Sunday, October 29, 2006

Good Economics is Good Story Telling

I was at a symposium about a month ago and one thing we talked about was how the abstract thinking in economics can be hard for our students. Then some teachers said they tell stories. I think that a good abstraction will be a good story and vice-versa (maybe not a perfect correlation there but pretty strong). As Steven Landsburg put it one of his books, "there never was a hare and an tortoise who raced, but the story tells an important lesson that slow and steady wins the race." A great example of this is an article Paul Krugman wrote in Slate. I think he presents an abstract idea very well by telling a good story. He shows how increased productivity can reduce employment in one sector of the economy but increase it elsewhere while everyone gains. As Krugman says "A simple story is not the same as a simplistic one."

5 comments:

champ said...

I like the idea of abstraction, but does it really help?

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for checking in. Yes, I think it does. An abstraction is a simplification that pulls out only the essence you need to understand something.

Westmoreland said...

I agree. Abstraction is a phenomenal way to communicate even the most simple ideas because of the form's ability to spot on angles or maybe cast things in a different light. Thinking about ideas in abstract forms takes great mental exercise, but the outcome is often worthwhile. I think it would be helpful to apply this kind of thinking to any idea no matter how complex or simple. People love stories, so give them parables!

Cyril Morong said...

westmoreland: thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

Anonymous said...

I've been using the Krugman piece for sometime now. Not to talk about trade and productivity, but to illustrate that simple models can represent profound ideas. One of the most common complaints from good students is that they just don't believe such simple stories are realistic enough.