A blog about economics instruction. "Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler."--Albert Einstein

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Don't Miss Cantillon!

Mark Thornton has done an admirable job of filling in a gap in my economic knowledge. Like many Ph.D. economists of my generation, my undergraduate schooling consisted of Keynesian economics a la McConnell, spiced with a bit of Alvin Hansen and other admirers of Keynes.

When I entered the doctoral program at Tulane University it was a revelation to discover that other schools of thought existed. Still, I managed to make it to a doctoral degree without ever having heard of Richard Cantillon. Since my electives were in other areas, I never took a course in the history of economic thought. Now I wish I had because I've clearly missed something. Click on the title of this post and you can read Dr. Thornton's article yourself. The brief outline of Cantillon's incredible life is alone worth your time.

Every Economics 101 course rightly mentions Adam Smith and the invisible hand. Of course, Keynes and the General Theory are also usually covered, at least minimally. I'm more concerned with what Economics 101 students are not learning. My text, unlike many others, mentions the Austrian school and Mises, albeit briefly. Because of the Mises Institute at Auburn University, I can type in a link to their web page on the computer at my classroom teaching station and show students the modern incarnation of Austrian thought.

Now, I can also mention Cantillon. It seems that we have Cantillon to thank for being the first to articulate the concept of opportunity cost. Cantillon's examples, presented and discussed by Dr. Thornton, are fresh and easy to understand. Cantillon may not have gotten his due in my undergraduate education, but I'll fill in the gap for my students. Perhaps other economics instructors would like to join me.



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