Sunday, February 3, 2008


One might ask why this initial essay is labeled 'Maps.’ After all, this is a course in microeconomics, not cartography. We'll explain that shortly. The purpose of this essay is primarily to address the question of motivation: why study the model of supply and demand and the other core models of microeconomic theory? What is knowing those abstract models good for?

Students, particularly those taking a first course in a subject, either take on faith that the models they are presented with are important, because their professors say they are, or ignore the issue entirely, lest they become too disheartened about having to study stuff that is irrelevant. But that approach creates a real risk --- the models get studied as things in themselves and we lose track of what we are modeling, which is where the real interest lies.

To make the case transparent we will proceed by first considering maps, thinking about how they are useful and why they are important. The approach may be a bit painstaking for some students, but since this should be familiar terrain for all we'll go through it quickly. So please be patient. We'll also try to bring in the obvious that maps themselves don't tell the full story. Indeed, it is story telling (or narrative) that is needed to fill in what the maps omit. So we'll consider the role of maps and the role of story telling and the interplay between the two.

Then we'll reason by analogy and think of the microeconomic models as playing a similar role as maps and think of story telling pretty much as story telling, but noting that economists do it in a way that is disciplined by the models and to some that makes their stories seem a little different. We'll also look at a few well known economists who are good story tellers.

Let's begin by having you reflect on your experience with maps. Can you give an example where the same map is used for several different functions? What about another example of different kinds of maps, where the focus should be on maps that are designed for different uses.

Here are some suggestions for how to respond as you either write comments to this and subsequent posts or write such a response in a document on your own computer.
(1) Do try to answer the question(s). Doing that will help you understand the flow of the argument.
(2) Since some of the questions refer to the preceding discussion, it might help to write a summary sentence of that.
(3) You might also want to write a sentence about what the question is trying to elicit from you, e.g., to have you reflect on the previous discussion, to get you to examine a particular Web site, or to have you compare the theory to a particular realistic example.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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