About the Approach

When people ask me what I do, I say, “I teach Economics.” While I am a full professor at two universities, a productive academic with an active research program (past president of the History of Economics Society) and honourable service commitments to my schools, my professional identity is largely tied to  my teaching.

As a young assistant professor, the immortality of publishing articles in journals that would forever be in libraries was an important goal. But over time, I came to realize how few people would read those articles, let alone be affected by them. Most of my, and I suspect your, “academic footprint” on this earth will be through our students. Over a career, we teach tens of thousands of students.

As economists and teachers, what do we want our lasting “economic footprint” to be? There is a wonderful old Saturday Night Live skit by Father Guido Sarducci called “The Five Minute University. ” His premise is to teach in five minutes what an average college or university graduate remembers five years after graduating. For economics, he states it’s the two words “supply and demand.” That’s it.

The serious question behind the skit, the one that motivates this book, is “What do we really want our students to remember of what we teach them in an introductory economics class?” The vast, vast majority of students in introductory economics never take another economics course. Economics for Life is designed to help those students learn what they need to know to be economically literate citizens. If we can teach students the fundamentals of thinking like an economist, they will be equipped to make smarter choices in their lives as consumers, as businesspeople, and as citizens evaluating policies proposed by politicians.

Three Keys to Smart ChoicesFor microeconomics, the essentials are grounded in the Three Keys to Smart Choices, which form the core of Microeconomics for Life: Smart Choices for You.

Key 1: Choose only when additional benefits are greater than additional opportunity costs.

Key 2: Count only additional benefits and additional opportunity costs.

Key 3: Be sure to count all additional benefits and costs, including implicit costs and externalities.

We can teach all topics in micro with those three keys.

Because economists disagree far more about macroeconomics than microeconomics, I incorporated that disagreement into the core of the macro textbook as “the fundamental macroeconomic question.”

If left alone by government, do the price mechanisms of market economies adjust quickly to maintain steady growth in living standards, full employment, and stable prices?

Not only do economists disagree over the answer to this question, so do the politicians our students will be voting for, for the rest of their lives. I believe the essential macroeconomic concepts students must know in order to answer that question for themselves — the macroeconomics they need to know as citizens — are included in Macroeconomics for Life: Smart Choices for All?

Focusing on essential concepts means letting go of many of the more technical concepts and tools that most introductory courses include to prepare students to become economics majors. I consider these exclusions to be a major strength of the textbooks. The excluded concepts detract from the student’s accepting the value of the basic economic analysis that will enhance her decision-making throughout their life. As one strays beyond the core concepts and stories set out in Economics for Life, diminishing returns set in rapidly.

It is far more valuable, I believe, for students to understand and apply the core economic concepts well than to be exposed to a wide range of concepts they will not master and therefore will likely soon forget.

Economics for Life is also designed to get students interested in economics as a way of thinking that will help them make smarter choices in their lives. Concepts are not presented as theoretical ideas that must be learned in isolation, or as formulas for a set of problems. Instead, each chapter begins with a scenario, and the concepts emerge logically as the narrative unfolds.

If you are reading this, you may share at least part of that goal. My goal with the Instructor’s Manual is to try and make it as easy and as satisfying as possible for you to succeed in helping students learn Economics, whether in small classrooms, large classrooms, online, or in blended courses.