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VISITING VIEWPOINT - Microeconomics is not a dirty word

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:03 PM

This past year I've been trading my economic developer's hat for the robes of academia, for one night a week, anyway.

When the deans at BGSU's Firelands College asked me to teach a principles of microeconomics class, I dusted off my economics degrees and plunged in.

And what I encountered both surprised and delighted me.

With few exceptions, the students worked hard to conquer a subject that can be daunting on its best days and downright intimidating most of the time.

It's quite true that the "dismal science" of economics seems to take the obvious (e.g., consumers prefer low prices) and make it complicated, but by the time this past semester ended, I could see light bulbs popping on all over the place.

"I'll never look at the news the same way," one student told me after I assigned them the task of taking a real-world news story and analyzing it with the microeconomic models they had learned.

It was particularly helpful this fall that the British band Radiohead allowed fans to download their latest album for whatever they wanted to pay, including zero. It was a great example of supply and demand, not to mention price elasticity.

The recent Hannah Montana ticket scalping scandal also provided fodder for a class discussion on price discrimination. Ah, the thrill of economic science in action....

Contrary to making economics seem inaccessible, these examples prove that education is very relevant to the everyday life of those students.

About half of the students in both my spring and fall semester classes were adults working in professions as varied as health care, finance, retail and engineering.

As a result of their education at BGSU Firelands, they will not only become wiser consumers, but also better employees.

These kinds of courses help current and future workers understand why businesses make certain production, hiring and pricing decisions.

And isn't that the point of education in the first place? Our schools exist to help people gain the training they need to become marketable members of the workforce.

(Obviously, the English Renaissance literature professor I had in college who told me that my economics courses would corrupt my soul probably didn't grasp that concept, but he was the exception to the rule).

Workforce development issues now seem to be at the forefront of statewide and nationwide economics discussions.

In Ohio, for example, Licking County has gone so far as to combine these two concepts into a Workenomics program, which combines their workforce development and economic development efforts to respond to the workforce needs of businesses in their county.

The North Central Ohio region which includes Huron County is also implementing some proactive efforts to train workers for current and future jobs.

This past week, I attended a meeting of regional employers to discuss their needs and concerns about the existing labor market.

One business executive said that beyond the requirement for basic skills (reading, math, computer literacy) and soft skills (communications, attendance), her company wants their workers to have a firm understanding of how any business operates.

After finishing with this latest batch of BGSU Firelands' students, I'm encouraged that there are at least a few more out there in our local job market with a grasp on such basic economic concepts as profit-maximization.

And at the very least, they're able to understand exactly why the payment for Radiohead's latest album averaged only $2.16.

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