A classroom exercise: “How to think like a neoliberal…”

Kean Birch reflects on a classroom exercise introducing students to the reach of market-driven actions in everyday life. He finds the exercise is also helpful for his own engagement with an intellectual tradition with which he disagrees. According to Hayek, Friedman and Becker, every decision and choice can be conceived as a market decision. But in the process of negotiating and renegotiating every action in life, we end up entangled in an impossibly complex arrangement.

Most years I teach a course on neoliberalism. I end the first class with a game in which I auction off the course grades to the students. First, I offer A-grades to the top 20% of bidders, B-grades to the next 20%, C-grades to the next 40%, and fails to the bottom 20%. Then I split the auction into two rounds to provide students with some chance to spread their bets. For each round I ask them to write down, secretly, their bids. Finally, I reveal the winners and losers. There is one proviso to all this, however, students can only use the cold, hard cash they have in their pockets to make their bids. Of course, I don’t actually sell students their grades, but rather use this mock auction as a way to show how markets can – and often do – work, even in unusual circumstances.My aim, in getting students to bid for their grades, is to show how we can create markets for everything and anything in life; for education, for work, for relationships, for crime, etc., etc., etc. We can, literally, find ways to sell anything, if only we think hard enough about it – and we have to remember many people are thinking hard about just these sorts of things.” Source: Impact of Social Sciences – How to think like a neoliberal: Can every decision and choice really be conceived as a market decision?

The article was originally posted here: http://discoversociety.org/2015/07/01/how-to-think-like-a-neoliberal/. The discussion on the post is also very interesting. One of the comments says: “Get you econ 101 straight and then write about markets.”

I think, this interesting classroom exercise could be also be modified: We could simulate to auction off the enrollment to classes. Question: Wouldn’t such a bidding process guarantee an efficient allocation of scarce resources?  Why (not)?

(Picture; description and source: Friedrich August von Hayek, Professor of Economic Science at LSE, 27th January 1981, see also here.)


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