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Economics: How do you teach it when even experts disagree?


Economics is an increasingly popular subject for students at AJ Tutoring, both at the high school and college levels. It’s also one of the most interesting—and challenging—to tutor because so little of it is scientifically testable the way chemistry or physics are. President Truman supposedly once asked if he could get an economic adviser with only one hand, so they would stop saying “on the one hand…but on the other…”

Ideas in economics come, but they rarely go—they just sort of pile up on one another! Theories like the Laffer Curve, Taylor Rule, Keynesianism, Monetarism, Behavioral Economics, and the Real Business Cycle all attempt to explain the real patterns we see in the economy or to prescribe a set of policies that will best manage it. However, since we can’t do a randomized test with two different economies to see which theories hold water, the process of coming to which theory is best is a long and winding road. One of the newest theories to gain prominence is Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, a theory which has been discussed in economics circles for a long time but suddenly got thrust into the public eye when New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mentioned it in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

Plenty of economists stepped in to explain to the public what MMT means and what the implications are. Brad DeLong, who teaches at UC Berkeley, and Noah Smith, who writes for Bloomberg, have two of the best takes in my opinion. The simple version is this: MMT proponents argue that since the Federal Government can create all the money it wants, there is no real need for taxes to “fund” programs directly. Instead, the government merely needs to pull enough money back out of the economy in the form of taxes, bond sales, or some other method to prevent inflation from getting too high. Supporters say this gives the government more options to deal with economic situations like the 2008 financial crisis in which the economy is depressed and even very low interest rates aren’t producing inflation. Others say that this way of approaching the economy gives members of Congress, rather than the experts at the Federal Reserve, too much power over delicate economic balancing acts.


Paper Money


So, do students need to start learning yet another economics term?  Probably not yet, at least not in high school! While there are many economic theories discussed in popular economics textbooks, most AP classes follow the AP Course Description, which is updated only every few years.

AJ Tutoring’s academic departments carefully track new changes and make sure that all of our economics tutors and materials align with AP standards. Students can be confident that their tutors will be well prepared to teach them the material most relevant for the test even as new economic ideas gain prominence and old ones are called into question.

However, other classes—especially undergraduate courses—can vary a great deal more! This is where having a one-on-one tutor can be particularly valuable. Every time I meet with a college-level economics student for the first time, I ask for the syllabus and any textbooks being used and make sure I’m following the course carefully. Every professor has his or her own ideas of what models and theories are most important to learn. This reality makes tutoring college economics students a challenge, but it also keeps it interesting as I get to teach from multiple perspectives at varied universities!

If you or your student need individualized and expert help with a challenging economics course, please reach out to us today!


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