Lauren M. Dobbie

Thinking outside the model

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 10:32 am

My last exam is tonight… then I’m done university, at least for a while. Aside from how long the paperwork takes and the fact that the gown-wearing and stage-crossing isn’t until June, I’ll unofficially have a degree in economics as of 9:00 tonight.

If you thought this was going to be a sanctimonious post about the wisdom I’ve accumulated over the last four years, I don’t blame you- the intro was borderline. However, I will offer you a few reflections on this course of study and where I hope it goes…

Studying economics does make one a bit of a skeptic-cynic when it comes to most facets of daily life, from the zoo-like quality of most Beer Stores when they’re busy to the recent events in Egypt and Libya. Yet, once you study, in depth, the incentives of the masses I found that after the “People are evil and selfish” wanes, an appreciation for the complexity, design, and hopefully the effectiveness of ‘the way things are’ begins to emerge.

Of course, on the other hand, studying economics does give one a major tool in today’s increasingly dynamic world: the ability to think critically. As much as thinking economically can make someone understand certain institutions and policies in the world and help accept them, economics can also expose some important short-comings or problems in major social arenas. Understanding incentives helps a person understand power, which is so important on so many levels… from friendships to the workplace to globalization.

Courses in economics do have one major draw-back that you have to watch out for, namely, context. The cynic-skeptic quality of studying economics can get way outta hand if you’re not careful to explore and understand the major perspectives surrounding the issues at hand. What I mean by that is you can study labour economics, for example, and think “Well of course there are wage and income gaps between men and women- many women are taking time off from work and leaving the labour force for extended periods of time to have and raise families so of course there are going to be income inequalities” or one could think that no matter what the reason is: taking time off work or simple prejudice, that these wage gaps will never close.Taking a non-economic and economic considerations of the factors that influence economic phenomena such as this gives a needed burst of “thinking outside the model”. Looking at the world economically is a valuable skill, I think, but looking at something just economically would be like looking around a new apartment without checking to make sure that the shower head is installed higher than 5 feet off the ground (that is the situation at my current apartment), or checking to make sure it has good cell phone reception (that was the situation in my last apartment).

The question that’s still lingering is “How can things be made better?” Health care systems… paying for education… workplace training… democratization… Retail… there are so many institutions, systems, and processes that aren’t perfectly aligned with the way people think (on average), what they want (what they think they want too), and how they want to get what they want. This might be what pushes me to do grad school one day but at least now that those questions are firmly planted in my mind I can try to improve what “institutions, systems, and processes” I come across in my own life.

Also, the man in the picture for this post is John Maynard Keynes… He’s probably the best example of an economist who turned an existing economic/political ideology on its head (at least until Friedman), plus he basically remedied the Great Depression. He had the wherewithal to make dramatic and different suggestions to policy-makers when it came to government spending in the UK which sounds like a rather “dry” accomplishment but really, that was pretty badass because it takes courage to stand up and question the status-quo, especially when you’re standing up and facing something like the government.

So I guess the moral of this story is that economics has, in a big way, set me up to think in a way that may give me ideas about how to think outside the box and maybe even suggest changes that could make the something… anything… better. University has also made me apt at cashing in on vague ideas and large words, but this is the best I’ve got: economics has made me think differently for the better and I feel set up to bring something cool to the table.

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