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What Economics Courses Don’t Teach – But Should

Neva Goodwin

Abstract


Standard economics courses describe the economic system as though it existed in a vacuum. In fact, economic systems are only one part of the larger social/psychological systems that include human motivations, culture, politics, institutions, ethics and history. These, in turn, are embedded in the physical contexts of technology and the built environment. All of these ultimately depend on the natural world. When we recognize the critical interactions between the economic system and the social and natural worlds, then we cannot depend on simple models that assume away most of what matters. As just one
example, social and economic power affects market functioning far more than is recognized in the neoclassical economic paradigm. Markets can produce an efficient response to needs and wants only when they are backed up by purchasing power, but cannot respond to would-be consumers who lack money. The ideal of efficient markets as a social optimum ignores this important reality. A healthy economy includes both market and non-market activities that are carried out in businesses, governments, non-profit, legal and other institutions, and in communities and households. While neoclassical economics focuses on the economic activities of production, distribution and consumption, we must add an equal emphasis on resource maintenance; that is, maintaining the human, social and physical resources that enable our economic systems to be productive and to support good and healthy lives. Our economic roles include not only those of producers and consumers, but also citizens, family members, public servants, etc..

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