Economics Texts Misleading, Too

Published September 1, 2001

While inaccurate science textbooks can leave many students in a confusing fog of scientific illiteracy, inaccurate economics textbooks can leave students with the wrong ideas about how the economy works, which could be much more dangerous.

Unfortunately, a Mackinac Center study of popular high school economics textbooks used in Michigan classrooms showed many of those influential texts contain gross errors and dangerous myths about the market economy and the role of government.

“I can ride on a roller coaster without understanding centrifugal force . . . Physics can protect me, whether I believe it or not,” says economist Todd Buchholz. “But if I ignore basic economics, I could go broke.”

The June 1999 study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found some textbook authors consistently critical of free enterprise and private property while presenting government intervention as almost always beneficial. Thus, many Michigan students read in their textbooks that competition is dangerous; that Americans are undertaxed; that government spending creates wealth; and that politicians are better at economic planning than entrepreneurs.

According to several authors, this statist approach is what publishers want. “They especially want government intervention treated with favor in several chapters in the text,” said one author. Another said he would never be able to sell a text that presented too much evidence for free enterprise. Thus, it’s not surprising the Mackinac study found only six of 16 popular texts could be graded “A” or “B” for their economic accuracy and freedom from bias.

When one author suggested his text ought to include a discussion of school choice, the publisher responded “as though I had advocated including Satanism in the text” and told the author “to absolutely avoid anything such as school choice that would upset the teacher unions.”

For more information . . .

The June 1999 Mackinac Center study by Burton Folsom, George Leef, and Dirk Mateer, “How Reliable Are Michigan High School Economics Textbooks?” is available at the Center’s Web site at