In the Future, I Will Have Been Proven Correct


How I missed this, I don’t know, but here is Barry Eichengreen on the future of economics textbooks:

Will future generations do better? One of the more interesting exercises in which I engaged at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos was a collective effort to imagine the contents of a Principles of Economics textbook in 2033. There was no dearth of ideas and topics, participants argued, that existing textbooks neglected, and that should receive more attention two decades from now.

Economists working on the border of economics and psychology, for example, argued that behavioral finance, in which human foibles are brought to bear to explain the failure of the so-called efficient markets hypothesis, would be given more prominence. Economic historians, meanwhile, argued that future textbooks would embed analysis of recent experience in the longer-term historical record. Among other things, this would allow economists-in-training to take the evolution of economic institutions more seriously.

Development economists, for their part, argued that much more attention would be paid to randomized trials and field experiments. Applied econometricians pointed to the growing importance of “big data” and to the likelihood that large data sets will have significantly enhanced our understanding of economic decision-making by 2033.

Naturally, everyone’s specialty is underrepresented, and the world would be better off if that were not the case. I pity the economics students of 2033 if these people get their way…for while the textbook that they carry around might not weigh as much as a cinder block, it will certainly be a sprawling mess. To conclude, Eichengreen makes this odd statement:

Something similar is likely to happen to textbooks, especially in economics, where everyone has an opinion and first-hand experience with the subject. Textbooks will be like wikis, with faculty adopters and students modifying text and contributing content. There still may be a role for the author as gatekeeper; but the textbook will know longer be the font of wisdom, and its writer will no longer control the table of contents.

Is Eichengreen saying that in the future, the current role of a (good) instructor will take place in textbooks themselves? That seems really confusing, and certainly a poor way to shepherd a student through subject matter. Textbooks should be an anchor, presenting fundamental concepts. The value-added of an instructor is to bring those concepts to life, and adapt them in ways they deem to be useful. If you’re learning any subject straight from a textbook, do yourself a favor and find a new teacher (or school). Ultimately, I guess none of this speculation matters if we’re able to simply upload concepts to our brains.

h/t Saturos

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