In loving, living memory, John Melançon 1928 – 2007
The Economics Textbook of the 21st Century
From Adbusters #74, Nov-Dec 200
The editor faced a dilemma, which he articulated clearly. His problem was that the market – in this case the market for textbooks – is already occupied by the incumbents. They might ignore almost all that has gone on in economics in the past 20 years, they might be guilty of dumbing down, but they are there. And their publishers and authors use every trick to make it stay that way. For example, top textbooks routinely have over 10,000 multiple choice questions helpfully provided on a web-linked site. Teachers don’t even have to think about making up the questions, they are all provided.
So we have a situation in which products with inferior qualities – containing lots of old-fashioned economics – are preventing products which are superior from entering the market. The barriers to entry which they have erected are very hard to breach. In simple economics, this shouldn’t happen. Consumers are supposed to have perfect information, so they should choose the new rather than the old. But the real world just doesn’t work like this. Most students are now never told this, and they never get to choose – except by voting with their feet and dropping economics altogether.
And this was exactly the editor’s dilemma. He knew that at some point the market will look completely different, that the new will eventually oust the old. But he had no way of knowing when this would be. In the meantime, any single attempt to enter the market with a new-style economics text would be likely to fail, unable to break the lock on the market which the current textbooks have.