Wednesday , November 14 2018
Home / Worthwhile Canadian Initiative / Micro Profs teaching Intro Macro

Micro Profs teaching Intro Macro

Summary:
My crappy little Twitter poll isn't conclusive of course, but it mostly agrees with my priors based on anecdotal evidence, so I think it's probably mostly right. I think this points to a problem, in two senses: Finding profs willing and able to teach Intro well is not easy. It's low status (and economists dumping on "Econ101" doesn't help); it doesn't help with your research (which is what gives most status and career advancement); and some profs are not good at teaching large classes and explaining things simply and clearly to students who might not be natural economists and who don't know much math. And if more than half the profs in a department (Macro profs are a minority) aren't comfortable teaching the Macro half of Intro, this makes it harder. (This can be ameliorated only

Topics:
Nick Rowe considers the following as important: , , ,

This could be interesting, too:

Scott Sumner writes Rules vs. political interference

John H. Cochrane writes Kotlikoff on the Big Con

Nick Rowe writes Bicycle Disequilibrium Theory

Stephen Gordon writes Tracking the Bank of Canada’s staff projections through the 2008-9 recession

My crappy little Twitter poll isn't conclusive of course, but it mostly agrees with my priors based on anecdotal evidence, so I think it's probably mostly right.

MicroProfs

I think this points to a problem, in two senses:

  1. Finding profs willing and able to teach Intro well is not easy. It's low status (and economists dumping on "Econ101" doesn't help); it doesn't help with your research (which is what gives most status and career advancement); and some profs are not good at teaching large classes and explaining things simply and clearly to students who might not be natural economists and who don't know much math. And if more than half the profs in a department (Macro profs are a minority) aren't comfortable teaching the Macro half of Intro, this makes it harder. (This can be ameliorated only partly by having Micro profs teach only Intro Micro and not Intro Macro).
  2. As K D said in reply to my Twitter poll: "How in the heck can a person have an econ phd and not understand the basics of both? We all passed qualifying exams. An Econ PhD should be capable of teaching intermediate in both, IMO." He's got a point. Something's not right. It is a puzzle that needs to be explained. But the puzzle is the asymmetry.

I think this problem has always been there (at least in the 40 years I have been teaching Intro), but suspect it's been getting worse over time as the content of graduate Macro has become more different from the content of Intro Macro.

This is what I think is going on:

All teaching benefits from having an intuitive feel for the subject you're teaching. But this is more true for Intro than for more advanced courses in economics. Because the students themselves, being (mostly) new to economics (some have taken it in high school), don't yet have an intuitive feel for the economic perspective, and it's your job to teach it to them. When you are teaching Intro you are going to get all sorts of questions coming out of left field, and you have to do your best to answer them; you can't just crank through the model and point to the equations. Teaching Intro is not like passing a PhD comprehensive exam (though that might say something about PhD comp exams).

Macro profs "get" Micro; Micro profs don't "get" Macro. Macro just feels weird to them.

Yes of course this is a gross generalisation, to which there are many exceptions. But I think there is a real asymmetry here.

If I'm right about that (and Microeconomists can tell me whether they think I'm right), we need to ask why that is. (And it's obviously not because Micro profs are less smart than Macro profs.) Here is my hypothesis:

Macro feels weird to Micro profs because Macro is weird. And Macro is weird because Macro (often implicitly) assumes monetary exchange and Micro doesn't. (Yes I'm back on my hobbyhorse again.)

It's got nothing to do with Macro being about "the economy as a whole" and Micro being about parts of the whole (which we sometimes misleadingly tell our Intro students when trying to explain the difference between Micro and Macro). Yes Macro is (mostly) about "the economy as a whole", but a lot of Micro is too. And Micro profs are comfortable thinking about General Equilibrium as well as Partial Equilibrium.

It's got nothing to do with Money as Unit of Account. Microeconomists are perfectly comfortable treating any good as numeraire, so if you tell them the numeraire is money, because that's what real people use as numeraire, they're fine with that.

I think it's about the role of Money as Medium of Exchange. Which makes general equilibrium, and general disequilibrium when some prices are "sticky", very different from a barter economy or one with a central Walrasian market where any combination of goods can be swapped with any other combination of goods by all agents meeting simultaneously in one big market.

If my hunch is right, then Micro profs should feel more comfortable teaching the Long Run Growth theory part of Intro Macro, because Long Run Growth theory ignores monetary exchange. It's the other part of Intro Macro -- Short Run Macro -- that they won't feel comfortable with. Microeconomists: do you think I'm right about that?

Suppose we introduced Short Run Macro like this:

"Micro starts out with Scarcity and Choice. Then it talks about how people Gain From Trade (exchange), and Markets and Supply and Demand. And you can get Gains From Trade even in a pure endowment economy with no production. But if you add Comparative Advantage (Ricardo) and Economies of Scale (Adam Smith) you motivate Division of Labour in production and the Gains From Trade get even bigger. And what Micro says about all that is important. But Macro adds that trade is very difficult if you don't use money to buy and sell goods. And if something goes wrong with the supply or demand for money, this can make trade more difficult in all markets in which money is used. So some of the potential Gains From Trade are lost, which makes people worse off, and reduces the amount of goods produced. A shortage (excess demand) of money, for example, can reduce demand in all markets where money is used to buy whatever is being sold in that market. And that's a big economic problem."

So I'm asking Microeconomists in particular: if we introduced Short Run Macro that way, would it make more sense to you than Y=C+I+G+NX and Saving and Investment and Income and Expenditure and Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply?

[Today (tomorrow if you count Saturdays) is my last day at "work". I'm vaguely thinking about retirement projects

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *