Why Studying Economics Requires Curiosity

July 11, 2022
Over at the American Institute for Economic Research, I contend that curiosity is the important intellectual virtue for a successful encounter with economics.
Here are a few excerpts pertaining to our pedagogical approach:
Variation mysteries can supply the motivation for doing the hard work of both developing and learning economic theory.
Indeed, the very purpose of developing economic theory is to generate answers to these and many other questions. The purpose of theory is not merely to derive free-floating abstractions like The Law of Demand, as foundationally important as that insight is, as analytically beret as we would be without it. The Law of Demand tells us that if the price of tomatoes increases, and that if nothing else changes, people will buy the same number of tomatoes as before, or fewer. But if that’s all my students grasp about this bedrock concept, I have failed as a teacher. The tomato market is the beginning, not the end of our analysis. If the Law of Demand can render the tomato market intelligible, what other phenomena of more widespread appeal might it also illuminate?
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What we can learn from the Freakonomics framing is that economic educators should seek first to awaken every human being’s natural curiosity about the world. I have yet to meet a student who lacks innate curiosity about the world; I have, by contrast, at times failed to channel that curiosity toward the answers economics can provide. There is nothing mercenary about economic educators’ exploiting peoples’ inherent curiosity as fuel to motivate their learning of pure economic theory.