Every student entering his or her first Economics class in his/her senior years comes up with this question, “Is economics boring or interesting?” Going back to my student years and not being a hypocrite, I have asked this question myself when I placed my hands on my first economics textbook way back in the late 1980s. Now, having come a fairly long way, my answer to these young curious minds is “Economics is a very interesting and an informative subject if taught the right way.”
High school students overseas start their study of economics with more practical applications to the subject such as understanding how taxation works, how the share market functions and so on. Alongside, these students also compare the differences between developing and developed countries using core economic entities such as industrial growth, capital accumulation, savings and investment patterns, to name a few, rather than mere cross-comparison of statistical information. Evidently, such comparisons based on economic entities help students grasp the intricacies of the subject and its application in the real world much better.Why economics?
Moving further, in schools in India, choosing economics as a subject is not regarded highly as a career option. One question frequently asked of a new economics graduate is “What next?” Another bitter truth is this subject suffers a fair share of gender inequality. There are more women who study this subject than men. What could be the reason for this disparity? Being an academic myself, I have more men as students at both graduate and postgraduate level; I find all my students thoroughly enjoying what I teach and completely engrossed in the subject, and that makes teaching more interesting.
Quite sadly, economics is portrayed as a subject filled with age-old theories, same-old diagrams, outdated statistical data, etc., that need no in-class discussion. Drawing the same-old demand curve, discussing the monotonous theories of demand and elasticity of demand does not warrant more than a couple of lectures. This clarifies why students prefer skipping a post-lunch session to listening to a good lecture. What is clearly lacking here is a practical approach to the subject. Every topic in economics must be intertwined with a practical approach, not to be presented merely as a dry subject. I mean using daily economic entities such as the actual working of our taxation system to understand the fiscal side of the economy and the mathematical calculations used in macroeconomic operations to better understand the functioning of the central bank. These are just a few relevant examples. Economics will continue to be called ‘dry and uninteresting’ to many unless and until this subject is portrayed to be a mathematical science.Econometrics
During my student years, little did I realise the positive and important correlation existing between mathematics and economics. However, while doing my doctoral research overseas, I observed that every unit of economics involves mathematical calculations ranging from very simple to complicated, which made every class a ‘not to be missed’ kind. How does economics become a mathematical science? Clearly, a very simple definition is, ‘economics combined with mathematics’. Technically, one could call it ‘econometrics’. Let me not instigate any fear in those young minds that have a phobia for mathematics. It is in fact very simple as long as you evince interest, bearing in mind your career and its progression. Mathematical calculations when made an integral part of the study of economics makes it easy for any student to have a better grasp of how every concept functions. Let me take a simple example of the oft spoken cost curves. I am confident that a student calculating the average, marginal and total costs and then presenting them diagrammatically would be more well-versed on the intricacies of the topic than a student who masters the lecture material discussed in class. Although the latter would know the concept theoretically well, when thrown open in the real world, every step is bleak and scary if the student remains unexposed to practical calculations. Thus, quite obviously, theory combined with mathematical work makes this study more effective for real-time work environment. Mathematical economics is the heart and soul to a clear understanding of this subject and is crucial to building a successful career.
Economics is definitely a subject for all young men and women. Let it not be considered a mere subject that gets young women ready for the marriage market! Think of those legendary economists in India who were responsible for economic liberalisation in the 1990s that has opened up the Indian market to foreign investments today. Think of what new contributions can be made to enhance the scope of study. Every young mind wanting to major in economics must aim at achieving high echelons.
The writer is lecturer in Economics, Victoria University – Sydney campus, Australia.