Greg Mankiw writes,

In my utopia, everyone would study the principles of economics in high school, just as everyone now studies American history. Understanding basic economics is essential for being an intelligent voter. I would be out of a job teaching ec 10, but sometimes job loss is a part of progress.

He is reacting to a post by my co-blogger.

I think it’s not that simple. Robert Frank wrote,

Unfortunately, however, most students seem to emerge from introductory economics courses without having learned even the most important basic principles.

I agree. It’s one thing to cram supply-and-demand analysis into students’ short-term memory. It’s quite another to get them to think like economists when they see a real-world issue.

For example, consider a bill to force Wal-Mart to provide health insurance to its workers. I am not saying that economists should teach people to oppose such a bill, but someone who really understands economics would at least consider the effect that this could have on the wages and employment opportunities that Wal-Mart offers. My guess is that most people who take high school economics, or even Ec 10 at Harvard, fail to make that connection.

I had lunch today with a friend whose daughter is planning to major in philosophy, with minors in religious studies and classics. My reaction was to say (to my friend’s horror), “Sounds like she could be on the path to becoming a right-winger.”

My reasoning is that those are areas of study where one learns critical thinking. Critical thinking is necessary, although not sufficient, for being able to understand the role of freedom and markets.

Also, that combination of major and minors show a willingness to grapple with ideas with little need to follow the crowd. That, too, is a necessary condition for becoming a libertarian, given that the crowd is caught up in national socialism.

I have more hope for someone who majors in philosophy than for someone who takes freshman economics.