Sunday, July 22, 2007

Robert Frank

Robert H. Frank is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, and author of two new books: Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class (University of California Press, 2007) and The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas (Basic Books, 2007). reporter Francesca Di Meglio interviewed Frank this spring.

A couple of exchanges from the Q & A:

Why should people learn the basics of economics?

Economics is all about how you make the most of your opportunities. It's always a question of trying to figure out how to achieve a decent balance between competing aims that you hold. If you understand economic principles, you're going to end up getting much more out of your possibilities than you could if you didn't understand them.

How do you think professors can make economics more accessible?

The key is to embed the ideas in simple narratives that have a story line that makes sense. We didn't really evolve doing equations and graphs. That came very late in our history as a species. For most of our evolutionary history, the way things got transmitted from one person to another was through stories. We were storytellers by inclination.

If you can wrap a story around an idea, it seems to slide into the brain without any effort. If you translate the idea into equations and graphs, you can still get into the average student's brain, but it just takes a lot more work, and they seem to lose all appreciation of the charm of the idea. Then they don't talk about the idea with one another, which is one of the main ways ideas get reinforced in your mind.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue