Authors: Tesha Shalon and Connor Lennon
Often times here, on this blog and elsewhere in the discipline, economics can be a little insular. We’re happy to take our models and insights to how our discipline applies elsewhere, but rarely do we bring in other disciplines to provide an opinion back. So we decided to ask non-economics professors and majors to tell us what they thought economics was. We posed a two part question to the group: 1.) What, in your own words, is economics? and 2.) Is economics useful, why or why not? Without further ado, these are their responses:
Mike Spivey, Professor of Mathematics
Economics is both important and unimportant. It allows countries to make predictions about future growth, various ways to use both imports/ exports, money supply, and whatever else you should be focusing on in economics. However, at the same time, because it seems to be all theory and wants to revolve around perfect world situations, it’s impractical and at times appears to be more of a hassle or an excuse to mess with things. If economies were natural, I wouldn’t have a problem because they would fluctuate by themselves, but they don’t. People mess with them and manipulate them which creates problems.
Chris Kendall, Assistant Professor in department of Politics and Government I would say that, at its most straightforward, economics is the study of the distribution of material resources. As someone who studies law and politics, though, I would consider economics to be the study of a particular form of latent societal power. We can have as many laudable political documents and legal principles as we like—all claiming to constrain the raw exercise of power—but without knowing who profits from them or who has the money to access the institutions that create, interpret, or enforce those principles we’re only dealing with facades. At the same time, societal actors use these political and legal institutions to shape the creation and distribution of wealth. A longer definition of economics then would be the study of how individuals and groups operate within contested institutional constraints to accumulate and exercise latent social power.
Thank you to all of the participants for contributing their phenomenal answers! If you have another idea about what economics is or what it’s good for, post it in the comments below.