Economists have no defense: A critical review of national defense in economics textbooks

Christopher Coyne, David S. Lucas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


National defense is the textbook example of a public good. To understand how economists present public goods to undergraduates, we analyze fifty texts from across three widely taught undergraduate economics courses: principles of economics, intermediate microeconomics, and public finance. We find that textbooks overwhelmingly present national defense as a public good and rarely mention the possibility of government failure. This presentation leaves students with an incomplete and biased exposure to the government provision of public goods. We reconsider some of the main assumptions associated with the standard treatment of national defense as the quintessential public good and discuss opportunities for educators to better prepare students as economists and citizens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-83
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Private Enterprise
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Government failure
  • Intermediate microeconomics
  • National defense
  • Principles of economics
  • Public choice
  • Public economics
  • Public goods
  • Undergraduate teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance
  • General Business, Management and Accounting


Dive into the research topics of 'Economists have no defense: A critical review of national defense in economics textbooks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this