Wednesday, January 2, 2019

let's not emphasize behavioral economics *in introductory economics courses*

Scott Sumner has a great post (with an inappropriately truncated title, which I have corrected) on why introductory courses in microeconomics should not emphasize behavioral economics. But he's biased against behavioral economics, so lest that cause anyone to discount Scott's opinion, I will state that I, as a behavioral economist, wholeheartedly agree.

Scott says with dismay that when speaking with non-economists, they perk up when the topic drifts towards behavioral economics. I of course love it when non-economists perk up when they find out what kind of economics I work on, but the dismay usually follows shortly thereafter when I'm encouraged with "That's great! There's so much wrong in introductory economics; you can teach it right!" This says it all:
Non-economists also tend to reject the central ideas of basic economics, and for reasons that are not well justified.  For the economics profession, our “value added” comes not from spoon feeding behavioral theories that the public is already inclined to accept, rather it is in teaching well-established basic principles of which the public is highly skeptical.
The list of common well-established myths that follows is so great I'm going to steal it for use in my upcoming microeconomics course.

With that said, his dismissal of the field more generally reads a bit like an astrophysist saying "What use is microbiology? People claim it can be useful for the study of extraterrestrial life but I see little evidence for this." Come on...