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Economics teaching - micro before macro - February 2017

Proposition: "It is more effective to teach an introductory course in micro-economics first before an introductory course in macro-economics"

For clarity, we provided the following extra guidance to panellist to vote:

  • Agree / strongly agree - if they think it's better (to some extent) to teach micro before macro
  • Disagree / strongly disagree - if they think it's better (to some extent) to teach macro before micro
  • Uncertain - if they think it doesn't matter at all whether micro or macro is taught first
  • No opinion - if they don't have any views on this proposition.

For transparency, we also asked the panellists to answer the following question: Additional question: "On balance, I consider myself: a) more of a microeconomist than a macroeconomist or b) more of a macroeconomist than a microeconomist"

Overview of poll results by Professor Ross Guest

Professor Ross Guest

It is an oft-debated topic in economics departments. First, economists have their own preferences for micro or macro and the relative importance of each to an education in economics. From a marketing perspective, some argue that it is better to start students with the sort of economics that is likely to be more appealing, or that is more likely to provide the necessary building blocks for further learning in economics.

Read more


Responses (30)


 

Peter Abelson

Disagree

7

I think economic education should start with presenting big picture concepts to students - the subject matter of economics, circular flow model of the economy,  GDP, employment, role of capital and labour, role of government, income distribution, inflation, productivity and growth. Logically, macroeconomics comes next and then microeconomics.


 

Kym Anderson

Strongly agree

10


 

Garry Barrett

Agree

8


 

Harry Bloch

Strongly disagree

8


 

Jeff Borland

Strongly agree

9

So many concepts that are integral to micro also these days seem to provide the underpinning for macro (such as optimal choice and equilibrium).  Beginning with the study of single decision-making units and markets, and then proceeding to study the national economy, is a logical and building block structure that I think students find it easy to grasp.  Sometimes it is said that starting with macro makes it easier to engage students, but I think there are at least as many interesting and relevant examples/applications in micro that can make students enthusiastic about studying economics.


 

David Butler

Strongly agree

7

I believe macroeconomic explanations are easier to follow if students have already been introduced to the economic way of reasoning about how decisions are made. Otherwise the assumptions behind rational expectations or long run model of economic growth might seem to be arbitrary.


 

Matthew Butlin

Agree

6

On balance, I believe it is more effective to teach macro-economics first, provided it is well-motivated in terms of its connection to real economic issues.  However, I note that I am not in the business of teaching economics although I do the odd guest lecture that undoubtedly sits in the general area of micro economics.


 

Lisa Cameron

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

6

I don't think it matters much. Ideally they would be taught at the same time. An advantage of teaching micro first is that it introduces the student to the assumptions at the micro-level that are implicit in many of the macro models.


 

Fabrizio Carmignani

Disagree

8

It is an interesting question with no simple answer. If we are talking about a first year course in a Bachelor of Economics, then the answer is probably yes: micro first and then macro is likely to be more effective, albeit I would still devote the first couple of sessions of this course to the presentation of a broader macro picture of economics. But if instead we are talking about a first year course that goes into programmes like the Bachelor of Commerce or the Bachelor of Business, then the answer is no: micro first is not necessarily the best approach. This is because for most of the students in the BCom or the BBus, the first year course in economics will be their only exposure to economics. In that case, I think it would be better to have a course that tackles the "big" issues: growth, unemployment, inflation, debt, etc..., and this necessarily will have to be a more macro course, with possibly a few sessions on the micro fundations of the big issues.


 

Lin Crase

Agree

9


 

Kevin Davis

No opinion

10


 

Uwe Dulleck

Agree

7

Not particular interesting this question, but yes, I am still believe it makes sense to understand the foundations first. I feel one of the more interesting questions is how this will change with the change of the micro curriculum given the advent of behavioural approaches. We may enter a time where its less clear that macro builds on micro.


 

Mardi Dungey

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

10

Choosing between teaching microeconomics or macroeconomics first is like asking a teacher to choose which of literacy or numeracy needs to be taught first. As we teach our young children to operate in the world we teach them concepts of both literacy and numeracy as complementary and equivalently necessary skills to function in the real world. Teaching microeconomics or macroeconomics first is not the issue. Good teaching requires stimulating the student with interesting ideas and a desire to learn. Different folk are going to be excited about different aspects of the discipline. This is particularly relevant when we hear about recent calls for greater gender diversity amongst economics students for recruitment to places such as the RBA - maybe teaching in one particular way is more likely to engage one set of students and another way engages a different set of students. We need to find ways to make the subject relevant, interesting, engaging and accessible to a large variety of students with a variety of different opinions and viewpoints. We want to give them skills to articulate those viewpoints and hence influence policy and business decision making in the future.


 

Chris Edmond

Agree

8


 

Saul Eslake

No opinion

9


 

Allan Fels

Agree

8


 

Gigi Foster

Agree

7

The reasons why macroeconomic aggregates move as they do are found ultimately in the responses of individual economic actors - consumers, producers, exporters, importers, workers, employers - to changed circumstances.  Each agent reacts individually to changes in the prices, constraints, competitors, information, and so on that s/he personally faces.  These myriad individual reactions combine to create dynamism in the whole economy that we can analyse using the tools of macroeconomics.  Teaching how single agents are likely to respond to changes in their economic circumstances, which is the focus of basic microeconomics, is therefore a natural first step on which to build a deep understanding of macroeconomics.


 

john freebairn

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

10

Provided a general introduction about the economics discipline is provided, coherent subjects for either microeconomics or macroeconomics can be offerred as the initial subject. While there are overlaps of questions and methodologies, and there is a compelling case for students to understand both micro and macro, one does not necessarily require the other as a prerequisite.


 

Lata Gangadharan

Strongly agree

9

I think it is more effective to teach Microeconomics first as it can help lay the foundations for macroeconomics. Most students would be able to relate to individual behavior and firm behavior and this helps them connect later to aggregate behavior.


 

Stephen King

Strongly agree

10

To understand intro macro students need to understand the basis of trade and where prices come from - basic microeconomics.


 

Geoffrey Kingston

Disagree

7

Starting an economics course with macro helps to ground the subject. Students can more easily relate their classes to stories in the media, and learn that facts trump theories, at least to the extent the two things can be separated. Notably, the national accounts are very educational. Macro controversies can be used to enliven the course. Caveats here are that the introductory macro course should be applied (not overloaded with multiplier formulas of dubious veracity) and should present both sides of the controversies.


 

Rodney Maddock

Disagree

6

Personally I prefer to teach macro first because I found students easier to motivate around macroeconomic issues. In part this is because I regard macro and microeconomics as entirely different disciplines, using entirely different methodologies, so that it does not make any intellectual difference which order they are taught in: the choice is practical, not principled. Obviously this puts me well outside the mainstream of current academic macroeconomics. My work outside academia has reinforced the view that the two fields are separate.


 

Tony Makin

Disagree

7

Macroeconomic phenomena - financial crises, inflation, unemployment, government budgets, public debt, interest rates, asset prices, exchange rates, competitiveness, trade balances, economic growth, wages, and productivity  - affect households' livelihood, now and in the future.  For that reason macro issues are always in the news.  Because macro tends to be more topical - and controversial - than micro (as indispensable as it is) it has the potential to better engage students in the first instance, especially those who've not studied economics before.


 

Warwick McKibbin

Agree

6


 

James Morley

Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

7

Samuelson's classic textbook started with macro. People seemed quite capable of learning economics well enough when his text was ubiquitous. But I think people are just as capable learning economics if they start with micro. I have yet to see a compelling pedagogical argument for a specific ordering. My guess is that it is only people who don't really believe macro exists who would suggest it is essential to start with micro. I'm not one of those people.


 

Margaret Nowak

Agree

6

Grounding in micro-economic concepts is important for achieving full appreciation of the issues in macroeconomics. However, this should also include an introduction to behavioural economics which is contributing now to deeper understanding of the limitations of economic man as a guide to policy and thus depth to policy discussions.  A problem based approach to teaching economics combines the insights of Micro, Behavioural and Macro to look deeply at selected policies/issues and will facilitate deeper learning /understanding than either standard micro or macro courses which can seem by students to be very removed from the world they live in.


 

John Quiggin

Strongly disagree

8

My argument is spelt out here http://crookedtimber.org/2013/10/25/the-macro-foundations-of-microeconomics/  My only doubt is that I am less sure about teaching strategy than about the logical relationship


 

Jeffrey Sheen

Disagree

8

Macroeconomics can be  taught easily an effectively at an introductory level without having introductory microeconomics as a prerequisite. Of course, both micro and macro analysis at all levels benefit from a good understanding of the other.


 

Hugh Sibly

Agree

9

All economics is built on the key foundations of microeconomics, i.e opportunity cost, individual choice, issues of competition etc. So that it is important that those studying macro have exposure to a micro course. Ideally micro would come first, so students can fully understand the underpinnings of macro analysis while they are learning it.


 

Joaquin Vespignani

Strongly agree

10

It is critical to understand demand and supply principles because it is applicable to many macroeconomic issues such as: demand and supply for: money, labor, etc.