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In My Inbox: Public Economic Argument

A corresopondent writes:

Dear Professor DeLong:

This fall I am teaching a section of the required freshman writing course at Malefactor of Great Wealth University, a course that emphasizes the analysis of argument and other related rhetorical skills, as well as instruction and practice in academic writing. All sections are organized around a single issue, and I have chosen to focus on public argument on the economy leading up to and following the events of late 2008.

I have been enjoying your blog and the fine array of links. My main question for you is this: can you recommend any good, short primers that can provide my students with enough economic literacy to be able to follow the public arguments made by, say, Alan Greenspan or Paul Krugman?

I would also be curious to know your answer to the following: What would you as an economist say to a member of the public who did not have an extensive economic education but nevertheless was trying to decide, say, what public economic policies to support? Is it a matter of picking the right experts to trust?

Thanks very much for your time and consideration!

Candidate for MA in Rhetoric and Freshman Writing Instructor
Malefactor of Great Wealth University
Sunny City, USA

My answer:


The problem is that everything I can think of takes a side (the fact that I think one side is clearly right is not of much help for your purposes)...

I can think of three things to do:

  1. Set them to read, as preliminary background, one nineteenth-century book, Walter Bagehot's Lombard Street, and one early twentieth century book, John Maynard Keynes's Tract on Monetary Reform. There is a possibility of some confusion: when people today say "Keynesian" they mean late Keynes, and the Tract is early Keynes. But if that is made clear, it should work well: those two lay out pretty much all the issues and do so in a historical context divorced from today...

  2. Set them to read, as preliminary background, the paperback macroeconomics half of Krugman and Wells's introductory economics textbook...

  3. Set them to read, as preliminary background, the macroeconomics half of Cowen and Tabarrok's forthcoming introductory economics textbook...

As to your second question, all I can say is that I am trying as hard as I can in lots of different forums, with as best as I can see no success...

Better suggestions, guys?


Brad DeLong