APEE Conference Highlights How Individual Decisions Shape the Economy

Salim Furth /

Professors, policy experts, and students of economics, politics, and philosophy gathered at the 40th annual conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) to exchange ideas about how individual decisions are made, both in the economy and in the government that regulates it.

In small sessions, researchers received feedback to incorporate into their work. I presented ongoing technical research on projecting future government deficits in a session that also included research by economists from the College of Charleston, the Mercatus Center, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

Besides research presentations, the conference has a strong practical aspect, where professors discuss how best to teach economics and free-market philosophy in the classroom. Economics has a reputation for being boring, especially when it is taught as the interaction of great, inhuman forces. But when it’s communicated well—as decisions made at the individual level—it can be gripping.

There’s especially room for improvement in the way that government policy is taught. As one conference speaker pointed out, some economics textbooks present bureaucrats as omniscient and benevolent planners who quietly adjust levers to fix the economy. That’s a fantasy—and not a particularly compelling one. Much of the research presented at APEE analyzed how real-world government executives and legislators make decisions.

Undergraduate students can earn the privilege of attending APEE by entering a research competition. Several dozen finalists in the research competition presented their work. This year’s winning entry was submitted by a team from Utah State University who studied the substantial barriers to creating a formal business faced by residents of an Indian reservation.