Background image courtesy Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Most introductory courses in economics do not equip students with the tools they need to explore complex issues such as financial instability, climate change, and growing inequality.

That’s all changing with the publication this month of The Economy, a new textbook published by Oxford University Press as well as a free online interactive text created by the Curriculum Open-access Resources for Economics (CORE) project. The book aims to address the gap between complex, real-world economic problems and the topics traditionally taught in first-year courses by introducing students to recent advances in the economics of information and strategic interactions.

"We are teaching first-year students to think about the economy as a complex, dynamical system," says SFI Professor Sam Bowles, an economist and a co-founder of the project. “CORE students learn about disequilibrium as well as equilibrium, bubbles and crashes, as well as stability. We teach by tackling pressing problems using the best tools that modern science has to offer, utterly disrespecting the usual disciplinary boundaries.”

In a VoxEU column, Bowles and CORE's director Wendy Carlin (University College London) explain that of the three great mid-twentieth century economists — John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, and John Nash — the ideas of only one of them have made it into introductory economics courses. Until now. To analyze the big global challenges of inequality, environmental sustainability, and economic crises, students need to be taught right from the start about the central economic role of limited information and about strategic interactions modeled by game theory as well as aggregate demand. The Economy introduces these techniques through empirical modeling and, in its electronic form, interactive visualizations.

The book is topically structured around students' concerns, collected in surveys over the period of four years. When asked "What is the most pressing problem economists should address?" students from Berlin, Bogota, Sydney, and London all gave remarkably similar answers, illustrated by the word cloud below:

Humboldt University student responses from 2016 to the question: "What is the most pressing problem that economists should address?"

The textbook results from a 4-year collaboration between teachers, students, and a global team of economists and complexity scientists. Like SFI, the CORE project is intentionally disruptive, and includes multiple SFI collaborators: External Professors Rajiv Sethi, Chris Wood, and Simon DeDeo, and Omidyar Fellow Marion Dumas, to name a few. The CORE project held its annual meeting at the Santa Fe Institute in 2016.

De Deo, in a blog post, likens the project to physicist Richard Feynman's transformation of undergraduate physics: “CORE is a collaborative endeavour, massively so. But it shares a great deal in common with Feynman’s one-man project to reshape physics, a project that continues to resonate 50 years later. The story of how Feynman tore up a curriculum that couldn’t meet the demands of the day – indeed, a curriculum that was actively turning students away – looks a great deal like what The CORE Project is doing now.

CORE Facts
  • CORE’s The Economy is an interactive e-book for a first course in economics produced by an international collaboration of research economists, teachers and students committed to a global sharing of an economics that can address the challenges facing the world today. CORE is led by Professor Wendy Carlin from UCL, while the material has been contributed by literally hundreds of scholars.

  • The project was launched in November 2013 at Her Majesty’s Treasury in London. Two beta versions have been published online and taught, while the 1.0 version is available for teaching from September 2017.

  • The e-book, and a wealth of additional resources for teachers and students, is available for free at www.core-econ.org

  • CORE is now used in 186 countries by more than 40,000 users and more than 3,792 registered teachers. Prior to the launch of the completed 1.0 version, forty-eight universities around the world have been using CORE in instruction, including some of the highest rated economics departments, such as University College London, the Toulouse School of Economics, the Humboldt University of Berlin and University College Roosevelt Utrecht University, as well as universities in Australia, India, Italy, Pakistan, Reunion Island, Turkey and the US.

  • Apart from the original English language version, The Economy has been translated into French, Italian and Spanish, with translations into Farsi and Russian in preparation, as well as the South Asian adaptation, which will include tailored examples and additional region-specific text

  • Grades of first-year economics students at University College London who were taught using CORE were compared with the previous cohort, which had studied a traditional introductory economics course. The study confirmed that CORE students are better prepared for their intermediate economics courses in year two.

  • In both micro- and macroeconomics, the CORE cohort did on average significantly better than their non-CORE counterparts. More students got first class or upper second class marks. Also, there was a clear reduction in third class grades, and fewer students failed macroeconomics. There is no evidence that this was an unusually talented group of students.

Read "Producing The Economy with the Electric Book workflow: a case study in multi-format book production" by bookmaker Arthur Attwell (August 29, 2017)

Read "Innovation in Economics Pedagogy and Publishing" by Rajiv Sethi (September 3, 2017)

Read "A new paradigm for the introductory course in economics" by Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin on Vox EU (September 7, 2017)

Read "Don't let highly paid bosses tell you that their huge pay packets happened because of 'inevitable market forces'" in The Independent (September 10, 2017)

Read "The financial crisis demands a new type of economics" in The Times (September 11, 2017) registration required

Read "A NEW WAY TO LEARN ECONOMICS" in The New Yorker (September 11, 2017)