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Understanding economics shouldn’t just be for economists

As a science student, politics and economics officially caught my interest during sixth form when I started working on my Extended Project Qualification. This interest then developed as I began to understand how important a role politics and economics play in ensuring that our laboratory findings become real policies that can be used to benefit society.

Ever since, I have cared deeply for and have been reading extensively about the political economic elements of our society (which I think has also helped me to become a better scientist and citizen). However, the more I learn about economics, the more I regret not having studied it at school. During GCSE, it was certainly my own fault as I only chose subjects where I knew what I was signing up for. Having had no previous exposure to economics, it felt like something that could not be for me especially given that I had a strong interest in science.

Personally, as a chemistry student I openly admit that I struggle to sometimes understand even the Financial Times articles. Nevertheless, reading the news has helped me learn more about what they do and their jargon only gets easier as I ask Siri more and more questions. After seeing the benefits of making a conscious effort to teach myself more economics, I have realised just how fundamentally important a subject it is to us all in society.

Changes are needed so that introductory elements of economics are taught at schools, providing children with a basic awareness of the social world that they live in.

I strongly believe that it is essential that society is economically literate. This not only means reading around the subject but also structural changes in our education system. Changes are needed so that introductory elements of economics are taught at schools, providing children with a basic awareness of the social world that they live in.

Economics is a social science focusing on studying the art of making decisions. Yes, you read that right. Economics is not limited to GDP calculations and economic forecasting, which is often a ‘mug’s game’, as Partha Dasgupta said in his book Economics, A Very Short Introduction. It is the science of the social world that we live in and it tries of make sense of why we do the things that we do. In fact, there is an entire branch of economics called Behavioural economics dedicated to this.

Another observation that may or may not be so obvious is that I find economics very philosophical. Whereas I started off thinking this is something only found in Dostoevsky’s novels, it is clear that pretty much every subject has its own philosophical elements. I have seen this in literature, chemistry, mathematics and indeed, economics. The concept of marginal cost, externalities, opportunity cost, free-riding and the different values and capitals that are all assigned names are very fundamental to life. They may sound like big names given to trivial elements, but when you apply economics to real life, it enables you to view society from a different perspective. In my everyday decision-making, I often find myself considering the opportunity cost of everything and externalities are such a core component of everything from the most materialistic to the utterly abstract.

Economics provides us with a different viewpoint of considering all these issues in a non-biased manner based on scientific approaches that do not care about the political opinions 

Recently I have noticed a shift in my preferences where instead of being interested in politics and economics, I am becoming increasingly more economics focused and trying to avoid politics. This may not sound surprising given the current political climate we are in, but one of the main issues that I have with politics, being someone with the brain of scientist, is how ideological politics is, or at least appears to be, rather than evidence based. It is always the same and opposing policies we associate with the Tories and Labour be it topics of taxation or privatisation and the political parties don’t fail to prove our predictions correct either. Is austerity really always wrong or does it depend on how long the policy has been employed for? Is privatisation always bad or does it depend on the nature of the service? Economics provides us with a different viewpoint of considering all these issues in a non-biased manner based on scientific approaches that do not care about the political opinions of the individual keying the numbers in the calculator.

Understanding economics in this way can enable us to become better informed about what is actually happening to the economy, where we are going wrong when things are not going right and most importantly to me, it enables us to distinguish facts from emotion. A policy that sounds kind is not necessarily a good policy in the long term, and economics enables us to make that distinction between the two.

It is important that if we embrace democracy that we also understand and take seriously the responsibility that by default follows the power that it gives us as individuals in the form of our votes

In this way, economics allows us to feel more informed about what we vote for and understand the political manifestos more holistically. It provides us with the skills and knowledge to be able to understand and indeed question whether proposed changes to budgets, regulations, trade and the rest of it all are going to be beneficial to the country and vote accordingly. It is important that if we embrace democracy that we also understand and take seriously the responsibility that by default follows the power that it gives us as individuals in the form of our votes. George Stigler, a Nobel Laureate in economics, said “The public has chosen to speak and vote on economic problems, so the only open question is how intelligently it speaks and votes.” This is a question for us to ask ourselves – how intelligently are we all voting?

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