In an interview with Naomi Klein for last week’s issue of The Nation, Michael Moore lamented that economics is not commonly taught in public schools. He believes that if it were, the average citizen would be more aware of how the economy affects his own particular circumstances and thus he would be far less tolerant of corporate greed. It’s a nice dream, but I hope it never becomes reality, because it will probably not have the desired effect.

Most people suffer to some extent from the delusion that ‘if everyone knew what I know, then everyone would believe what I believe.’ The natural corollary to that is, ‘everyone should be taught what I know.’ (Incidentally, the title of the interview is “America’s Teacher.”) It’s very difficult to understand how someone could share our knowledge and not our beliefs, but I guarantee that some people will leave Moore’s new film thinking,  ‘Wow, I can get filthy rich without having to produce anything of value? Sign me up!” You just can’t reach some people.

A high school course in economics is not likely to progress very far beyond basic macroeconomics, i.e. supply and demand, GDP, Federal Reserve, etc. It’s likely to be a course on classical economics along with some basic information about how the U.S. economy is supposed to be run. This is all well and good, but it may lead people to believe they know a lot about economics when in fact they know but the rudiments. And no teacher who values his job is likely to give serious treatment to any socialist or populist theories.

What’s more, economics is a complex discipline and ‘teachability’ becomes an issue. There are some texts that teachers just can’t expect students to understand. Therefore, the curricula, insofar as they went beyond a dry textbook at all, would likely skew away from Keynes and toward Milton Friedman or, God forbid, Ayn Rand. And, of course, there’s the practical problem of enticing people with expertise in economics to teach in public high schools instead of earning twice as much somewhere else.

It would certainly be nice if more, even most Americans had a firm grasp of economics, real-world as well as classical. At least then, our public debate could focus on the features of economic life that actually exist. This would likely rein in the discourse on both the right and left. But in a national climate in which a substantial percentage of people don’t think evolution should be taught in schools, I see little hope for economics.

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