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A proposal for more sophisticated normative principles in introductory economics

Stephen Schmidt

The Journal of Economic Education, 2017, vol. 48, issue 1, 3-14

Abstract: Introductory textbooks teach a simple normative story about the importance of maximizing economic surplus that supports common policy claims. There is little defense of the claim that maximizing surplus is normatively important, which is not obvious to non-economists. Difficulties with the claim that society should maximize surplus are generally not addressed. Economists are thus frequently criticized by non-economists for having a poor moral foundation for our normative claims. We should tell a more sophisticated normative story that justifies the moral importance of surplus, but acknowledges that other moral values may conflict with generating surplus and that distribution is not always separable from efficiency. This would allow students to make more compelling arguments in favor of normative positions they accept, regardless of the values they hold.

Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1080/00220485.2016.1252293

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