My most recent Forbes piece explains how to use the economic way of thinking to ruin Christmas. In this light, I found Steven Landsburgs take on Yoram Baumans claim in the New York Times that economics increases Grinchiness especially interesting. I havent read Baumans underlying paper, but in his NYT summary he points out that economics majors are less likely to give money to two activist groups (they were given the option during registration for classes).
Willingness to donate to left-of-center advocacy organizations is hardly a robust test of the treatment effect of economics on public-spiritedness for a couple of reasons. To continue some of Landsburgs examples, it shouldnt be surprising that economics education reduces a students faith in government action in much the same way that med school would reduce a students faith in the power of healing crystals. Yes, there are difficult cases to be made for markets, but jumping from those cases (public goods, externalities, incomplete information, etc.) to we need government intervention to fix it is a mistake because it doesnt carry the economic analysis far enough. Sadly, Baumans op-ed contributes to the popular view of economics that comes from Gordon Gekkos greed is good speech in Wall Street. For a useful corrective, heres Michael Munger in last weeks EconTalk.