Basic Economics: A Natural Law Approach to Economics is great for students (as well as adults) who want to understand economics at a deeper level from a Christian perspective. This textbook covers the economics topics that you find in most high school texts such as markets, supply and demand, scarcity, monopoly and competition, and the stock market plus more personally-applicable topics such as rent, wages, savings, investments, interest, and home-based businesses. In addition, an optional budget project mini-course that helps students learn financial responsibility and planning is available at the publisher's website at no cost.
This textbook gives a greater amount of attention to the history of economics, the different economic schools of thought, government actions and their effects, the morality of economics, and international economics than do many others. An entire chapter addresses "Society and Morality," examining the Judeo-Christian roots of free markets, moral absolutes versus moral positivism, and utilitarianism. The last third of the book studies the "Politico-Economic Systems": the manorial feudal system, mercantilism, free enterprise, corporatism, welfarism, and communism. Capitalism is covered within the section on corporatism, and the treatment of capitalism is a good example of the nuanced approach the authors take throughout the textbook. For example, they make the distinction that capitalism does not always go hand in hand with free enterprise, but it is sometimes manipulated by the government at the expense of other aspects or competitors within the market.
The text reflects a Christian worldview as well as viewpoints of the Austrian school of economics that lean toward free enterprise and limited government. An example of the Christian worldview would be the reference to the Ten Commandments' prohibitions against stealing and coveting as one of the bases of property rights. An example of the Austrian School viewpoint is the text's treatment of the New Deal in a fairly critical manner. (To get a clear sense of what makes this textbook unique, you can read the first chapter for free by clicking here and scrolling down to "Sample Chapter and Table of Contents.")
The text goes beyond the superficial to raise challenging questions. For example, in discussing zoning laws, it points out the desire of people to not have noisy factories built next to their homes. But then it raises the problem of fragmented families because people often travel long distances to the workplace rather than working close to home, partly because of zoning laws.
Each chapter concludes with a "Study Guide." The study guide has a summary of the chapter which is very helpful for students who might get overwhelmed with information and ideas. "Points of Emphasis," identifies key points to remember. A series of questions probes for both comprehension and thoughtful analysis; these might be used either for discussion or written responses. Students might write out definitions or explanations for the list of keywords, terms, and names. Suggested activities include both independent and interactive projects, most of which require some research. Each chapter's study guide includes at least one debatable question such as, "Prepare a case either to support or oppose the following position: 'Working conditions would be horrendous if it were not for the efforts of labor unions'" (p. 162). These questions can be used for actual debate or for written position papers. Recommended reading suggestions are at the end of the study guides for most chapters.
The fourth edition, published in 2018, is a hardcover textbook. While the interior is printed in black and white and has no illustrations, the formatting is much improved from earlier editions. The text itself runs only the width of about two-thirds of the page. Sidebars and definitions are sometimes featured in the other third of the page, but there's more white space, The overall effect of this reformatting is to make the textbook much more readable.
An optional online course developed by the publisher has daily assignments for a one-semester course (with access available for ten months). Students still need the textbook. The course has assignments, videos, links to other websites, and built-in quizzes and tests (with time limits) that are completed online. Students will also read The Law by Frederic Bastiat and Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury, so you will need to obtain both books. Short videos included in most lessons are sometimes presented by one of the text's authors, Dr. Paul Cleveland, while others are from sources such as Prager University, the Foundation for Economic Education, Acton Institute, and the Mises Institute.
For each chapter in the textbook, students will still need to write out definitions for terms, answers to review questions, and a position paper, all of which will need to be checked by a parent or teacher using the teacher's guide.
Budget Project Mini-Course
The optional budget project mini-course can be used with the textbook and within the online course described above, about one day per week is allotted to either the budget project or other projects. Students will be dealing with adult level budget issues, completing research, and using spreadsheets as directed by online lessons. The budget project culminates with a final written report. I think the budget project balances the sometimes more philosophically-oriented textbook with real-life applications.
Online Teacher's Guide
An online teacher's guide, available to those who purchase the book, has PDFs with the study guide answers plus chapter quizzes and tests with answer keys. Those who purchase from a distributor rather than directly from the publisher can send a copy of their receipt to get free access.
The teacher's guide includes a lesson plan that mirrors the sequence of the online course described above, although it doesn't include the videos or linked articles. The "For Further Study" section at the end of each of the chapter study guides includes URLs for some of those resources. As with the online course, the course outlined in the teacher's guide requires students to also read The Law by Frederic Bastiat and Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury, It also allots times for the budget project or other projects.
The teacher's guide and the online course option, both new with the fourth edition of Basic Economics, transform the textbook into a comprehensive course, deeply based on principles, that should be manageable for homeschooling parents and very interesting for students.