Principles of Macroeconomics: Toward a Multiparadigmatic Approach

By Underwood, Daniel A. | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Principles of Macroeconomics: Toward a Multiparadigmatic Approach


Underwood, Daniel A., Journal of Economic Issues


A two-fold, yet parallel, response to the decline in economics majors has emerged between variants of the profession: neoclassical economics (NCE) and original institutional economics (OIE) (Becker 1997; Siegfreid 1999; Knoedler and Underwood 2003). Both sponsor conference sessions focusing on pedagogic innovations; both host workshops to advance teaching careers. The distinction in approach is in point of emphasis. NCE emphasize pedagogy, the adoption of innovations from the scholarship of teaching. While OIE agree pedagogy is important, they believe another reason enrollments have moved from economics to other fields is the content of economics: it has become unnecessarily enamored of mathematical nuances interesting only to professional economists. As a result, the subject matter is not relevant to contemporary undergraduates. Understood from the framework of cognitive psychology, students unable to connect Principles of Economics (Principles) with their lives consider it little more than environmental noise, discarding it from further consideration (Knoedler and Underwood 2003). As most students only consider Principles as one avenue to pursue general education requirements, enrollment is predominantly driven by student expectations of the extent to which Principles will enhance their general education experience. (1) Increased enrollment in Principles, gateway to the major, requires it be relevant to the student's life experience. Thus, a pedagogic transformation of Principles will also require a change in content.

The General Education Menu

If the primary reason students enroll in Principles is to satisfy general education requirements, "content" in Principles should be evaluated accordingly. (2) While general educational requirements are institution specific, commonality is found in a curriculum that inculcates an understanding and appreciation of civilization's values through broad exposure to discipline-specific knowledge. Simultaneously, students develop the fundamental tools--reading, writing, mathematics--needed to communicate that understanding critically. Determination of what constitutes "critical thinking" can be gleaned from a cursory review of "relevant" literature. First, the purpose of critical thinking is to evaluate goals or outcomes (Borg and Borg 2001; Ennis 1987; Greenlaw and DeLoach 2003; Siegfreid et al. 1991). Second, development of critical thinking skills follows a "cognitive progression," beginning with dualistic (yes, no) demarcations in argumentation to synthetic relativistic comparisons between competing perspectives (Borg and Borg 2001; Ennis 1987; Greenlaw and DeLoach 2003). Third, development of complex critical thinking skills requires not only systematic modes of analysis but development and application of alternative modes to explain the same phenomena (Borg and Borg 2001; Greenlaw and DeLoach 2003; Seigfreid et al. 1991).

One way to advance development of critical thinking skills in Principles is the use of alternative paradigms (Knoedler and Underwood 2003). In this paper, critical thinking is defined as the application of empirically grounded reason to advance understanding of phenomena of interest. While this definition is consistent with those above, it has an additional point of emphasis delineating the unique contribution of Principles relative to other general education courses: economics has a well-defined epistemology that establishes a test for knowledge. While NCE has a rich tradition of quantitative reasoning and use of empirical methods, albeit, all too often in the form of a misconstrued attachment to positivism, it often fails to advance understanding of phenomena of interest on the part of students for two reasons. First, NCE Principles employ a singular mode of explanation (paradigm) all too often in an obtuse (from the student's perspective) mathematical fashion. Let's face it: there is no inherent interest or excitement in first-order conditions! …

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