Econ 479

The Art of Writing, the Science of Economics

The Formula for a Successful Argument

(Or, better, the formula for an argument that has a better chance of succeeding than one that does not employ it.)

I have noted before, in the syllabus and the initial class meeting, that in this course arguments follow a fairly simple recipe:

1. You receive an assignment asking for your opinion on an issue.

2. You decide what position you wish to take.

3. You determine what economic concept most usefully supports your position.

4. You come up with three supporting arguments to support your view.

And there you have it. It’s simple, really. Yet many of the pieces in this first round of writing for the fall 2008 semester are noticeably light on economic thinking—curious, given that this is an economic course.

Please follow this formula. Please think hard about economics and the ideas and theories economists use to think about issues. In making a case for regulation or deregulation of the market, for instance, you might discuss the notion of moral hazard. In determining whether a business should enter a given market, you might think about opportunity cost. In thinking about why consumers might not want the product you have to sell them, you might look at theories of utility. And so forth, remembering that I have specified and will specify in each assignment that you employ an identifiable concept—and that I will penalize work that lacks it.

[Edited to add: Here’s an op-ed piece that makes very effective use of economic concepts. See if you can identify all of them.]

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Written by gregorymcnamee

September 29, 2008 at 6:43 pm

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