Both of these texts demote the foundations of consumer theory. Most micro-economics texts start with supply and demand, with the theory behind the curves coming later, but with Gregory Mankiw the indifference curve analysis is relegated to the last chapter as an advanced topic and it does not appear in the other book at all.
We get a few pages from Robert Frank and Ben Bernanke on diminishing marginal utility with an abrupt statement of the formula for utility maximisation, although their book has an unusual penchant for using game theory as the expository device.
Lack of depth surfaces in the facile pedagogy of Mankiw, where the weak empirical work on "Beauty and the labour market" is sold to the tyro economist by slipping in a picture of Mel Gibson. Movie-star salaries used to be the illustrative material for rents and quasi-rents but they are now in the section "Earnings discrimination". Rents are explained with an indecipherable graphic of a black-and-white print with the caption:
"workers who survived the black death were lucky in more ways than one".
The books look like webpages. If students need a bright picture to keep their attention, how long before animation becomes the norm for introductory economics material and all teaching material is on the web? But if this is dumbing down, at least it is dumbing down by the clever. The authors are respected and their writing is generally insightful.
Samuel Cameron is lecturer in economics, University of Bradford.
Principles of Microecononomics. Second Edition
Author - N. Gregory Mankiw
ISBN - 0 03 0016 2
Publisher - Harcourt
Price - £22.95
Pages - 503