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A Leaflet for Economics?

A Leaflet for Economics?

It may be rightfully supposed that the first few months of higher education represent a turning point for most people. It is undoubtedly of a great importance that people take the decision of wholeheartedly stepping into a new environment and make the best use of it. In truth, contact with academia offers new perspectives to young peoples. This is not necessarily about a life turnaround, but more about a novelty represented by a field of activity which people had not been familiar with before, for the "newcomers" have just passed over the threshold between the "playground" of adolescence and the official domain of maturity.

Therefore, many others may stoop over a certain profile of a university/faculty precisely because they have the desire to gain knowledge about a field which is yet to be fully revealed to them.

I should like to acknowledge that, at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, almost none of the freshmen were familiar with the Economics, and those who attended a highschool with an economic profile would have little to no advantage compared to their colleagues, at least as far as the current educational system is concerned. More than four months have passed since the new students were first introduced to the basic principles of economics. Various reactions could be distinguished ever since from colleagues - a good deal of them would not be overly excited by the new state of affairs and would probably be more content with the traditional classes they had in highschool; others have shown a restrained interest in this particular field or have thought that it suffices to merely accomplish the tasks assigned by the professors; and a few, let it be said, have found a new interest that encompasses various others they had had. 

Even so, Economics is not expected to be that thing which fills a void in us, but rather a subject which fits perfectly into a student’s frame of interests. Economics features tangents to numerous “humanities”, thus encouraging even suspicious characters to direct their attention to it. At the very core of Economics is the study of "human action" and of the way people choose to manage their resources. Its social character is also underlined by the fact that its intrinsic problem - how scarce resources ought to be allocated - is a subject of constant debate within any society, whereas sciences like physics or mathematics are the purview of a chosen few. No matter what one or another would believe, discussions about the economy of each nation shall last forever in any society. These have an important effect on everyday life. The psychological effect which economy-related debates and arguments have on mentalities is also worth noting, for this is manifested in various forms. For example, we have witnessed for an endless time the debate between capitalism and socialism. This is not entirely an economic debate since these two systems include different views which go beyond a certain economic system and represent different ideas and opposing fundamentals. For instance, Ludwig von Mises's "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality" is probably the most comprehensive analysis on the reasons why some may despise the free market system and consider it the cause of all evils on earth. Likewise, it is far more common to hear of important figures of our times inveighing against capitalism. When talking about socialism, the most coherent opposition against it has been provided by the Austrian intellectuals of the eponymous school of economic thought like Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman or Murray N. Rothbard.

We could continue on this path by recalling the words of another Austrian economist, the Swede Johan Norberg, who remarked how mass-media have an essential role when it comes to shaping our opinion on the quality of today's life and whether the world has been on an ascending or descending trend. Only 5% of British people believe that general welfare has improved over the last few decades ("The Americans are much more optimistic of course - 6% of them think that the world is improving"). This trend has a general character and has been on the rise over the last few decades. One of the reasons that could explain this stance, besides the never-ending crimes, thefts and other tragedies we hear about from the news, may possibly be induced by the ceaseless toil of modern society to fulfil a professed but rarely confirmed desire for equality. Whereas, according to professor Thomas Sowell, a society which strives for perfect equality will obtain nothing like this supposedly achievable equality. Instead, a society that is more concerned about individual freedom will not obtain equality either, but will get to the closest plane that enables people to become equal.

Leaving this fierce confrontation behind us, one could come up with an essential question as to whether people (young and old) ought to be educated in the spirit of a certain school of economic thought. No matter how one puts it, the independence of the university professors must reign supreme, far from any other interference "from above" and it is very important that for faculty to agree on this, in order to avoid stifling conformity.

Furthermore, what is much needed is the possibility of selecting those people who have real and innovative ideas regarding the small business environment. It is reported that the majority of students have expressed their desire to become entrepreneurs. Conversely, the academic environment has to cater to their desire and provide them not only with a "fixed" theoretical basis in this regard, but with the proper mentality. Thus, Adam Smith's words should be kept in mind: “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical”. This is because it can easily be observed how many, if not most, of the teenagers and young adults are brimming with great expectations from their government and express their desire of adopting those mythical measures brought about by more “humane” government policies which are thought to facilitate the quality of life and especially the possibility of guaranteeing a decent living.

However, some voices may ask whether such considerations really have to extend to any aspect of our life or whether we need to filter everything through this ideological sieve, and rightfully so. This may be another explanation for the pessimism we signalled before. Economics could hardly provide a life philosophy that can answer questions regarding all human relations and interactions, the solar system, the origin of the world or the human body and its illnesses. What is more important is that it can become a frame of thought, not in the very scholastic sense, but in the sense of principles, from ethical to social ones. It has been said countless times that Economics does not enable anyone to make money, therefore it is more about a process of comprehension of the surrounding realities that are changing at a significant speed. A debate on a matter that at a first glance might seem to be of a purely social character could be traced back to (hidden or not) interests of another nature, the economic one included. Alertness is essential in this case, but its sense can be refined only if a strong ideological base is found in people's intellect.

A presupposed total domination of mind and instincts of a sixth sense that is able to think only in financial terms has been alluded to multiple times. For example, “economic fundamentalism” is a term coined by the American philanthropist George Soros that refers to the relationship between democracies and the global capitalist system which encompasses volatile and unpredictable markets that are becoming more and more “effervescent”. Anyway, the point to be made here is that a sort of “fundamentalism” is to many merely inherent in an economics-minded individual. The disdain for such a notion could also be supported by the immediate association of Economics with its countless “perpetrators” that are thought to be hominis oeconomici and individuals with dangerous ways of thinking. On a general note, one may cite a well-known Romanian singer, “Money does not bring happiness, but helps one maintain love”, and say that people who are disregarded because of their occupation’s link to markets and finance, from bank clerks to real-estate tycoons, are, most of the times, as righteous or as villainous as the empty-handed worker.

Having at least a minimal interest in economics must take the form of an invitation addressed to every member of our society. As far as students in economics or a field closely tied to it are concerned, they can be the best propagators of the study of economics - a synthesis of sociology, behavioral attitudes, geopolitics and historical realities is open to intelligent minds who are hopefully directed to the quest for freedom and discipline, and less to futuristc ideals, "scientific" facts in humanitarian matters or pre-established truths. Once again, we could say that if students take advantage of the time that is still available to them in order to study economics, they will not regret it. Moreover, if people in general profit from their own abilities to the highest point, society as a whole will thus benefit as well. And this is what a healthy educational system preaches. A reduced interest in such matters is not necessarily to the detriment of a person, but contempt towards Economics, especially when it comes from young people who choose the path of “serving justice” and pursuing retribution, is indeed seductive.

In conclusion, propaganda for economics could also take the form of an electronic leaflet that might be easily spotted in the world wide web, especially on the social media, but the most efficient “testimony” comes from none other than one who has shown an interest in economics for a certain period of time and is willing to be open for a discussion on it, directing the interlocutor towards realms the latter might identify with, demonstrating the connection between his range of interests and that of the “messenger”. Next time one is asked “Why study economics?”, the answer may come more naturally and with plenty of persuasive arguments. 

References 

Norberg, J. (2016). Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. One World Publications

Kourilsky, M. (1995), Entrepreneurship Education: Opportunity in Search of Curriculum. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Dickson, T. (1999). "The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered," by George Soros [Online]. https://www.strategy-business.com/ Available at: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/16459?gko=49ad1.

 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016