Skip to main content

Teaching Economic/Financial History




 
In the words of Graham Nash, “Teach, your children well, their father's hell, did slowly go by.”



Those words, and the accompanying music, may well resonant Down Under, given the debate  kicked up by the recent release of the “Review of the Australian Curriculum,” a final report after an independent review led by Prof. Ken Wiltshire and Dr. Kevin Donnelly. It results from a massive project, underway since the start of the year, inquiring into what “young people should be able to know, understand and be able to do following their time at school,” and whether the existing educational system in Australia is getting them there.

The result has a global quality to it, comparing aspects of the Australian educational system to those in effect in (among other locales): England, Singapore, and the United States.

What may interest readers of this blog, in whatever nation they reside, is the discussion of economics and economic history. Experts consulted generally agreed with one another that economics is not appropriate for the primary school curriculum, (and that the range of matters that must be covered in the earliest years has led to curricular overcrowding of late) but there was strong support for the view that economic education ought to be compulsory in the years 5 to 8, the “formative years” for “consumer and financial literacy” as the report says at one point (favorably referencing a paper submitted by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.)

What Should Be Taught

After a brief discussion of the when, the final report’s discussion of economics proceeds to the matter of what should be taught. The subject matter experts that the reviewers consulted were very critical of the existing curriculum on three grounds:

·         Omission of key economics and business concepts and material;

·         Inclusion of not-so-key materials;

·         Incorrect or inadequate definitions of basic concepts.

Emphatically included among the key and unfortunately omitted material: economic history, such as “the rise of Europe and the US., … more recently the phenomenal rise of East Asia, India and other emerging economies” the dependence of the latter rise in particular upon ”market liberalization and increased international trade,” etc.   

It isn’t a bad short list. Personally, I would add to any list of economic history materials to which young people ought to be introduced quite early, some grounding the experience of hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany in 1923, and its replay in Zimbabwe in 2008.  Students would also benefit by some early experience with how bubbles happen: experience they can be given through simple in-classroom experiments with nobody-gets-hurt artificial money.

In other words, I personally would suggest, with due deference given my status as a complete amateur in all pedagogical issues, that economics be treated, from the start, as intertwined with finance.

Or perhaps … perhaps economic history should be treated as history rather than as economics. The Australian report follows the usual convention of treating “history” and “economics” as two quite different subjects. But the difference between them isn’t a difference in subject matter, its’ a difference in method. And even as a difference in method any effort at precise formulation becomes tricky.

The View from Wollongong

Simon Ville, a professor of economic and business history at the University of Wollongong (in New South Wales) has offered his view on the state of his discipline within higher education. He says that economic history is too often hijacked to one or another of two Grand Narratives, either triumphalism or doomsaying. In Australia’s case, the doomsaying narrative lends itself to the notion of the “resource curse,” i.e. that a nation that exports a lot of raw materials beggars its own posterity.

Ville doesn’t believe that such a curse exists, and he does believe that history teaches a contrary lesson. Despite the fact that in Australia natural resources have always dominated the export numbers, there have been successive “waves of innovation” and the country has developed a vibrant services sector.

Ville also makes the point that there is a widespread (and very presentist) notion that immigrants take jobs away from settled residents of a country or continent. He believes and clearly hopes that an understanding of Australia’s history will undermine this notion. “Migrants respond to economic vicissitudes rather than create them,” he observes.

So history shows then that neither exporting resources nor importing talent is the disaster it is often thought to be, and indeed (building forward from Ville’s observations) we should add that it shows that efforts at autarky are a disaster.  A hellish one, as Nash might agree.

Comments

  1. Did you know that you can shorten your long urls with Shortest and make cash from every visit to your shortened links.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…