If Economics Hurts, You May Be Doing It Wrong!

Article excerpt

After 15 years or so of relatively steady growth, macroeconomics is threatening to become interesting again. But today economics is also about so much more than just the economy Economists now study all areas of life, including marriage, organised crime, conflict resolution, religion and even sex. Using economics as an investigative tool can increase its intrinsic appeal and provide students with a strong foundation in critical thinking that employers will reward.

Modern economics

The variety of topics that economists explore has exploded. This is testimony to the power and immediacy of economics. Education, for example, comes under the scrutiny of economists, and students might be intrigued by Jacob and Levitt's (2003) paper exploring whether teachers cheat. Other topics that might interest students include the economics of the family, sport, religion, social exclusion, social mobility, discrimination, obesity, auctions and lotteries, crime and its detection, drugs, sexual behaviour, health, politics, migration, climate change, the value of human life, happiness and wellbeing. Students may find many of these just as interesting as "the economy" and the micro and macro approaches this traditionally entails.

Marshall famously defined economics as the study of the "business of everyday life". And we suspect one reason why A level economics lost students to business studies was an over identification of economics with "the economy" rather than bringing out its much broader application in explaining and predicting human behaviour. Economists today work on an astonishing range of things that makes even Freakanomics look narrow We could fill several pages with a full list of the topics investigated by the Government Economic Service (GES), the UK's largest recruiter of economists. A few of these topics are listed in Table 1.

A level Economics

Despite significant and welcome advances, the new A level syllabuses might still be selling the subject short. In 2006, in evidence to the Nuffield Foundation, the GES argued that the A level boards could do more to interest people in economics by a much greater emphasis on teaching them to think like economists. So it's disappointing to see that a major marketing pitch of the new syllabuses is "continuity with the previous specification".

Now many of the topics in "poponomics" books may appear trivial in comparison to the core technical rigour of orthodox economic theory, but they are often more relevant to personal experience. …