At Bloomberg View, I give my prescription for how Econ 101 should change, and discuss further the relationship between high school physics and the Turkish conquest of Constantinople:
When I was 15, I was probably a little too obsessed with the Turkish conquest of Constantinople. In my teenage mind, that was the moment when the world became modern -- when cannons knocked down the great curtain walls that had kept the world’s greatest fortress impregnable for a thousand years. It was the triumph of science and engineering over medieval brute force.
So Constantinople was on my mind when our intro physics teacher took us to the lab to test the theory of projectile motion. It involved lobbing metal balls at a piece of tape and recording where the balls hit. When we looked at the tape, it was like magic -- the math had predicted just where the ball would hit. Physics theory really worked. “So that’s how they did it!,” I exclaimed to myself, thinking of the Turkish cannon pounding away at the Byzantine walls. (Little did I know that 15th century gunners found their range by trial and error; mathematical firing solutions would come centuries later.)
So that’s how I learned Physics 101. But a decade or so later, when I sat down with Greg Mankiw’s ``Principles of Economics'' to teach myself Econ 101, I found myself wondering what kind of equally convincing tests I’d be doing if I were taking the course for real. Fast forward another four years, and I was teaching Econ 101 (actually, Econ 102, but let’s stick with the jargon), right out of Mankiw’s book. And guess what -- there were no demonstrations. There was basically nothing but theory -- all the pretty little theories of comparative advantage and monopoly pricing and loanable funds, and not a whiff of evidence to back them up. Oh, I tried showing my undergrad students a couple of empirical papers, and drew pictures of what a simple regression would look like, but they mostly ignored these, and with good reason -- nothing empirical was on the tests...
Read the whole thing here!