Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Concept Visualization and Macroeconomics

Across many theoretical subjects, it seems that much more effort has been spent on data visualization than on concept visualization. There are a number of good reasons for this, but I think concept visualization is still behind where it should be (at least in the educational material I've been exposed to).

Macroeconomics is a subject extremely well suited to conceptual visualization, yet the majority of the educational material on the web seems to be text-centered (other than supply-demand curves and the occasional simple diagram or balance sheet). While equations such as “GDP = C + I + G + ( X – M )” provide precision and rigor and aren't even mathematically complex, their inclusion in content (for example, blog posts) necessarily narrows the potential audience.

As most readers know, my first attempt at concept visualization for macroeconomics was the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer. However, it did not appear to be as accessible to newcomers as I'd initially hoped. So I've been working on something intended for a broader audience.

Design goals include:
  • Anchor as much of the verbal content to visual representations as possible, to reduce ambiguity and help illustrate concepts
  • Be as concise as possible while covering the most important core concepts
  • Have the core content be beginner friendly, but have additional details available just a click away at each step along the path for those who want more
  • Use a web site rather than blog format, so the content can be evolved and improved in-place over time
While the content and illustrations are very far from complete (think of it as an evolving framework still in the rough draft stage), I think it's crossing a threshold where it could be worth having available to the public while work on it continues. (There's a chance I will take it offline again for a while if I get the impression it may do more harm than good in its current form).

My “to do” list is enormous for it... there is much much more that can be done graphically as well with better verbal coverage of concepts. It simply takes time... And you'll also have to excuse the amateurish graphics, for now.

That said, it's very useful to get feedback to help prioritize the “to do” list, plus you may have creative suggestions that aren't on my list! Also I hope you'll help keep me on track with direct and honest feedback (including negative reactions) if you think parts of it are heading in the wrong direction, or I've messed up or left out important things! If you do choose to try this new visualizer and respond, you can give anonymous feedback directly from a link at the bottom of each page in the tutorial, or you can post comments to this blog post, or email me.

And if you're just learning MMT and are short on time, you may want to just wait for a future improved version rather go through what's there now, since it's full of gaps and placeholders.

Here it is:

P.S. I do still have a good sized list of potential topics for this blog too, but have still been giving the EconViz stuff priority for the time being, so please excuse the silence.


  1. You are definitely heading in the right direction.
    You need input from complete novices in order to validate its concepts.
    I like it a lot! The mixture of narration, animation and expandable text boxes for extra information is very good.People might get confused by the overlay of money and production.
    Also, there might be too many excess diagram elements, distracting the reader.The basic idea of the economic circuit is good.Maybe there could be a more explicit reference or link to national accounts and the concept of national accounts, as a sidebar.I think you need an introductory slide explaining the overall economy as depicted in the flow diagram. Then go on with the first slide.

  2. Thanks for the encouraging feedback!

    "People might get confused by the overlay of money and production"

    Could be... I haven't seen comments to that effect yet, but if that seems like a stumbling block I'd be open to suggestions for improvement.

    "too many excess diagram elements, distracting the reader"

    Agreed that there's still a lot going on... it will be an ongoing process to simplify wherever possible without losing the message!

    Agreed, national accounts could be good to include among the optional content. The intro slide might be good too -- it will help to hear from "complete novices" whether they get lost on the initial pages. I'll keep trying to find the right balance between providing interesting content early enough to keep people's attention and not throwing too many confusing things into the mix at once...