An Outside look In

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:

spivey Mike Spivey, Professor of Mathematics

I’m not sure I’m qualified to define economics!  With that caveat, I’ll take a stab and say economics is the study of money, its transfer between people and groups, and the resulting effects.
I think economics, particularly economic literacy, is very important.  In a republic such as ours, for example, we voters and our elected representatives could make better policy decisions if we were more economically literate.  As individuals, we could make better decisions about how we manage our own money if we were more economically literate.
Auna June Lundberg, senior creative writing and business double major
Economics as a discipline to me means studying supply and demand and calculating potential risks to adjust to.

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. 


Andreas Udbye, Visiting Assistant Professor in School of Business and Leadership Understanding how the economy works. This could be a person’s personal (micro) economy, or a global (macro) economy. How things act and react in economics will depend on human nature, behaviors and priorities. What emerges when multiple humans individually perform economic acts (basically buying or selling something) constitutes economics.  Therefore, economics has “emergent” properties. Economic realities (like a price level) will exist whether we think they are important or not. So the question is, important for what or for whom?  It is, of course, of crucial importance that milk costs $3 per gallon, and not ten times as much!


Mimi Andrews, sophomore bio major I would define economics as how we study the interactions of different markets and how a nation manages finances. I think it is very important because without it we would not know how to create fiscal policy and manage government revenue. ChrisKendall

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.

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