The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major
Edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick
Chapter 2: Teaching Students to ‘Think About the Economy’
2. Teaching students to “think about the economy” Joseph Persky David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick’s “The economics major as part of a liberal education” does us all a major service by articulating a clear and forceful case for reducing the hold of “departmentalism” on liberal arts majors in general and economics majors in particular. At the core of their well-thought-out program is the proposal to train and employ a cadre of “liberal arts economists” as opposed to “department economists.” This program gives us an explicit and constructive counterpoint to current practice. Precisely because it makes its case so clearly, Colander and McGoldrick’s essay has already stimulated considerable debate. My own sense is that they have very correctly identified the problem as one of “narrowness,” but have gone too far in suggesting something of a caste system for a brave new world of liberal arts economics. As suggested in the report, our colleagues in other fields have rightly accused economists of a narrowness in outlook. Often this narrowness is coupled with exaggerated claims to scientific rigor and pretensions to mathematical precision. This narrowness can easily take on the coloration of ideological bias. For the most part, scholars in sociology, political science, and history are more than willing to acknowledge that economic motivations lie behind much individual activity, economic divisions lie behind much political activity, and economic interests pervade history. Philosophers recognize that in approaching ethics they must wrestle with the often socially useful consequences of economic self-interest and greed. Scientists know...
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