Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Relationship between Economics and Ethics and the Effectiveness of Normative Economics on Student Attitudes and Learning

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Relationship between Economics and Ethics and the Effectiveness of Normative Economics on Student Attitudes and Learning

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Ethics and normative values are generally not considered proper topics of discussion in the economics classroom. Indeed, most modern economists believe that a scientific and positivist approach is the only legitimate methodology in economics and that the study and teaching of economics should be value-free (i.e., free of normative discussions or analysis). Although economics is sometimes referred to as the "Queen of the Social Sciences" it seems that the profession has succeeded in removing her crown of morality and ethics in the name of "rigorous science." However, it is clear that many economists forget that economics originated as a moral science and that Adam Smith, the recognized "father of economics," viewed it as a moral science.

Tension exists between those who want economics to be considered a natural science and those who want economics to be viewed as "political economy." It is for this reason that many classrooms consist of lectures based on textbook theory only (positive analysis) where students are not challenged to think of the ethical consequences of various economic actions or public policies. To counter this typical pedagogical philosophy, The National Council on Economic Education published Teaching the Ethical Foundations of Economics (Wight and Morton 2007), a book of lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom where students are asked to consider and analyze various ethical issues and the economic consequences of those issues. Additionally, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty publishes the Journal of Markets and Morality, which includes essays on religion, economics, and even the overlap with economic education (Stapleford 2000; Lee and Schug 2011). Even the new principles textbook released by Cowen and Tabarrok (2010) contains a chapter entitled "Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy." So it appears there are still those who have not forgotten the history of economics nor the importance of incorporating discussions of normative issues into the economics classroom.

In a previous paper we not only looked at the effectiveness of alternative teaching methods on student learning demonstrated by measuring differences in pre- and post-tests on the topics of supply and demand and property rights, we also assessed the impact of normative economic analysis, discussions, and materials on those objective assessments (Malek et al. 2014). In this paper we examine the effects of incorporating normative materials, analysis, and discussion into the economics classroom on students' political and economic views, in order to determine if students became more market-oriented with the addition of the normative teaching components. We first look at student political and ethical attitudes before and after taking a principles class and then assess whether or not adding normative economic analysis, discussions, and materials significantly changed student attitudes-making them more market-oriented and philosophically libertarian.

To determine student political philosophy we use two instruments: The World's Smallest Political Quiz (WSPQ) and an assessment entitled the Personal Philosophy Quiz (PPQ). The WSPQ is a quiz created by the Advocates of Self-Government. In the WSPQ, there are two sections: Personal Issues and Economic Issues, each with five statements in which students can respond with Agree, Maybe, or Disagree. Each response has a particular point value-"Agree" is worth 20, "Maybe" is worth 10, and "Disagree" is worth 0. The scores for each category range from 0 to 100. A score closer to zero implies leaning toward government intervention while a score closer to 100 implies a more libertarian slant. The two scores are then matched up and the point of intersection represents the student's political philosophy. A score of 0, 0 would be "statist"; a score of 100, 100 would be "libertarian"; a score of 50, 50 would be "centrist"; a score of 0, 100 would be "right, conservative"; and finally, a score of 100, 0 would be "left, liberal. …

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