In "The Use of Knowledge in Society," Hayek describes how the price system within a competitive economy communicates and utlizes dispersed knowledge to coordinate the plans of economic actors as a marvel. As he says: "I have deliberately used the word 'marvel' to shock the reader out of the complacency with which we often take the workings of this mechanism for granted."
We too often take for granted the complex coordination of the extensive division of labor that constitutes the modern economy that the price system engenders. Breaking students out of this intellectual slumber is one of the primary tasks of the economic teacher -- and it is a task as Hayek's paper demonstrates that doesn't end with the final exam in Econ 101, but must be reiterated at each stage from basic to advanced study of economics.
In my new column for The Freeman -- "The Economic Way of Thinking" -- I will attempt to do just that, as well as try to commuicate with other teachers of economics ways in which I have tried to get across the principles of economics to my students. It is my sincere hope that the readers of The Freeman will either see the world around them differently after reading my columns, or teach the subject slightly differently due to something I try out in the column.
To me economic science represents a golden key that unlocks all the mysteries of the universe. Once in possession of that key, the owner can understand the way the world works -- not just market behavior proper, but all of human action and interaction from the most base to the most sacred. But the point of this golden key is not that its value lies in unique possession, but instead grows in value the more it is shared and appreciated by others. This is ultimately my theory of social change through education. Education, at its best, is a transformative experience. We learn, and in our learning, we become something that we hadn't imagined we could be before. Learning economics can be, and must be, presented as an intellectual adventure of a lifetime. Teachers of economics must see the teaching of economics as an invitation to inquiry to their students, and get them to see the principles of the economic way of thinking as this golden key to understanding. Once in possession of the key, the journey of unlocking the mysteries of the world is just beginning. Strap in, and get ready, for the most exhilirating ride through all of human history, and all of varied and diverse human practices at experiments in living. What we learn through this study is that while there are an infinite number of ways people can try to live, there are very few ways they can live together in peace and prosperity. Learning to live better together is made possible through economic understanding.
For my first column, therefore, I begin with going over "The Mystery of the Mundane."
Let me know as teachers of economics what you think, what ideas you have used to communicate a similar message, and also ways that you think I can improve as a communicator of economic ideas. I also would appreciate learning what topics you think I should address that will benefit your students and also perhaps help you in the task of passing on the golden key to understanding that economics represents to your students.
Thanks to Max Borders for this opportunity.