Butting into the Discussion on Economic Literacy

In the comments to Steve Kyle’s post on the economic literacy of college students, Tom DC/VA mentions a hypothetical economic literacy course for high school students.

What would such a class entail? If you read this blog, you shouldn’t be surprised I think it should make students familiar with the magnitude of numbers. Of course, nobody can visualize a 12 trillion dollar GDP – they can, however, visualize real GDP per capita. Same with debt, etc.

Another thing… students have to be taught empathy, and I don’t mean it in the bleeding heart liberal sense. Consider… I taught for a while at an MBA program whose students are often quite wealthy. (One professor has joked that the school has the GDP of Austria.) I found many concepts were alien to them. For instance, nobody could understand discouraged workers – why would people voluntarilly choose to be unemployed? So I had an exercise… I would pick a small town in the middle of nowhere. We would talk about life in the town – how it has only one big employer, perhaps a saw mill or whatnot. I would then ask – what happens if that saw mill closes?

Well, the response was… “find another job.” Ah… but you and 200 other people are searching… what other job?
The next response was “Leave. Move to Chicago or whatever happens to be the nearest big city.” But… how much can you get for your four bedroom home in the small town, especially now that the saw mill closed down? And how much is a home in Chicago? You, your spouse, and your three kids have to live somewhere. And so on and so forth.

I think teaching kids to put themselves into other people’s shoes and think things through to their logical conclusion has a lot of value.

What about you? What do you think should be in the course that Tom DC/VA mentions?