Econ 101 semester in review: most effective chart of the year

After my first semester teaching Econ 101, I have lots to digest. I’ll post thoughts here over the next few weeks as I go through the process of revising for the second go-around.

One quick thought today: I think there was a clear winner for the chart that was most interesting to my students this semester. It was this chart comparing health expenditure per capita, separated into public and private, across OECD nations:


It’s from here, and a little old but not too out of date. We see that per capita U.S. health care spending is largest in the group and  ~50% larger than in the runner-up, Norway. We see also that public spending on health care in the U.S. is among the very highest in the group. This was all surprising to the room and got some good thinking going.

This chart pairs well with a few tables. First, this one from the (free!) OpenStax textbook I used this semester on life expectancy and infant mortality:


A first pass at a correlation, then, doesn’t show much difference in these fundamental health outcomes across these nations, despite the differences in health spending per person.

Second, these from Gallup on health access and outcomes by income in the U.S.:



We see discrepancies in access to health care and health outcomes across the income distribution. Together, these four images add up to a rich context that we can try to hang a consistent story on. I was showing this in the context of the economics of asymmetric information, adverse selection, insurance markets, and so on. With these numbers, and some knowledge of the structure of health care in the U.S. as compared to other rich countries, it’s almost harder to not start thinking about the underlying economics.

My first takeaway, then, from this semester is that I should be more diligent about finding and including contemporary data to support topics in the course. My prior was to be cautious if the link between the context of the data and the ideas up for discussion were not a perfect fit. But the trade-off there didn’t feel quite right, in retrospect.

I need to remember that common knowledge only becomes common knowledge by being re-transmitted, and that I shouldn’t pass the buck on what counts or is expected as “prior knowledge”. I think that Econ 101 shouldn’t devolve into a civics lesson, but I have definitely relaxed my opinion on how tight the link must be between data and theory concept for the data to be worth airing.

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