Economist: Why is macroeconomics so hard to teach?: "Mr Rowe remained... 'fairly low down the totem pole' as a researcher. But he became a thunderbird at conveying macroeconomic intuition...

...Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, an economics blog. Many a controversy has benefited from one of his ingenious analogies or numerical parables.... Professors may find themselves ill-prepared for the macro classroom. To become academics they had to answer erudite questions posed by more senior members of the discipline. To become good teachers of introductory macro, they have to give clear answers to muddled students. That requires an intuitive feel for the subject. It is not enough to crank through the equations. Indeed, Mr Rowe attributes part of his success as a teacher to his shortcomings as a mathematician....

Macroeconomics is difficult to teach partly because its theorists (classical, Keynesian, monetarist, New Classical and New Keynesian, among others) disagree about so much. It is difficult also because the textbooks disagree about so little. To reach the widest possible audience, most cover similar material: a miscellany of models that are not always consistent with each other or even with themselves. The result is that many professors must teach things they do not believe. Professors can also sometimes forget that macroeconomics is full of faux amis: words that mean something different in everyday speech. “Saving” is an example. In ordinary life, it means the opposite of spending. In macroeconomics it means the opposite of consumption (or, more precisely, not buying new consumer goods with income earned from production). In macro, someone who spends a fortune on a house is saving even if they have emptied their bank account to do so. The term can be so confusing that Mr Rowe thinks it should be banished from the discipline.

More difficulties, Mr Rowe suggests, follow from the fact that macroeconomics is a bit “weird”. For him, the discipline’s fundamental question is the one broached by Jean-Baptiste Say 200 years ago: does supply create its own demand? The answer, which is often no, is odd. Why do people go to the trouble of producing and marketing stuff (thereby adding to supply) if not to obtain equally valuable goods with the proceeds (thereby adding to demand)? Because students take recessions for granted, they may not realise how peculiar they are. Professors may recognise the strangeness. But they sometimes struggle or neglect to explain it. Mr Rowe did not encounter Say’s law explicitly until well into graduate school...


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