Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Econ 101 Morality: The Amiable, the Mundane, and the Market

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Old hands of Econ 101, we have long grappled with resistance on the part of classroom students to appreciate the virtues of free markets. That resistance in late years appears to have increased. Many students resist edification in free markets because they see it as a lowdown attempt to justify immoral behavior. We offer advice pitched primarily to the classroom instructor but that is also pertinent to textbook authors and the like. Our first tip is to allow that your course is meant to edify. Embrace a moral purpose. Persuade your students that Econ 101 is crucial to morality in modern life. Our chief tip is to frame the moral elements of the course as a tension between two moralities: the emotionally appealing morality of familiar groups, which we term amiable morality; and the less appealing morality of commutative justice, mundane morality. The tension is stressful and far-reaching. Students need to consider that human evolution has very strongly implanted in them amiable morality, but that judgments flowing from such morality are unsuitable, or sorely insufficient, with regard to much human experience in the modern world, and particularly with regard to government policy. The two moralities thus are complementary, each with its proper place within our world. The economics instructor, then, should treat not only the virtues of free markets but also the reasons why edification in those virtues is naturally resisted.