Nuance and humility

Teach with nuance and humility.


Whether or not your department offers separate courses in heterodox theories of economics or race, ethnicity, and gender in economics, it is essential to integrate alternative perspectives and experiences into the content of all courses. Acknowledge that the world is more complex than our models suggest, and challenge your students to find possible limitations of these models. Show how economists have taken steps towards improving models and methods and how we still have work ahead.

Related: What does it mean to learn economics?


Here are some examples.

On labor markets: A minimum wage policy is often used as an example to illustrate the problems with setting a price floor in a perfectly competitive market. But, labor markets are often anything but perfectly competitive, and, indeed, establishing a price floor in a monopsony can increase employment, efficiency, and racial equality. Take the time to show your students an analysis of minimum wages in monopsonies, and have them read this short article and watch this video on the effect of minimum wage policy on racial inequality.

On the labor-leisure model: To analyze an individual’s time allocation decision, use a model of utility derived indirectly from market goods and nonmarket time. While a portion of time outside of paid employment is leisure, men and especially women spend significant amounts of nonmarket time producing goods and services for the household and caring for children. Francine Blau and Anne Winkler offer a great presentation of this model in The Economics of Women, Men, and Work.

On markets and discrimination: Explicitly acknowledge the narrow conditions under which competitive market forces penalize and eliminate discrimination. Discuss alternative mechanisms of discrimination, which explain the persistence of discrimination in markets. Assign (and watch) Darrick Hamilton on Stratification Economics.

On shortcomings of GDP: Assign Who’s Counting?: Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies & Global Economics (online at, in which Marilyn Waring speaks about women’s work and the importance of assigning value to it. Ask students to identify three policy decisions that may generate inefficiency if the policymakers do not adequately account for the value of nonmarket production. Ask students to identify and discuss three policy decisions that may generate inequity if policymakers do not adequately account for the value of nonmarket production.

On the financial crisis: Consider “the role of stratification along multiple trajectories – race, class, and gender – in contributing to economic crises and in shaping their distributional dynamics.” See Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, James Heintz, and Stephanie Seguino, “Critical Perspectives on Financial and Economic Crises: Heterodox Macroeconomics Meets Feminist Economics Feminist Economics,” Volume 19, Issue 3, 2013.


Briefly stated, our job as instructors is to share the knowledge and skills we have with our students. This blog post by Ingrid Robeyns reminds us that our students can know more than we do about the topics we teach…poverty, racism, gender bias, unemployment, budget constraints, etc. Teach with humility and be ready to learn.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2013 Professors of the Year Reflect on How Failures Helped Them Improve.

Frances Woolley writes on Canada’s residential schools and the dangers of educational hubris.