CORE Project's "The Economy": an attempt to change how economics is taught

Actualizado: 5 ago 2020

Felipe Correa, ECLAC consultant.

In a recent post, Gabriel Porcile presented a new introductory book of economics called “The Economy”, published by the CORE Project. It features a modern digital format (including interactive graphs and diagrams), videos, biographies of important economists, and allows students to choose which mathematic tool to use. Regarding the new introductory textbook of CORE, we think it represents a great step for all students and scholars interested in the teaching of economics with a historical perspective, and that represents the complexities of our society in a more realistic way. This is an admirable achievement, considering it is not a book about the History of Economic Thought. It is useful to compare CORE’s book with the traditional introductory texts used in economics. The two traditional books that are most often used are N. G. Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics” (1997) and Paul Samuelson’s “Economics” (1948). A frequently used methodology to do a comparative analysis of books is the so-called Text Data Mining technique. Among its techniques, one consists of counting the frequency of strategic words that are repeated in the text.

Most repeated words by text and frequency of repetition

Note: "The Economy" based on the first ten chapters published. "Principles of Economics" in his 7th edition. "Economy" in his 19th edition in Spanish adapted for Latin America. The words of this last book has been translated from Spanish.

Based on previous graph, we can say that Economics is still the study of prices, the market, firms, costs, demand, and goods though analysing curves. Thus, this book does not represent a revolution in the way economics are understood and studied. It continues analysing the same topics. In general, economics continues being the study of the markets and its price formation. Economics are no longer as focused on quantities and supply, or on the equilibrium analysis of the supply and the demand (determining prices and quantities). Other traditionally important concepts that are mentioned less are: interest, taxes, governments, countries, capital, growth, income, money, dollars, inflation, production, products. Instead, the new focus is to try to explain economic decisions based on other concepts that have not traditionally been included in the analysis: time, work, the concept of free (e.g. free market), people, hours, economic (s), new and marginal. One of the most important aspects of this new book is the way economics is understood. Words such as time, hours and new, shows a historical perspective of the discipline. In this new book the economy has history, as well as the society and the people. There is an acknowledgment that what we know today as markets, prices, exchange, trade or production, has not always been as it is today, and has not always been understood in the same way we do today. Therefore, we should not expect it will be the same in the future. The marginal analysis has a main position in the economic science, excluding other schools of thought that are equally valid but less represented. This would not be a problem if economics were a shared field between different theories with different explanatory power for different issues and contexts. Nevertheless the only approached offered is the marginal one. This is the main problem economics has, it has been habitually done in the traditional books, and unfortunately, it is now repeated in the new (CORE) book. In this new book, the concept marginal is even more used than in the traditional ones. It is imperative to actually introduce and actively use different approaches, something that is missing in CORE’s book. Just as the traditional books, in CORE’s book the marginal approach is again given a special position in the discipline, placing it as the most important school of thought, and the one which most deserves to be studied. What economics is not yet about, and what is urgently needed in the discipline, is pluralism in the way it is taught. There is an urgent need of including different theoretical schools in the formal teaching of economics. Going beyond the marginal approach is urgent, but unfortunately (just as in the traditional books), this is the main approach used in CORE’s book. We need to practice a different economic rationality and open more space for creativity and innovation, beyond formalization, mathematics and curves. We need to open the discipline to other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences – for example anthropology or psychology- which in several situations has better tools than economics to explain some phenomena (such as limited rationality, altruism, cooperation in some societies, poverty, inequality or environmental issues). We are still very far from having a pluralistic discipline; nevertheless, this new textbook represents a great step compared to the traditional options and the current situation of the discipline, in terms of historicity and complexity, but we are still far from achieving pluralism and debate spaces with different ideas in economics teaching. References:

  • Core Project (2014). The Economy. Available online from http://core-econ.org/

  • Mankiw, N. G. (2014). Principles of Economics.7th Edition. Cengage Learning.

  • Samuelson, P.A. & Nordhaus, W.D. (2010).Economía, con aplicaciones a Latinoamérica. 19ª Edición. McGraw-Hill, Interamericana editores, Mexico.

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