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How Should Econ 101 Be Taught?

By Donald J. Boudreaux

Harvard Economics wunderkind Raj Chetty hopes to change the way students are introduced to economics. Chetty wants there to be more analysis of data and less attention to economic theory. As described by Dylan Matthews writing for Vox, "If Chetty is an advocate for anything, it's for the notion that economics is an empirical discipline, a science just as much as, say, medicine is."1 Chetty does not say that mainstream economic theory is irrelevant and, hence, dispensable. Yet he clearly believes that this theory is overrated, overemphasized, and overused relative to analyses of empirical data. To help remedy this perceived problem, Chetty developed and teaches a new undergraduate course at Harvard: "Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems."2 Because his course is meant to be an alternative—indeed, a better—introduction to economics than a traditional course in ECON 101, no economics-principles course is prerequisite for Chetty's offering. Studen...

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