By contrast, the third method of teaching introductory economics, as Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University does in his lectures, tests the students with objective questions -- which means that it is also producting a test of whether this traditional way of teaching actually works. Apparently it does.
First, congratulations to Don for the recognition by such an esteemed economist as Thomas Sowell. The greatest benefit of my GMU degree is that the logic and intuition - the ideas - are what is/were/are emphasized, not just the methodology. Thanks to all those great professors there.
There are three ways to communicate ideas: graphically, mathematically, and verbally. Yes, the first two (especially mathematically) allow for a more precise explanation of human behavior than the logic and intution of verbal exchange, but human behavior and social interactions are typically far too complex to define so precisely. The simplifying assumptions inherent in mathematical models tend to obfuscate ideas and behavior rather than enlighten us about them.
Consider something as common to the language and ideas of the profession as aggregate demand (or labor or capital or social welfare, etc.). Aggregating these complex variables to derive some cohesive model fails to enlighten on the specific interactions within these aggregates. We wouldn't think of aggregating human intelligence to come up with some national intelligence factor because it's a meaningless variable. It tells us nothing about the specifics of the differing types and levels of intelligence that each different individual possesses and the way it's used. Why is it deemed acceptable to employ it when aggregating labor, capital, etc.?
Don also has this explanation of the useful role of the economist:
There’s a far better use of whatever time the economist devotes to communicating with noneconomists — namely, challenging the many popular misconceptions that distort the general public’s understanding of the way economies work.
I was reminded of Don's recommendation the other day while talking with someone who had just returned from a mission trip to a very poor developing country. This person remarked that there was a very influential and helpful person in this tiny developing country who was trying to "create" an economy, whatever that was supposed to mean. "For example," they said, "he asked that we not bring any more donated clothing because it destroys jobs for tailors and related clothing businesses." (My paraphrase.) I thought they were joking and started to laugh. It was no joke. I then spent the next ten minutes unsuccessfully trying to persuade them of the folly of such reasoning. I guess we could really make them better off by destroying all the looms and sewing machines in that country and offering them needles and thread instead.