Economics rules (your life)

Professor’s perspectives on the importance of an economics education

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The UW department of economics, located in Savery Hall.

“If you don’t think economics affects your life, then you just don’t know,” senior lecturer Melissa Knox said. 

The economics department, established in 1917, is one of the oldest and largest departments in the College of Arts & Sciences and filters hundreds of students through their classes, whether economics majors or not. In autumn 2018, 620 undergraduates were enrolled as economics majors

“Almost everything we do has an economic component to it,” Stephen Turnovsky, the Ford and Louisa Van Voorhis professor of economics, said. 

Laid out on his desk are stacks of paper with formulas. For Turnovsky, who began teaching at the UW about 30 years ago, the field of economics is all about elegance. It grows and builds on itself as it goes, creating models to understand how the world should work in theory.

Since Turnovsky began his work in economic growth in 1968, the academic study of economics has changed measurably. 

Capital growth used to mean just the addition of more machines to a workforce, but it now includes other factors like education, health, and globalization. When thinking about how he could show this to someone who has only a basic knowledge of economics, Turnovsky referenced two books on his shelf with excitement.

Here’s one that was published in 1970, and so it was up to that point, mainly in the ‘60s, and here’s the more contemporary one,” he said. “And the overlap between the two is zero. There’s a common starting point, and then they go in different directions.” 

Over the past 30 years, economics has become more empirically based and data-driven rather than being focused solely on theory and is considered by many to be the most “scientific” of the social sciences, Turnovsky explained.

Though her road to studying economics was long, Knox started first with an engineering and physics degree before finally settling on economics; she feels like she made the right choice. 

“I wanted to understand how the world works, and then wanting to do it in a way that felt sort of scientific and economics feels … I mean it’s a social science so it’s not perfect, but it feels more scientific to me,” Knox said.

Economics is a requirement for majors outside of the department as well. 

ECON 200, Introduction to Microeconomics, is a 500-person lecture with at least one section offered per quarter. Due to its popularity among undergraduate students, the economics department degree became a competitive major in 2009. 

Political economy majors, international studies majors, environmental studies majors, and business majors all need to take ECON 200 or 201, Introduction to Macroeconomics.

“If you take an economics class, you learn specific things like taxes and tariffs but you also learn a way of thinking and a way of analyzing how people make decisions,” Knox said.

On a broader political and social perspective, economics is especially important now with elections coming up and people beginning to talk more about candidates. Knox recommends taking economics classes just to stay informed. 

Economics isn’t just about money. It’s about understanding human behavior and figuring out ways the world works. 

“If you are responding to incentives and if you are making trade-offs, then you’re basically doing economics,” Knox said. “So why not actually study what we know about how people make decisions, and then maybe have a better understanding of your own behavior or a better understanding of the people around you?” 

Reach contributing writer Zoe Schenk at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter @schenk_zoe

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(2) comments

Harold Bissonette

BA in Econ. Read Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" — loved it.

Love the many insights from Dan Ariely too.

So, when economics gets into human behavior, okay, yes, it has something to add.

Still, submit that people who want to grok human nature would be better served by more fundamental domains, especially evolutionary biology & evo anthropology — Robert Trivers, E. O. Wilson, Richard Wrangham, Robert Kurzban, Napoleon Chagnon and others. Can't omit Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal.

Here are a few of my complaints re economics, which I regard as fundamentally flawed re the economy, to the point of fraud, per Nassim Taleb and others.

Economists make numerous fundamental omissions.

They do not understand code, including monetary code, in a physics, evolution and complexity context.

Econs, please understand: "Initial conditions rule in complex systems." Stewart Brand

"The story of human intelligence starts with a universe that is capable of encoding information." Ray Kurzweil — How To Create A Mind

Code: Fundamental Complexity Context

Complexity increases weaken the efficacy of code, whether genetic, legal, monetary, language, religious, software, etc.

Consider This:

Fundamentally, we've been creating vast global relationship structures, i.e., doing multi-scale selection in-&-across Geo Eco Bio Cultural & Tech networks for centuries — with the world's dominant information processing mechanism or app — humans deploying monetary code.

The app's information processing specs are far too weak now — given the relationship complexity generated by our species unprecedented numbers, powers and concomitant reach.

Another Fundament

Econs: If your culture's dominant information processing mechanism or app for relationship interface — humans deploying monetary code — arms the sky and ocean with weapons of mass extinction, you may want to realize that you've been Lethally Wrong for Decades. Somewhat arbitrarily, let's say since 1970 when Jacques Cousteau said: "The oceans are in danger of dying."

2019: They're dying.

Our biological and cultural coding — Relationship Infrastructure — do not fit the emergent environs / relationships we've generated; i.e., they are increasingly non-selectable.

World culture and the Geo, Bio & Eco networks it is built upon resemble an immune system being overrun by novel pathogens.

We're experiencing an acceleration of failed relationships, symptoms of the emergent complexity apocalypse.

Harold Bissonette

BA in Econ. Read Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" — loved it. Love the many insights from Dan Ariely too.

So, when economics gets into human behavior, okay, yes, it has something to add. Still, submit that people who want to grok human nature would be better served by more fundamental domains, especially evolutionary biology & evo anthropology — Robert Trivers, E. O. Wilson, Richard Wrangham, Robert Kurzban, Napoleon Chagnon and others. Can't omit Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal.

Here are a few of my complaints re economics, which I regard as fundamentally flawed re the economy, to the point of fraud, per Nassim Taleb and others.

Economists make numerous fundamental omissions.

They do not understand code, including monetary code, in a physics, evolution and complexity context.

Econs, please understand: "Initial conditions rule in complex systems." Stewart Brand

"The story of human intelligence starts with a universe that is capable of encoding information." Ray Kurzweil — How To Create A Mind

Code: Fundamental Complexity Context Complexity increases weaken the efficacy of code, whether genetic, legal, monetary, language, religious, software, etc.

Consider This:

Fundamentally, we've been creating vast global relationship structures, i.e., doing multi-scale selection in-&-across Geo Eco Bio Cultural & Tech networks for centuries — with the world's dominant information processing mechanism or app — humans deploying monetary code.

The app's information processing specs are far too weak now — given the relationship complexity generated by our species unprecedented numbers, powers and concomitant reach.

Another Fundament

Econs: If your culture's dominant information processing mechanism or app for relationship interface — humans deploying monetary code — arms the sky and ocean with weapons of mass extinction, you may want to realize that you've been Lethally Wrong for Decades. Somewhat arbitrarily, let's say since 1970 when Jacques Cousteau said: "The oceans are in danger of dying."

2019: They're dying.

Our biological and cultural coding — Relationship Infrastructure — do not fit the emergent environs / relationships we've generated; i.e., they are increasingly non-selectable.

World culture and the Geo, Bio & Eco networks it is built upon resemble an immune system being overrun by novel pathogens.

We're experiencing an acceleration of failed relationships, symptoms of the emergent complexity apocalypse.

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