“They’re rioting in Africa….”

I grew up in what might be termed an ‘old fashioned household’ – another way of saying that much of what I call my personal tastes are in fact hand-me-downs from my parents. One example is my taste in music, which ranges from Ramstein and Metallica to Judy Henske and The Kingston Trio – the latter two from the 1960’s.

I have just received the pack of this year’s exam papers (relax, none of the content will be published anywhere on the OSC site) from our intrepid IB coordinator and, in skimming through the HL papers en route to invigilation, I could not help but think of this song by the Kingston Trio:

(Pop quiz: guess the year it was written. Answer at the bottom.)

No, this post is not about the depressing realisation that the song pretty much holds true some 60 years later. It’s about predictions and rational expectations. The former has a rather dismal record and the latter…well, actually a pretty dismal record too. I think I painted myself into a corner here. So much for sedge-ways.

For about five years now I have been having the most tedious and time-wasting debate about exam tactics concerning the present IB economics syllabus. I have claimed, both in my own classes and during IB revision courses, that the layout of the HL exam paper enables students to make a strategic choice in terms of what to revise. I have said, since 2005, that it is possible to completely avoid theory of the firm (ToF) questions in the HL exams – and the counter-argument has been something along the lines of “No, one cannot be completely sure of this!”

Every year I am reminded of how the Malthusians and neo-Malthusians have been wrong. Since 1798, they have been wrong. Every. Single. Year/decade/century/millennium. In fact, expanding the list back in time, we can see – if nothing else than simply by looking out the window! – that every single doom-sayer and End-of-Times prophet has been wrong. Consistently and invariably wrong. It’s really quite a feat, to be so consistently wrong for so long! Has to be some kind of record.

Have a few minutes? Entertain yourself with some of the more notable doomsday prophets whose claim to fame turned out to be nonsense – at great cost in some cases I hasten to add. Look up the religion of your choice, Malthus, Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown.

Now go back and look through every past paper in HL economics. Go back to the syllabus that started after the multiple-choice questions were scrapped. Yeah, exactly; the plural of anecdotes is data. And however much we raise warning fingers about the ‘dangers of extrapolation’ (done so by yours truly on this very blog site), surely there is very strong indicative evidence that ToF can indeed be avoided by the discerning student?

Since 2005 there has been only ONE paper where an element of ToF has been included in such a way so as to make it fully impossible to avoid ToF. Have a look, see if you can spot it.

Basically macro can be found in Paper one and Paper 3 for HL. Paper one micro questions gives students the choice between ToF or taxes/subsidies/externalities. Paper three gives them the choice of any two of the following ‘themes’; linear S and D functions, ToF, macro and trade. Again, go through past papers and check: is it possible to avoid ToF in Papers 1 and 2. Yes, it is. In every single exam since 2005.

John Maynard Keynes once said, to a friend berating him for always changing his mind; “When I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?” How I wish I could have heard him during this non-debate.

 

 

* The Merry Minuet was written in 1955.

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