Sunday, April 21, 2013

Letter to an undergrad on learning economics

Dear John,

Sorry to hear that your econ classes are not going so well.  Many undergraduate econ classes are built around mathematical models, and largely devoid of application.  This is not the only way to teach the subject, but most econ professors learned it this way, so that is how they teach it. 

First of all, it used to be a lot worse, partly because competition between schools for students was not as intense.  Remember that competition aligns the incentives of firms with the goals of consumers.  Without much competition,  there was little pressure to teach well.  And it seemed as if I had more than my share of bad professors and graduate students teaching the classes. 

I took it as a challenge not to let bad teachers get in the way of my education.  I remember gloating whenever I got a good grade in a poorly taught class.  Although the expression was not yet in use, I would have said "I don't need no stinking professor to learn econ."  It helped to get into a study group.  Made it fun (us against the professor), and being able to talk about the subject with others made it easier to understand.  It is a truism that you don't really understand the ideas of economics until you have to explain them to someone else.  Plus, you won't feel so alienated. 

There are some really good online lectures (with quizzes) on a range of various topics at MR University.  I suspect that listening to these may help you see the point of some of the abstract models you are learning.  I took the development econ class, and it is pretty good.

I will leave you with the horrible truth that education is like everything else in life--you will get out of it exactly what you put into it, no more no less. 

Good luck.  Luke


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