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The use of dichotomies in introductory economics*

Mathieu Dufour and Ian J. Seda-Irizarry

Keywords: dichotomies; state; market; Smith; Keynes; Marx

The explanation of complex issues usually requires techniques that imply some sort of abstraction. In economics, and popular discourse in general, dichotomies are an example of such devices. Be it the opposition between monetary and real phenomena, free trade and protectionism, or idealism and materialism, dichotomies are pervasive heuristic techniques. Students taking introductory courses in economics come with preconceived ideas that are, in many senses, shaped by dichotomies, which makes them a useful but tricky teaching tool. In this article, we outline a way to make use of this to transcend these priors and foster critical thinking, using one of the prominent dichotomies, that between the market and the state.

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