Economics: How to Teach it and How Not To
By Arnold Kling
It’s hard to imagine the invisible hand. After all, it’s invisible. Leaving things alone, leaving people to their own desires and dreams would seem like the last way to make the world a better place. So most people have a natural disposition for using the government to make things better. It would seem that managing something is always better than leaving something unmanaged. But it’s not true. I think the world would be a better place if more people understood the virtues of unmanaged, uncoordinated, unorganized, undesigned action.
Ms. Lieber, a fictional economics professor at Stanford, is the alter ego of Russ Roberts in his forthcoming novel The Price of Everything. Roberts takes on perhaps the biggest challenge in economic education–explaining the concept of spontaneous order. It is at the same time fundamental to all of economics and yet so subtle and advanced that many professors, not to mention students, lack a true grasp of it.
The format of a novel allows Roberts to insert some melodrama into what otherwise is a set of economics lessons given by Ruth Lieber to Ramon Fernandez, a fictional Cuban-born tennis star attending Stanford. Fernandez serves up typical anti-market bias, and Lieber returns with statistics and logic on the other side. They volley back and forth.
I hope the book is a best-seller. I hope it becomes a hit movie. I certainly plan to recommend it to anyone who wants an introduction to economics, and to many people who don’t.
Ironically, shortly before my review copy arrived, Tom Keene of Bloomberg radio talked with me in (or you may have to go here and search for it–I can’t make a direct link work) that ranged over the topics of economic education and book recommendations. I forget what I said, but the headline they gave it was “Kling Calls Advanced Placement Economics ‘Horrible’.”
If you listen to the entire interview, you can hear me attempt to draw a libertarian lesson from the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The scene I describe shows the weakness of the desire for human freedom. It implies that some people prefer the security of tyranny, whatever their complaints about it.