I Heart Textbook Authors
By Bryan Caplan
The wise Alex Tabarrok just pointed out a fun fact: My best book publicity is coming from textbook authors:
If I taught classes with 800 students, you could cynically argue that these guys are trying to get me to assign their textbooks. But I rarely teach classes with more than 30 students.
Alex’s theory, which I immediately endorsed, is that textbook authors are especially conscious of the bizarre gap between what economists say as teachers and what economists say as researchers. As I explain in my book:
[I]ntroductory economics courses still tacitly assume that students arrive with biased beliefs, and try to set them straight, leading to better policy. Paul Samuelson famously remarked that “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws — or crafts its advanced treaties — if I can write its economics textbooks.” This assumes, as teachers of economics usually do, that students arrive with systematic errors.
What a striking situation: As researchers, economists do not mention systematically biased economic beliefs; as teachers, they take their existence for granted. One might blame ossified textbooks for lagging behind research, or teachers for failing to expose their students to cutting-edge work. But the hypothesis that people hold systematically biased beliefs about economics has not been falsified; it has barely been tested.
While writing this post, I’ve realized that I omitted something important from my Acknowledgements. Alongside everyone else, I should have said: “Let me also thank the textbook authors of economics, for keeping the idea of systematically biased beliefs alive long after it was banished from the journals.” Well, better late than never: Thanks, textbook authors. You’re doing good while (hopefully) doing well.
Which reminds me. I end my Acknowledgements with this line: “My apologies to anyone I missed. Can I make it up to you at our next lunch?” Consider that a standing lunch offer to any econ textbook author passing through Fairfax.