardless, there are more important established orthodox economics concepts capable of being taught to school children without having to reach for political, ambiguous, and debatable topics.

63 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Consider the origins of the word, which means a head of cattle. Capital is something that self reproduces and increases in value, basically. So you have trees which beget more trees, and hence are natural capital which reproduce their value as a function of stock. Same for fish. Soil quality as natural capital is more complicated.

There are other exceedingly obvious examples.

It gets more complicated when you get into stuff like biodiversity as protecting pollination abilities, the role of wetlands in filtering and cleaning water for future usage, and a variety of other economically useful services provided by …. “natural capital”.

64 Thomas June 22, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Just no, Nathan. Capital is wealth and wealth requires consciousness. There us no capital without human existence. A forest that does not interact with humanity in any way is worth $0.

65 ewig June 22, 2016 at 11:06 am

Unless, of course, you excavated it and lined the perimeter with apartments….

66 Hazel Meade June 22, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Yeah, OMG “Social Studies” is so much bullshit.

In Canada we had “Lifestyles”, which was a grab-bag of sex-ed, environmentalism, basic econ, and social justice politics. It was the class were you learned how to put a condom on a banana, were told to recycle your garbage, and then had a discussion about racism while balancing your checkbook.

67 The Original D June 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

This was my introduction to economics in tenth grade. We learned about the basics of supply and demand, household finance such as how checks work and budgeting, and the institutions that impact them: government, the Fed etc. I was in an honors program but I believe this class was part of the standard curriculum.

This was at a public school in the rural south, so I don’t believe I was getting something most other kids didn’t get.

68 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Suck my ass, it smells!

69 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 12:54 pm

I did not post this.

70 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Yes, I did.

71 Textbooks? June 22, 2016 at 3:11 am

Which good textbooks there are for grades 4-6, 7-9, high school?

72 Mark Thorson June 22, 2016 at 3:16 am

Wouldn’t a good foundation in statistics be a prerequisite before teaching economics? Statistics is so valuable, even outside of economics. P-values, for example. Or gambling.

73 Peter Akuleyev June 22, 2016 at 6:02 am

Yes, economics is mostly just speculation and belongs on a par with philosophy. Economics is interesting for intelligent motivated students, but it is a pointless distraction if you don’t already have a firm grounding in statistics, history and basic finance.

74 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:35 am

No, you need to learn statistics as it is applied in economic research, which is why it is taught in economics curricula. History is not a prerequisite and neither is finance.

75 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:01 am

A good foundation in statistics is necessary to be an informed decision maker about most issues in life.

76 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

Not about most issues, but it helps in assessing public affairs and in some decisions.

77 anon June 22, 2016 at 12:17 pm

I think humans have a native intuition about odds, and hate them, hence the “nothing happens by chance” comfort of religion.

Still, the students can understand risk, the better they will do in a complex, non-intuitive society.

78 John Mansfield June 22, 2016 at 9:09 am

It’s an interesting question what should be the first things taught to people who don’t know anything. Statistics classes generally start with examples of flipping coins, rolling dice, and drawing cards, accessing previous experience that a coin coming up heads ten times in a row is very unusual, and also countering false intuition from that experience that a coin that came up heads the last three times is more likely than not to come up tails the next time. It would be an interesting experiment to teach statistics as abstract mathematical reasoning without drawing on familiar examples of its application.

Likewise with economics, the introductory courses assume some small experience with economic participation that most dependent minors lack.

79 Urso June 22, 2016 at 9:12 am

I think you deeply overestimate the depth of study in an average high school course.

80 Mark Thorson June 22, 2016 at 9:42 am

I took a statistics class in high school, and it was one of the best classes I took in high school. Gambling is a good, practical introduction to the subject because even the thickest clod can understand the value in calculating odds vs. stakes.

81 yo June 22, 2016 at 3:29 am

I went to school in France. There, K-12 English teachers didn’t understand English. They might even have made a point of intentionally not understanding English, but I think that is stretching it too far (they were genuinely interested in and passionate about the UK, not ist sworn cultural enemies). So pupils didn’t understand English either, and some of these pupils later became English teachers. However, English teachers’ English proficiency (and their pupil’s consequent achievement) is improving rapidly. The reason I think is genuine demand from parents for good teachers, their realization that English classes were pretty bad, due to standardized testing (e.g. Cambridge, Toefl) results.

82 Fazal Majid June 22, 2016 at 11:53 am

I did as well. They have Economics starting in 9th grade, but the curriculum read more like socialist propaganda than anything else, and was probably worse than nothing.

I agree with other posters that basic financial literacy is more important at the high school (or earlier) level.

83 Joan June 22, 2016 at 3:32 am

Young children are not capible of Abstract reasoning but you could teach definition (gdp, consumer, inflation etc) and facts (how banks and the stock market work). about the economy so when they are older and teach them economics reasoning they would uderstand that it is not just about choices between apples and oranges.

84 Phil H June 22, 2016 at 6:41 am

I think this is close. A lot of young children don’t have much contact with money, and much less with business, so they’d struggle with many of the concepts. That said, if you build the ideas into some good narratives, they might well be able to start getting it. Real-time experiments with compound interest, or with using candy to pick soccer teams instead of just taking it in turns, might work very well.

85 Joan June 22, 2016 at 7:51 am

Using candy to choose soccer teams is bad idea. You do not need to teach children to be selfish and greedy or power can be purchased with goodies. That is human nature, it is honesty and cooperation they need to learn for an economy to function

86 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:10 am

As part of her pre-K screening my younger daughter was handed some change and asked, “What do you do with this?” She answered, “Put it in my bank.”
“Is there anything else you do with it?”
“Does your mom do anything with it?”
“How does your mom buy things?”
“With a credit card.”
“How do you buy things you want.”
(Batting her eyes) “I don’t. Mom and dad and grandma and grandpa and sissy buy me stuff because I’m sweet and cute.”

87 JWatts June 22, 2016 at 10:00 am

She’ll go far.

88 Urso June 22, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Mine was overheard informing her younger sister that losing teeth was a “great way to earn money.” I thought, hm, we need to have a discussion on the definition of “earn.”

89 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:05 am

Many young children are capable of abstract reasoning! A fair percentage of adults never reason abstractly!

You are going to teach them “facts (how banks and the stock market work).”??? If you think they cannot reason abstractly… have fun discussing High Frequency Trading and Glass-Steagal.

90 anon June 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

I left that to professionals, but obviously yes child development comes in stages, and abstract reasoning show up late. Hence the utility of Santa Claus.

Acerbic intellectuals sometime claim that few develop past the Santa model of good and evil.. but I don’t think that’s fair. The golden rule is tangible enough for most people.

91 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 10:06 pm

Suck my ass, it smells!

92 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm

I did not post this.

93 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:52 pm

I did too. And it’s true: my ass really does smell. It smells like, um, ass. Would you like to suck it?

94 Todd K June 22, 2016 at 3:53 am

Ideally, you’d want to get rid of AP English while the English teachers are all vacationing in London. Second best would be to get rid of any AP foreign language courses. Who needs those relative to teaching basic stats and economics in AP Econ?

And AP Music theory? What’s that? You’re supposed to learn advanced music theory in your friend’s garage.

95 Steve Sailer June 22, 2016 at 3:54 am

Microeconomics is useful but difficult. I could see teaching it in 11th or 12th grade, but probably not before. Macroeconomics is very difficult, somewhat hazy, and not all that broadly useful. My son took Macro in 12th grade and passed the AP test, but I don’t think he got much out of it. I’d leave Macro for college.

To put it another way, I’d like to see more Americans study Micro because I think more could benefit from it, but perhaps too many already waste their time on Macro. I’m not putting down Macro, I’m just saying it is very hard.

96 The Anti-Gnostic June 22, 2016 at 8:30 am

The prime directive of Macro is to provide intellectual cover for central banks to print money and buy the government’s debt, so yes, primary school is probably a tad early.

97 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:15 am

The prime directive of Macro

This is an idiotic statement.

The Federal Reserve buys on the secondary market. There is ample public demand for Treasury and municipal issues and little inflation.

98 The Anti-Gnostic June 22, 2016 at 11:01 am

Of course there’s ample demand: the Fed is the buyer of last resort and you get the new money first. And if you’re a net exporter to the US, you have to buy them. Central bank footprints are huge and distort the supply-demand curve.

Your dedication to the status quo is fanatical.

99 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:15 am

And if you’re a net exporter to the US, you have to buy them.

No, you do not. The current account deficit is balanced with a capital account surplus, but that does not dictate which financial instruments your exporting country lenders invest in.

100 Johann Ricke June 23, 2016 at 12:03 am

And if you’re a net exporter to the US, you have to buy them. Central bank footprints are huge and distort the supply-demand curve.

No you do not. But if you want to remain a net exporter, you do. Because otherwise your currency’s value goes up, which eventually makes you a net importer. China keeps its reserves in dollars because the alternative is the dismantlement of its export sector, due to uncompetitive exchange rates. In the 80’s the dollar bought two yuan. This went to six yuan and finally to eight yuan in the 90’s. Long before the dollar buys two yuan again, the Chinese export sector will have become moribund.

101 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Whether you’re a net exporter or a net importer is a consequence of cross-national differences in savings patterns. And, again, there are trillions of dollar in the stock of corporate bonds, asset-backed securities, mortgage backed securities, commercial paper, municipal paper, and municipal bonds. You’re not limited to Treasuries.

102 anon June 22, 2016 at 1:20 pm

It is pretty simple. If you have a currency, you have to manage it. This is true no matter the coinage.

The more extreme criticism of the Fed rests on a fantasy that without management, you can still have money.

People have tried “natural scarcity” monies, from seashells to Bitcoin but the are vulnerable to technological change, and vanishing scarcity.

103 The Anti-Gnostic June 22, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Money pre-dates central banks.

Central committees can’t plan the supply and price for paper cups, bread or any other commodity. They can’t do it for money, the commodity in ultimate demand, either. They don’t know the “correct” rate of interest, how much or how fast the economy should grow, whether people should invest in stocks or bonds, or which activities should be allowed to liquidate and which should be bailed out. They don’t know any of these things.

104 anon June 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm

You have no knowledge of history if you think primitive money had no management.

As I say, the most primitive is management by scarcity, agreement that the scarce thing would be money, but that was fraught, as it faced an innovation risk. Do big ships ruin the stone money system? Or do you cap your labor at a primitive level of productivity to preserve the currency?

A discovery risk generally.

105 anon June 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

And of course you can’t get back to “money is just a product” unless you go back purely bank issued flavors. That had huge risks and failures. Banks and currencies failing are then a necessary feature. Hell on the normal working man.

106 ladderff June 22, 2016 at 11:48 am

Nice, a Deco/Anti-Gnostic showdown. But AG is right as usual.

107 CL June 22, 2016 at 4:10 am

In Central Europe teachers are usually left-wing to radical left-wing. To them economics and business management theories are the devil’s work and students should never get in touch with those theories ever. In my experience the same is true for the US. At least to some extent.

108 dan1111 June 22, 2016 at 8:45 am

In my experience there was diversity of political viewpoints among teachers in the U.S. However, most recent developments suggest a leftist viewpoint among those who make curriculum decisions.

109 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:14 am

See Michelle Ker on Rachel Lotan and teacher training at Stanford. One component of the program is preventing non-leftists from being in the applicant pool for educational policy jobs.

110 Cliff June 22, 2016 at 5:13 pm
111 Otto Maddox June 22, 2016 at 9:14 am

I think you nailed it.

112 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:53 pm

I think you need to suck my ass. Because it smells.

113 prior_test2 June 22, 2016 at 4:28 am

‘In Central Europe teachers are usually left-wing to radical left-wing.’

As long as we exclude places like Poland or Hungary, of course.

114 Cliff June 22, 2016 at 5:08 pm

That’s called Eastern Europe

115 John L. June 23, 2016 at 10:21 am
116 ShardPhoenix June 22, 2016 at 5:12 am

I’d guess that a big part of it is that the people who decide these things are disproportionately left-wing, and therefore skeptical of textbook economic theories.

117 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:12 am

No, the people who decide these things are accustomed to what they are accustomed. The ‘left-wing’ would be the teachers’ college faculty, administrators, and auxilliary professionals, who have a soft-headed social-worker mentality. They don’t know economics from tiddlywinks.

118 polly June 22, 2016 at 5:46 am

You don’t even have to choose a theory of economics that early. There is even more basic life information that it is worth getting across to all children, in case their families don’t teach it to them. If I could design the school curriculum no child would pass thirteen or fourteen without understanding that borrowing large amounts of money e.g. for a mortgage ties you hand and foot to one property market and to one lending market, both of which are affected by factors outside your control.

119 Austin June 22, 2016 at 9:49 am

The editorial decisions of the person writing the syllabus implies a chosen theory. If you start with “people react to incentives”, you’re going down the Bastiat/Hazlitt Seen/Unseen line of reasoning. If you start with optimization, you’re going down Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics. Etc.

120 ??? June 23, 2016 at 4:21 am

it’s infuriating to see people assigning a basic economic concept like “people respond to incentives” to a know-nothing like Hazlitt. it’s incredible how far-reaching the libertarian propaganda goes. people actually seem to think he was a real economist!

121 Josh June 22, 2016 at 6:07 am

In va, we have a required course that is half personal finance and half Econ 101/2.

I spend a few weeks deriving supply and demand curves with the usual indifference curves and budget constraints etc. etc. We do substitutes and compliments, tax incidence, market structures, maybe some simple game theory. We don’t do much macro, but we discuss money multipliers, tax efficiency, a couple of business cycle theories, monetary and fiscal policy.

I think I am the only teacher at my school with an Econ degree, so i don’t know how well it’s taught at other schools, but this stuff is (mostly) at least mentioned I the official curriculum for the state mandated class.

By the way, you should be more worried about what your kids come away thinking they know that is completely wrong (history!), than those subjects about which they at least know they are ignorant.

122 rayward June 22, 2016 at 6:51 am

This reminds me of the state-mandated course when I was in high school in the 1960s called “Problems in American Democracy”. The instructor, who ordinarily taught geography, valiantly tried to find problems but couldn’t, although he found lots of problems with socialism and communism. Of course, the course was just part of the hysteria of the time, fear of communists about as great as fear of blacks. The students learned nothing about democracy (other than it was “the greatest system in the world”) and very little about communism (other than in films of Krushchev pounding the podium with his shoe). That my high school was segregated, that our state legislature was dominated by the “pork chop gang” who mostly represented trees rather than people (gerrymandered districts favored sparsely populated rural districts over densely populated urban districts), that our country was expanding a war in a far off place few could locate on a map were not deemed a “problem” according to our instructor, but “agitators” who didn’t love their country were, did little to prepare me and my classmates for “citizenship”. Instead, what we got was unfiltered propaganda and an uncritical view of the world in which we lived. I suspect that a state-mandated course in “economics” would be much the same, mostly propaganda about the virtues of the “market” and “capitalism” and the evils of government, taxes, and the “takers” who feed on government largesse while contributing little. Indeed, many of the instructors in “economics” at some of our colleges and universities today would have been fine candidates for teaching “Problems in American Democracy”.

123 Urso June 22, 2016 at 9:14 am

Obviously it didn’t take.

124 Barclay June 22, 2016 at 7:01 am

My elementary school in Missouri taught the concept of “opportunity cost” on multiple occasions. I think it was pretty common.

125 Axa June 22, 2016 at 7:09 am

It’s one useful concept and far away from useless political controversy. Great teacher.

126 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:15 am

Sunk cost is also a concept applicable throughout life.

127 Matthew Moore June 22, 2016 at 7:14 am

UK perspective, suggesting the demand isn’t high.

At ages 16 – 18, you study only 3 or 4 subjects, with totally free choice. There are about 30 subjects with a non-trivial number of students.

About 4% of people choose economics. Roughly the same number as choice Religious studies or Business studies, but it only about half as many as choose Sociology or Physics. (Although I expect there is a bias toward those subjects that are taught pre-16, where economics is very rare)

Full data, including massive gender splits: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/426646/A_level_subject_take-up.pdf

128 Matt F June 22, 2016 at 7:17 am

Who wants to discuss money with kids? And discuss whose parents earn more and what follows? That’s not an easy conversation for teachers to manage, and economics leads to it quickly.

129 Axa June 22, 2016 at 7:19 am

I think this may be the cause. The conversation will steer into uncomfortable territory meaning extra problems for the teacher with no extra salary.

130 dan1111 June 22, 2016 at 8:52 am

I don’t think this is the reason. Other similarly “uncomfortable” topics are embraced, not avoided.

In fact, I think economics would be more likely to be included if educators realized they could spin it as “some people make more money than others and that’s not fair”.

131 Austin June 22, 2016 at 9:50 am

Thus the problem: economics isn’t about money. It’s about exchange. Kids can understand exchange.

132 Unanimous June 22, 2016 at 7:51 pm

But in practice money is used in so much exchange that teaching exchange without talk about money would end up being quite a strang course.

133 Axa June 22, 2016 at 7:17 am

Schools tend to focus on making children more social since our nature tends to ruthless individualism. This is not a complain, just a simple reminder. This focus on sociability is evident in sports. Which sports have more support? Individual or team sports? The issue here is the economic knowledge may contradict some pro-social ideas from school. Also, there are contradictions inside economy………teachers may leave economy out to avoid dealing with smart-ass children and adolescents that don’t have the capacity to deal with contradictions.

134 Jeju June 22, 2016 at 7:57 am

What you mention is an important reason. Not sure at which point you want people to learn about the mechanism of freeriding. You first probably want to instill some altruism before you teach them with mathematical precision how an homo economicus without altruism would behave.

It is difficult to learn in one class about your democracy and voting and in the other class you learn that the marginal utility of bringing out your vote is probably never large enough to actually do it (unless you get a warm glow from it).

I thought Tyler is a big fan of the concept of creative ambiguity. Teaching economics may take too much ambiguity out of pupil’s understanding of society at a point which is too early?

135 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:43 am

I disagree that our nature tends to ruthless individualism. Individualism is largely a modern construct.

Clearly, we are self interested. Equally as clearly, we also care about the wellbeing of others (constrained by a general desire to have higher status than others).

Examples of children being given a small budget and choosing to give some (or much) to charity, and then putting money into the charity category, abound.

136 Axa June 22, 2016 at 11:35 am

You’re right Mr. Troll. It’s the equilibrium between self-interest and the wellbeing of others. In these terms, self-interest is naturally more developed that the interest in the wellbeing of others.

137 Bill June 22, 2016 at 7:25 am

It’s because high school economics


Taught in college.

138 Ann S June 22, 2016 at 2:57 pm

But high school economics is not required even in college. At the university where I work, students have to take several multiculturalism classes but nothing whatsoever related to economics or finance or business of any sort, or even probability and statistics. And now, there’s a move to change the curriculum to add required courses in various sorts of victimization studies (gender, race, etc.).

139 Paul June 22, 2016 at 8:28 pm

I sense a market opportunity for a new text: Principles of Victimization.

140 Mark June 22, 2016 at 7:38 am

Junior Achievement has a workable curriculum. Years ago, my spouse volunteered to go into elementary schools to teach a weekly unit. (Years before that, I enjoyed JA as a mini class and later as a entrepreneurial extracurricular.) Supply demand, gains from trade, circular flow of money, etc. Teachers were glad to have people come in. But as the pressure of testing kept building, I think teachers felt they didn’t have time to include a nice but optional unit. Also not sure why teachers couldn’t fold in the material themselves: lack of training/interest? JA thought there was benefit in having people with business experience teaching the material.

So it’s doable in primary school, if a teacher wants it and/or outside people push for it.

141 Aaron Stapleton June 22, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Just what I was going to call out. JA is teaching some of these essentials. I think they mainly focus on lower income areas, which is fine by me.

Can we assume that one reason this isn’t taught, especially in higher income areas (where JA, I think, avoids), is the assumption that parents can handle this? Parents probably can’t do well with long division or details of history, but they can talk to their kids about money. My friends who have kids generally have creative ways of teaching their kids about money. Probably more personal finance than econ, but I’d say that’s appropriate for elementary school.

142 Jason June 22, 2016 at 7:41 am

This is why I love homeschooling! Our kids have been following the MR University curriculum. My high school kids have a firm grasp of basic economic thinking. Even my 6 and 8 year-olds are getting some of the basic concepts. But all of them are enjoying the educational and entertaining videos.

143 Bill June 22, 2016 at 7:51 am

Completely agree with Mark and JA… I did the same thing for years at my boys Catholic school.. The curriculum was tailored for each grade and we just did it once a week for a few weeks during the during the spring semester. My degree is in Agricultural Economics so it was easy and fun although anyone with a business background can do it. The JA model for grade school is all you need.

144 Bill June 22, 2016 at 9:23 am

This is a different Bill, so as not to be confused.

145 WC Varones June 22, 2016 at 8:03 am

#3. Any sane reading of microeconomics has strong free-market implications, and bureaucrats and teachers unions are openly hostile to free markets.

146 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:09 am

No, they’re hostile to disruption of their deals in this world, for reasons good, bad, and passable/forgivable.

147 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:45 am

Wouldn’t a truly free market include an unfettered right of labour to gather together and negotiate collectively, much like capital holders do?

Why should shareholder unions have more rights than worker unions in a market which is purported to be “free”?

148 Austin June 22, 2016 at 9:54 am

They would indeed be free to gather and collectively negotiate.

And the employers would, depending upon the nature of the labor contract they agreed to would be free to unilaterally fire the collective for refusal to work. The collective would not be free to threaten and intimidate non-collectivized workers who came for the job the collective was fired from.

It’s these last two bits that unions are keen on, and the source of their power.

149 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 10:40 am

Yes, I have as much problems with unions going around beating up “scabs” (I don’t think this has happened much at all in the West for a couple generations now, with isolated exceptions) as with employers hiring armed thugs to go around beating up union organizers.

The position that bothers me is that many “free market” types seem to think that the “free market” involves disrupting the ability of labour to negotiate collectively. And in the principle of good-faith contract negotiations, if a union has previously extracted an agreement that “scabs” are not allowed to circumvent negotiations, then I believe that the use of law to uphold negotiated agreements should also apply, and that “scabs” should not be allowed. In principle, I think businesses should have nearly unfettered leeway to just go and hire a bunch of other people, but in a case where the union knows it represents a near-monopoly on a specific skill set, I don’t see why, in a free market, they should not feel correct to negotiate just as tenaciously as the corporate interests who hold the specialized equipment and intellectual property that is combined with those skills.

Also, I think that laws which facilitate union busting do not belong in a free market. If the union abuses their position and does not have such a specialized skill set to offer, as a collective, then the business will just cut their losses, turf the lot of them, and hire a bunch of replacement workers.

150 Cliff June 22, 2016 at 5:31 pm

What laws facilitating union busting are you referring to? I don’t think anyone anywhere argues that workers should not be able to form unions. The political issue is over their ability to force other employees to join the union against their will and without agreement of the employer.

151 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Cliff – I think the situation is not bad about union busting these days (although if you make some noise about collective negotiation in a business which does not have a union, expect to come under the very highest level of scrutiny possible and removed under any possible excuse).

But it is not all that rare to run into people who purport to be “pro free market” who think that unions should be banned.

152 Thomas June 22, 2016 at 7:11 pm

It’s not rare only in your mind, Nathan. What you are unintentionally or willfully misinterpreting are calls to rescind laws which give monopoly powers to unions. In a free market, it would be legal for a corporation to respond to union demands by refusing to negotiate or shutting down and moving a facility.

153 cowboydroid June 22, 2016 at 12:49 pm

As long as the associations are entirely voluntary, sure.

The problem is that unions are not entirely voluntary social arrangements. They rely on the state’s power of coercion to function. Separate the state from the unions and we might have a more favorable outcome.

154 Unanimous June 22, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Many countries have, or never provided legal sanction to compulsary union membership. It doesn’t appear to make much difference overall.

155 Bob June 22, 2016 at 8:14 am

Teaching basic microeconomics is fiendishly easy at a grade school level. My son had a teacher who created a “mini-society”. The teacher created currency on the school printer. Students bid on various classroom chores (cleaning up after lunch, cleaning out the hamster’s cage, taking forms to the office, doing payroll for the class’s “jobs”), the money could then be used to buy some privileges (e.g. an extra few minutes of recess). Twice they students hit up parents for things to bring in and sell (baked goods, old toys, etc.) during a special class period. In his class they managed to figure out basic supply and demand, partnerships & “stock”, opportunity cost, profit margins, and “capital gains” as they started competing for who could make the most money.

Just give the kids some fake money in exchange for labor, desirable things they can use the script to buy, and make it competitive for who can earn the most script.

The reason I suspect many other schools do not do this sort of thing is that it takes a good amount of time and most teachers would dislike departing that far from routine.

156 Jason Brennan June 22, 2016 at 8:55 am

I like this idea overall, but keep in mind that by making it about who can win the most script, you’ve changed your economy from a positive-sum to a zero-sum game.

157 arun June 22, 2016 at 12:05 pm

This isn’t a zero-sum game. An economic activity is rewarded with scrip which is then traded for something like ‘an extra few minutes of recess’ or, may be, a positional good, like who gets to look after the hamster.
Competition to secure the most scrip amplifies mimetic effects and encourages innovation. The whole thing only becomes a zero sum game if, for a given quantity of scrip, no economic activity is permitted to motivate an exchange and only purely stochastic or thymotic means decides who gets what.

158 BenK June 22, 2016 at 8:19 am

What’s taught and what’s presented are two different things.
Economics (as in ‘home economics’) is a very useful suite of things that can be taught. As in ‘spend no more than you earn unless you are sovereign.’

Presenting division of labor is easy. Presenting the mathematics is hard. Teaching it is about asking students to do homework in groups.

159 cowboydroid June 22, 2016 at 8:29 am

The state requires a certain level of economic ignorance to function, and the state retains an effective monopoly on education. Thus, teaching economics would be self defeating for the state.

160 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:07 am

The state requires a certain level of economic ignorance to function,

No it does not.

161 cowboydroid June 22, 2016 at 12:46 pm

It’s the only way politicians can convince voters that their harmful policies will actually benefit the voters. The more people understand economics, the less legitimacy the states maintains.

162 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:24 am

The state requires a certain level of economic ignorance to maintain a level of self-serving dysfunction. Crony Crony Crony

163 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:38 am

No, it requires a level of public inattention, which it will generally get whether or not the public is economically ignorant.

164 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

OK. But inattention is probably the most common cause of ignorance.

165 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:55 pm

An unwiped fart hole is the most common cause of my ass smelling. You should still suck it, though.

166 sdb June 22, 2016 at 8:32 am

My kid’s 3rd grade teacher integrated finance into her classroom. The bid for “jobs”, earned a salary, paid taxes and rent, could use a “credit card”, etc.. I was impressed how much this helped my kid learn relatively advanced math skills. I understand that this was not a course in economics per se, but there were a number of economic lessons embedded in their class. I suspect kids are much more receptive to picking up basic economic concepts than we give them credit for. One unique bit about this teacher is that she was an accountant before going back to school to be an elementary school teacher. I suspect most teachers lack the knowledge base to pull something like this off.

167 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:27 am

I wish some economics had been integrated into introductory algebra. It would have helped answer our question: “What good is this stuff anyway”, better than the, “some day it will be evident to you,” answer we were given.

168 Adam June 22, 2016 at 9:44 am

Using calculus to calculate Marginal cost and Marginal revenue from an algebraic total cost/revenue function is a brilliant way to motivate Sixth formers taking Maths and Economics to master Calculus. Then you can look at point elasticities by diffing.

169 CD June 22, 2016 at 8:48 am

0. Because economics is not on the year-end standardized tests that almost all curriculum is built around. It is not a myth that teachers spend all their time teaching to the test.

170 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:04 am

And well they should. If you want it taught and want it learned, put it on the test. It cramps some teachers’ style, but we don’t hire them to be stylish.

171 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:28 am

If it helped students to better understand mathematical concepts it would improve test scores.

172 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:01 am

Because secondary programs are fragmented already and place excess emphasis on academic subjects. Also, instruction in economics incorporates graphical reasoning, calculus, and statistics. Only a modest minority leave high school with Calc I under their belt and teaching statistics is rare in secondary school.

At the secondary level, it’s enough of a challenge crafting a proper curriculum in history, regional geography, and civics. These only encompass narrative, exposition, map reading, and descriptive statistics, all of which should be in the skill set of a secondary student with the chops to be following an academic curriculum.

First things first.

173 Thomas June 22, 2016 at 7:24 pm

You can teach econ with linear equations…

174 dearieme June 22, 2016 at 9:05 am

You’re meant to teach your children economics at your knee. Few fathers have much useful to say about Beowulf, but you’d hope that every adult could give a little instruction in economics. There isn’t all that much to it, after all.

175 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:20 am

No, you need to teach children how to allocate their income and control their spending. That’s household finance, not economics.

176 Pshrnk June 22, 2016 at 9:29 am


177 Adam June 22, 2016 at 9:39 am

Opportunity cost is fundamental to all economics, Allocating a scarce budget to competing wants is an opportunity cost decision. Controlling spending is Behavioural Economics
As Gary Becker taught us, and I teach my Sixth Formers (Age 16-18), everything is Economics.
Get Literature to do Mayor of Casterbridge, it all hinges on a a proto-futures ,market, Explain why the agricultural revolution lead to farm labourers with zero marginal revenue product and How mill owners had jobs with large marginal revenue product to explain the industrial revolution, etc etc.

A key point.as a state school teacher in the UK, I earn way below the median for a Warwick Economics graduate, but above the median for a graduate in English, History or Religious studies.

Dont moan, get in there. There is no state school in the world that would not take you up on an offer to teach Economics 101 to a group of their students

178 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:06 am

One very rarely encounters a dweeb know-it-all. Must be a Canadian type.

179 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:48 am

In which sense do I suggest that I know it all? All I say is that it’s complicated, and suggest that other basic finance skills might be more useful.

By contradiction, do you suggest that econ 101 is 100% right 100% of the time? That would be a “know it all” attitude, no?

180 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:09 am

In which sense do I suggest that I know it all?

In your first two sentences above, wherein you presume to instruct the economics profession on how to order their introductory course material.

181 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 12:04 pm

My qualifications and experience put me on a good position to have an educated opinion on the matter.

But never mind that – anyone who has taken a few econ courses should feel welcome to hold whatever opinion they wish to hold on such questions.

182 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:06 pm

My qualifications and experience put me on a good position to have an educated opinion on the matter.

Why? You give no evidence of that in your postings and no one can check either because you use pseudonyms.

183 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Well if you need to know my qualifications to decide whether my point is valid, then clearly you’re not qualified to evaluate my opinion on the matter.

184 Urso June 22, 2016 at 9:18 am

The paranoia in this comment thread is genuinely hilarious. TIL that American high schools are run by a hardened cadre of devoted socialists who are purposefully censoring free market economic viewpoints. And all along I thought they were mostly suburban wives who wanted summers off.

185 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 9:24 am

Actually, north of 40% of those on secondary school faculties are male. You’re right, of course, though I think that trade (and teacher-training programs) tend to attract and retain a certain type who are standard-issue Democratic voters. Even a generation ago, not one high school teacher I ever encountered was an identifiable Republican. and I grew up in a county which was Republican by default. I think my elementary schoolteacher cousin votes Republican.

186 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:54 am

Funny how people don’t tend to support parties which are openly hostile to their profession.

187 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:06 am

Funny how you haven’t a clue about either local school boards or state legislatures in this country.

188 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 12:12 pm

I’m not talking about school boards or state legislatures. Which, you’re right, I don’t know a whole lot about, especially considering that there are 50 states with 50 sets of rules and an enormously diverse number of local school boards within each of them, each of which with their own ways of doing many different things.

However, there’s hardly an easier way to predict Republican affiliation than someone who holds negative attitudes towards the teaching profession, and who expresses them widely. I don’t mean to say that all Republicans are like that, but that the people who are like that are Republican, and this makes it unlikely that members of a profession will support a party that houses such negative attitudes towards them.

189 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm

I’m not talking about school boards or state legislatures. Which, you’re right, I don’t know a whole lot about, especially considering that there are 50 states with 50 sets of rules and an enormously diverse number of local school boards within each of them, each of which with their own ways of doing many different things.

Then it’s settled. STFU.

190 Urso June 22, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Per the first hit on google: “Nationally, 44 percent of voters are registered as Democrats, 24 percent as independents, 30 percent as Republicans, and 2 percent as members of smaller parties.” Of course I have no clue whether those numbers are accurate, but they seem about right to me. I certainly don’t think the K-12 system is some liberal indoctrination system. Nor do I think there’s some insane Republican war on teachers, the fevered blogging of salon.com aside. I’m quite certain there are plenty of suburban Republican counties that pay teachers a lot more than urban Democratic counties. Teacher pay isn’t party-dependent.

191 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Some qualifications:

1. See Michelle Ker’s commentary concerning what interests teacher-training faculties and edupolicy wonks. (“The GAP”).

2. What happens when local control is impeded? You get the influence of bureaucracies in state capitals and Washington, which in turn reflect the professional ethos promoted by guild institutions. See in particular KC Johnson’s critique of NCATE.

3. What motivates local politicians more than anything else? It would seem to be keeping the swag from above. No clue as to why school boards are willing to tolerate horrid behavior problems to keep $700,000 in federal grant money, but they are.

192 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 7:43 pm

Urso – I’m not suggesting that the Republican party has a war on teachers. I may not have stated the point clearly. If a teacher is going to encounter strongly anti-teacher perspectives in a political setting, it is almost certainly going to originate from a Republican.

193 Kromer June 22, 2016 at 9:37 am

These things are not mutually exclusive, Urso.

194 Tribulatsiya June 22, 2016 at 9:23 am

I think that in several states, high-school students are required to take a half-year unit on “Free Enterprise”. An Education Commission of the States website, current as of 2007, lists such a requirement in Georgia and Louisiana; and I believe that Arizona’s added such a requirement since then. There may be others; these were the only ones that I turned up in a very quick Google search.

I haven’t seen the textbooks for these courses, so I don’t know whether they actually impart any useful knowledge of economics; but it looks like a natural place to teach that sort of thing, without the need to sacrifice Beowulf or the Spanish-American War.

195 John Mansfield June 22, 2016 at 9:33 am

“Is there a single theory in science that tells 90% of the story 90% of the time that they bother to teach?”

Newton’s Laws of Motion following Galilean kinematics do that for physics. My study and work in engineering since high school could well be described as mostly figuring out how Newton’s Laws relate to the task at hand and developing techniques for applying those laws.

196 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

For Netownian applications that are used in the examples, they are 99.999999% of the story 100% of the time.

Newtonian physics are never taught as offering understanding at the levels at which they start to fail. However, in the same spirit, it would be good to at least mention to students that Newtonian physics fall apart at particle levels, but are basically useful for most purposes, without having to get into detailed particle physics or anything.

197 Butler T. Reynolds June 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

After enduring the malaise of the 1970s, the Georgia legislature thought that it would be a good idea to require every high school student take a class in economics in order to graduate. I guess their thinking was that a populace more informed in economics would quit asking them to pass really stupid laws when the economy dipped.

As you might imagine, such a blanket requirement means that even the dumbest blockheads need to be able to pass the class. So, the class in economics pretty much requires memorizing a few definitions to regurgitate on a test.

198 Cliff June 22, 2016 at 5:37 pm

If you can’t learn econ 101 then you probably should not graduate high school, you should probably be an apprentice

199 John Thacker June 22, 2016 at 9:42 am

When I was a kid we at least had things like the Apple II edutainment game Lemonade Stand.

200 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 10:57 pm

When I was a kid we had toilet paper. Never used it, so my ass smelled; still does in fact. Now suck it!

201 Kromer June 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

Before tackling Econ in K-12, we should get real about how poorly even Econ 101 is grasped at the college level. It’s a class taken by at least 50% of college grads, yet grads retain nothing.

Pedagogy is partly to blame.. Other than the odd honors seminar, Intro classes focus exclusively on graphical reasoning at the expense of computation.

e.g. To the extent people remember anything from their Econ class it is MR=MC. But how many could actually explain why? I myself would have trouble teaching the concept bumbling through a series of graphs… but I know that the equation for profit is:

Pi = Total Revenue – Total Cost

You learn how to maximize a function in day-1 of Calc–> take the first derivative, set equal to zero, solve–> thats why MR=MC.

There are dozens of such examples in Econ 101 that would help people actually understand and retain.

Graphs are great for reasoning through scenarios, but as a method of teaching the underlying concept, they place a much higher mental load on the student in comparison to simple equations.

202 Unanimous June 22, 2016 at 6:38 pm

And the only thing you remebered is wrong. No one running any business aims to operate at a point on a curve with a zero derivative.

203 Kromer June 22, 2016 at 9:27 pm

You don’t think you’re going to find a local max at a critical point?

204 Unanimous June 23, 2016 at 4:38 am

I’m saying that no business optimises their activities in this manner. They have people trying to push costs down. They have people trying to sell. They have people thinking of new products, and merging and splitting businesses, and trying to understand what customers want. They have people trying to do all sorts of things, and they are happy if they make their budget numbers. They don’t care if they are operating at a horizontal part of a curve that they never look at.

205 Li Zhi June 22, 2016 at 9:56 am

Random comments:
Amazing that most here assume “economics” is (predominantly) about money.
Start by explaining homo economicus. If that doesn’t leave them in utter disbelief, they haven’t understood.
How about a chapter on supply and demand in the spouse/s.o. market? You know, how appearance, intelligence, socio-economic background, etc., can be valued and usually sum to rough equivalence just as if it is a monetary transaction.
How would this impact their perception of the teachers union?
Why would people who have almost no direct experience in abstract supply and demand issues (ie teachers) be expected to be competent with this subject? How many of them actually took two or more courses of econ in college?
And as far as the law of supply and demand (arguably a ‘fundamental’) it seems to me pretty hard to explain why, if cost should rise with demand, that for the most part cost drops as demand (volume) rises.
String all the economists in the world together and they wouldn’t reach a conclusion. Does that have any bearing?

206 Mc June 23, 2016 at 5:57 pm

@ Li Zhi, incentives matter . . .

207 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

I don’t know how normal this is, but my high school offered several courses geared towards business planning and one course in economics. I don’t see why these should be mandatory, but incorporating some economics principles into mathematics or social studies courses would seem sensible.

I think the main emphasis in curriculum development relating to economics should be to offer competing perspectives, not indoctrination. I do not see this as being the case in existing AP economics curriculum, for example.

In one application to teach economics at the high school level, I was given a short test. I answered the questions “correctly”, and then gave detailed written answers to point out to the administrators that each and every question was a leading question where a nuanced answer actually legitimized one of the “wrong” answers, and that the test would have done more to filter out those who are not staunch free market advocates than to test for actual knowledge (the actual AP exams do not contain such questions, and I was trying to inform the school that their sample test was biased in such a manner). I confirmed that I was able to teach the students how to do well on the test, but would play no part in indoctrination via omission of contrary perspectives. It was the fastest rejection I got in the process. Oh well, selection is a two-way street. I don’t want to work for people who want people to indoctrinate people.

208 Urso June 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Well they probably read your harangues and thought “gee this guy sounds crazy,” which you do in this post.

209 Unanimous June 22, 2016 at 6:30 pm

He doesn’t sound crazy. He sounds logical.

210 Troll me June 22, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Please be more specific.

211 dion June 22, 2016 at 10:25 am

Econs at its heart is about logical reasoning, skills that kindergarten or even primary school students are not well equipped with. Through introduction of addition and subtraction in math through real life application; comprehending of the world through inferring human behavior in english through comprehension passages; the rational-capricious spectrum that blight the passages or historical events- students are given a solid grounding before theyre introduced to the esoteric world thats econs. While useful, econs as a subject is hard to fathom- even with its watered down version- for children who are far more accustomed and at ease with finding dory, smartphone games and the like.

212 Laura Miller June 22, 2016 at 10:39 am

I have offered to do an introductory “child-level” class (4th grade) for each of my children, multiple times, and none of the teachers EVER contacted me, even to say they didn’t think they could fit me in. This is AFTER filling out a form asking if I have anything to contribute to the class, any special expertise, etc. I have a Ph.D. in economics, taught at the college level, and this is my career but evidently it’s not important enough to try to fit in a 20 minute lesson during the school year.

213 Floccina June 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

I think that much bigger gains could be made in schooling by focusing on delivering students more useful knowledge and training them on more useful skills than in trying to teach them more, or make them smarter. Home economics might be even better that Micro and Macro and could include drilling EMH into there heads, even if it is wrong it is the way for most of us to operate.

Also teach the simplest principals of biology, chemistry, physics and yes economics, focusing on the areas where they are most likely to be taken of advantage of. Too bad so many teachers are not knowledgeable enough in these areas to help their students not be taken by hucksters selling GMO free organic foods, get rich quick schemes etc.

214 Floccina June 22, 2016 at 4:48 pm

We make subjects more difficult that they should be for the median student because we want an academic contest so we know which students to advance.

215 R Richard Schweitzer June 22, 2016 at 10:54 am

Perhaps “Economics” does not belong in the “public education” curricula (at the secondary level) because its topics are subject to use as indoctrinations for the formation of perceptions of relationships (social and financial).

216 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 11:04 am

And you think history and English are not so subject?

217 Richard Besserer June 22, 2016 at 11:09 am

It may be just a poor choice of school—or state. Delaware (for example) mandates economic education as part of the standard social studies curriculum.


If you’re looking for teaching materials suitable for K-8, you could do worse than the Council for Economic Education (councilforeconed.org).

If the Stonecutters are petrified that teaching children about economics would lead to their overthrow in a libertarian revolution tomorrow morning (or thereabouts), it doesn’t show!

218 arun June 22, 2016 at 11:55 am

I recall reading somewhere that a progressive prep school in Edwardian England tried to introduce Economics classes along side History and Geography and so on. But the subject failed to appeal to the imagination of the children. I wonder if that would still be the case?

219 Hazel Meade June 22, 2016 at 11:56 am

How about we just give them a firmer grounding in math and science?

Beowulf is for learning how to read. Essentially all the English classes are just mechanisms to get students to practice reading books. The subject matter of the books is almost irrelevant. They just pick Beowulf for fun, I guess.

I’m not even sure they should be studying history. It’s at least as prone to being misused for political indoctrination as economics, probably more so. History is so often all about who you’re supposed to remember to hate and why. Let’s read about the time that other country attacked our country and how we beat them. Let’s read about how the evil other people killed our people, and think about how we need to get revenge for it. Grrrr. Let’s remember that we all work for the government and we should serve it. Now let’s swear an oath of fealty to this piece of cloth.

History sucks.

We should teach kids applied math like doing compound interest and making a monthly household budget. Of course some leftists will still complain about this (it covertly indoctrinates kids with the notion that money is in finite supply). Almost everything we teach our kids smuggles in moral value judgements. At least we should focus our teaching on stuff that is objectively factual and useful to them and society. I’m pretty sure reading and math and science and balancing a checkbook foot the bill. History should be eliminated in favor of shop classes.

220 FUBAR007 June 22, 2016 at 12:41 pm

“It’s not currently done well, therefore it cannot be done well therefore it is not necessary and should be done away with.”


Teaching history falls under the “building citizens/voters” aspect of education. Most people are not auto-didacts or intellectually curious enough to seek out and consume such material on their own. So, some minimal instruction in how we got where are is necessary.

When taught correctly, history is about conveying wisdom. Here’s what our ancestors did wrong, and here’s what they did right. Learn from their example. If done well, it also stimulates critical thinking and lateral thinking. (I will grant that most current history instruction at the K-12 level is on balance mediocre.)

Humans are not naturally wise, but rather innately foolish and overconfident. Removing history from the curriculum just pours gasoline on that fire.

221 Hazel Meade June 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm

If schools were private people could select which version of history they wished to indoctrinate their children with. As it stands, teaching history to third graders is essentially just a tool for the establishment to get it’s intellectual hooks into children as young as possible and mold them into it’s obedient servants. “Building citizens/voters” is really just a code-phrase for “indoctrinating people to obey power and accept the system that exists”. Maybe we could refrain from teaching history until high school, where the students might have a few critical thinking skills developed and be more able to resist and criticize the curriculum they are being fed.

I’m not saying learning history doesn’t have any value. I’m saying that it’s impossible to teach the kind of nuanced history you’re discussing to an 8 year old, and any attempt to try is inevitably going to descend into little more than rah-rah patriotism or identity politics tribalism.

At least if you’re going to criticize the teaching of economics to third graders, you have to apply the same criticism to the teaching of history.

222 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

When taught correctly, history is about conveying wisdom. Here’s what our ancestors did wrong, and here’s what they did right. Learn from their example. If done well, it also stimulates critical thinking and lateral thinking. (I will grant that most current history instruction at the K-12 level is on balance mediocre.)

No, that’s what history is to political activists. History is first and foremost a mastery of the historical narrative. There’s quite enough value judgement incorporated into event selection. You don’t need to be adding to it by having one of Rachel Lotan’s minions sitting in judgement of your ancestors.

223 Art Deco June 22, 2016 at 2:10 pm

How about we just give them a firmer grounding in math and science?

Because these two are not equivalents. Math is a tool which can be used across an array of disciplines. Secondary school science instruction is, for the most part, sterile unless supplemented with tertiary level instruction. That’s not the case with history or literature.

224 ex-PFC Wintergreen June 22, 2016 at 12:15 pm

I can only imagine what a terror to my teacher I would’ve been if I had known about the signalling theory of education back when I was a young recalcitrant.

225 Devin Lavelle June 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I’d argue that many important foundations are taught. They don’t have an “economics” class or talk about Adam Smith but concepts of sharing, trading and value permeate everything from hisotry to literature to word problems in math to recess.

226 James June 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I took an elective econ class for half a semester in high school. The one of two takeaways from the class was that there exists a capitalist economy in America and a command economy in the Soviet Union. The other takeaway was learning about the rise of neo-Nazis in America from a documentary video.

My teacher was out sick often.

227 pyroseed13 June 22, 2016 at 2:48 pm

I can see some value in teaching microeconomics, particularly the concepts of opportunity cost and comparative advantage, to high school students. But not so much for macro. I had AP Marco my senior year. My teacher was a Republican actually (This is in a NJ public school by the way), and had us read Eat the Rich by P.J. O’Rourke. The class definitely stimulated my interest in the subject, and is partly the reason for my chosen career path. But looking back on it, I think the way it was taught might give people the wrong impression of what economics actually is. I remember learning what basically amounts to old Keyensianism. Is there any value in teaching that to high school students, given that when they get to college they will learn that these models are incomplete and in some cases just wrong?

228 Jazi Zilber June 22, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Economics are politically sensitive.

Who will decide the schedule?

Most mainstream economic ideas will be deemed political and biased by some (quite vocal) groups. So the actual building of a curriculum isnt so simple….

229 Walt June 22, 2016 at 3:54 pm

There was one lesson from my economics class in high school, in 1972, that I remember.
I somehow lost the course textbook in the first week. Set it down somewhere, I don’t know. Gone.
Mr. Kramer, the teacher gave me another and told me to be more careful.
Losing the first was unprecedented in my academic career but not unique as I mislaid the second one less than a month later.
Mr. Kramer was annoyed and, while handing me another, told me that textbooks don’t grow on trees.
All in all, a useful demonstration of public school economics.

230 jseliger June 22, 2016 at 4:14 pm

I’d guess that path dependence is the biggest answer. In the last decade I’ve seen numerous questions about why computer science isn’t more widely and better taught in high schools. Some answer lies with the difficulty of hiring competent teachers for it, but the bigger part of the answer is probably that the high school curriculum got codified in the late 19th or early 20th Century. We’ve seen some changes since then, but they’ve mostly been tinkering around the edges rather than fundamental, core additions that almost every school can be counted on to have.

231 Unanimous June 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm

I’d be horified to have economics taught in school, because there is so much crap in it. First example is the consensus view of what money is – i.e. fractional reserve system. This is a fiction, that many people in the real world of banking have said is incorrect, including not so long ago the Bank of England in a public statement. If economists can’t get money straight then they have no right to teach anything. Economics has always been about politics, and is riddled with pushers of unfounded “left” and “right” philosophies. There are interesting things in it, and intelligent people working in it, but also so much utter falsehood.

232 Thomas June 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Micro 101 teaches what is 100% true 100% of the time. Nuance is a weasel word used in place of an actual criticism. If you’ll remember micro, you may remember that all ‘exceptions’ are representable in the supply and demand functions. Theoretical economics is a practice in logic, starting with the assumption that for rational people, incentives matter.

233 education realist June 22, 2016 at 11:47 pm

Several states require an economics class senior year, as a companion to government. Amazing how many commenters didn’t bother to ascertain that. Oh, wait–why should they bother when Tyler didn’t even take the time? Once again, Tyler shows he knows next to nothing about K-12 public education.

Todd’s question betrays some serious delusions about the capacity of elementary school children, much less teachers. Economics in k-6 is a waste of time. I’m not convinced it’s time well spent in high school.

234 Art Deco June 23, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Tyler shows he knows next to nothing about K-12 public education.

The title of the post is ‘Why isn’t more economics taught in high school?’, and incorporates the sentence “That all said, AP economics seems to be growing at a decent clip over the last twenty years, and in some states such as Texas senior-level economics is now required. ”

Betwixt and between presenting yourself as a psychometrics maven, you might improve your reading comprehension.

235 education realist June 23, 2016 at 4:00 pm

I don’t present myself as a psychometrics anything. That said, you’re right that I focused more on the email question rather than his text around it, and wrongly blamed Tyler for the emailer’s question.

236 carlolspln June 23, 2016 at 12:42 am

95% of ‘economics’ is horse shit.

Time is better spent teaching real subjects such as science and math.

Learning how to frame a physics problem is something one can draw from her entire life, on the job, reading the paper, thinking about society.

Economics today is like the Catholic Church in the fourteenth C, giving comfort to despots.

Think I’m exaggerating? See any post here the last two years on TC ‘recommending’ the Trans Pacific Partnership.

237 dan1111 June 23, 2016 at 2:58 am

Yes, I think you’re exaggerating.

Whatever point you are trying to make about the TPP, you seem to think it’s self evident, but it is not.

238 carlolspln June 23, 2016 at 5:55 pm
239 Antonios June 24, 2016 at 1:19 am

Even rudimentary economists don’t become teachers.

Even the best Spanish-language speakers, historians, literature lovers become teachers.

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