The Region

Re: Economic Literacy

Letters to the Editor

Published March 1, 1999  | March 1999 issue

Editor: The December issue of The Region was dedicated to the topic of economic literacy and drew many responses from readers of the magazine and users of our Web site, where an interactive version of the magazine's survey appeared. The messages are appreciated and some of the ideas will help us shape our upcoming national symposium on economic literacy (the June 1999 Region will report on the symposium). A number of the respondents debated the merits (or demerits) of our survey questions and answers, while others wrote more generally about the topic of economic literacy and education. We include a small sampling of the latter group here.

Dear Editor,
I would like to thank you for posting the interactive quiz on your Web site. I believe that this quiz is a good public service to all Americans. By showing how "economically illiterate" most of the population is, perhaps it will push more Americans and business leaders to become more economically minded.

I heard about your quiz from my Principles of Macroeconomics professor here at Auburn University. I must say that I was, at first, scoffing at the simplicity of some of the questions; however, seeing the statistics you gave on scoring (404 respondents scored less than 45 percent?) was a real wake-up call for me. This survey proves that if the federal government wants our country to be more economically sound, they need to push for more economic education in public high schools.

I remember only having to take one semester of economics in high school, after that I thought I had a good idea of how markets in Westernized countries worked. After taking my first economics course at Auburn last quarter, I realized that there was so much more to economics than spending and saving. It is almost scary to think that we may have a whole generation not knowing the effects that some popular legislation can have on an economy (i.e., raising the minimum wage and shifts in the interest rates due to political pressures).

While I am not an economics major, I do believe that I now, thanks to more economic education, have a better understanding of how American markets work, and how to correct and prevent problems. Again, thank you for bringing this type of illiteracy to the attention of the American public.

Eric Speaks
Sophomore, Management Information Systems
Auburn University

Dear Editor,
V.12, Number 4, of The Region was a useful issue in terms of exploring the concept of economic literacy. A couple of brief comments. ...

Professor Heyne's piece on "Moral Misunderstanding and the Justification of Markets" was an attempt to explain the perceived irreconciliation between the world of ethics and of economics. Rather than justifying the inherent "rightness" of economic practices vs. the ingrained sense of morality that we are brought up with, Prof. Heyne rightly suggests that to make an economics education work, we need to listen to those who hold convictions seemingly at odds with those of their teachers. This can also be applied to those who come to the classroom with notions of creationism while the biology teachers among us go blue in the face trying to teach the theory of natural selection.

While agreeing with Prof. Heyne's overall tone I wonder how he sees the view of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who has talked about "the ethical dimension" of economics (featured in [a recent] Scientific American and many of his publications). Prof. Sen's views are closer to mine in explaining economic processes as they apply to the poorest in developing nations, where much of my own work takes place.

Kudos to The Region for making the topic of economic literacy a "discussable" one, without the jargon that frequently renders the subject inaccessible to lay people; moreover, to lay out the argument in such terms that those of us who inherently feel that economics is a basic component of education are able to take these arguments and make an effective case for our convictions.

Omar A. Khan
Associate Faculty
Johns Hopkins University

Dear Editor,
As a college teacher of economics for 10 years, I would guess that the majority of principles of economics students come away from the course with a strong dislike of the subject, and disbelief of what is taught. Part of the problem is the self-selection of economics professors, and their own inadequate social science training. They are committed to a rational choice model of human behavior. This was my orientation too, until I started teaching myself some psychology. This leads to a much deeper understanding of what motivates human action. If we could weave some psychology and evolutionary biology into introductory economics, it would make it far more interesting for students, and more believable. Those professors in your article who think "more calculus" is the answer just don't get it!

Paul Emberton, Ph.D.