December, 2005

Teaching Economics Through Ayn Rand

How the Economy is Like a Novel and How the Novel Can Teach Us About Economics
  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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I have been teaching college-level economics since the mid-1980s at various colleges and universities, to a wide variety of students, and within different classroom settings. As a graduate student, I taught a graduate-level course to elementary school teachers on how to introduce economics to young kids; as a new assistant professor, I taught large sections of introductory economics; at three different universities, I have taught in the Honors College to the best and the brightest, and I have taught the one-semester course on economics for non-majors. In teaching undergraduate economics in these alternative settings, I have had to adjust my teaching style in the attempt to communicate with my students to maximize the chance that they will learn the material in an effective and enjoyable manner. In this effort, I have tried different lecture styles, shown movies, watched documentaries, used newspapers and magazines, and conducted classroom experiments.

One constant in all of this experimentation in teaching economics is that the best textbook for introducing economics to the uninitiated that I have found is Paul Heyne’s book The Economic Way of Thinking. Another constant that I have continued to come back to was the use of novels as a teaching tool in economics, and from the beginning I have used Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) as one of the primary novels. I often like to assign The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and ask the students to write a term paper on which novel is more informed on economics and why that matters for the relevance of the narrative constructed in the books.

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Citation (Chicago Style)

Boettke, Peter J., Teaching Economics Through Ayn Rand: How the Economy is Like a Novel and How the Novel Can Teach Us About Economics (2005). Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 445-465.