So You Want To Know About Economics

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Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

Conversation with Roopa Pai


Here’s an idea. Pick up a notebook and pen, walk to the nearest adult, and with your most earnest face (practice in front of the mirror first), tell them you are conducting a Very Important survey for a school project. There are only two questions, so would they please give you five minutes of their time? If you live with more or less reasonable people, they will most likely agree.

When your unsuspecting victim has settled down, ask her your first question:

‘What is your opinion of Economics as a subject?’

The person you are interviewing will most likely look distinctly traumatised by the question. Then she will perhaps respond in one of the following ways.

Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

Ø ‘Absolutely. The. Most. Mind-numbingly. Boring. Subject. On. Earth!’

Ø ‘You’d have to be a math genius to even begin to understand what the subject is about. I’m not.’

Ø ‘I passed with decent marks, but if you asked me what Economics taught me, I don’t quite, erm, know.’

Ø ‘No opinion at all. I’ve never studied it, and never been tempted to. Can I go now? I have to pee.’

Pushing on ruthlessly, ask the second question:

‘What do you think about when you think about Economics?’

People who have never studied the subject will be wonderfully vague. ‘It’s about money, right? About budgets—how a country divides the money it has? About GDP and stocks and shares and… uh, stuff to do with the Reserve Bank and the Finance Minister and taxes… and… oh all right, all right, I admit it, I don’t think about Economics at all. Please don’t judge me.’

Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

Economics Textbooks,Children's Reference (Books)

People who have studied the subject, on the other hand, will clear their throats, sit up straighter, and proceed to throw random words and phrases at you. ‘It’s about, you know, markets and things. Supply, demand, price elasticity, externalities, cost-benefit, scarcity, resources, exchange rates, maximising utility, protectionism, globalisation, and all of them, of course, ceteris paribus…’ When they finally catch your glassy-eyed expression, they will turn up their noses and say, ‘See, it’s Very Complicated. Difficult to explain. You wouldn’t understand it.’

Only a few people—a rare species but they do exist—will smile beatifically when you ask them these questions. They will lean forward in their seats, faces animated, eyes sparkling, and tell you that Economics is the most exciting subject in the world. Over the next half hour, pinning you to your seat with their fire-and-brimstone eyes, they will tell you why they think so. This is what they might say:

1. Economics is important because it is really the study of how the world thinks and works! See, economists are really psychologists in disguise—they have looked into the deepest, darkest recesses of the human heart and discovered that all of us are essentially selfish beings at the core. But if every person is doing selfish things that only benefit him or her, how come society is doing more or less okay? Economists believe they have the answer to that Big Question, and they spend their lives figuring out how to arrange things in the world so that society benefits while people go on doing their selfish things.

2. Economists are really superheroes fighting for a fairer world! One of their lives’ Big Challenges is to figure out the best ways to share the world’s limited resources (like minerals, metals, oil, human labour, time, energy or money) amongst people who have unlimited needs, in ways that are as moral and ethical as possible. They constantly obsess over how to make things somewhat equitable for everyone—the rich and the poor, developed countries and developing countries, the healthy and the sick, and the old and the young, so that both sides benefit. They look at every problem from more than one point of view, and then they present all the different views, so that people can make the right choice for themselves.*

*Economists are so particular about looking at every problem from all sides that it often feels like they never have a firm opinion on anything. That can get pretty frustrating when you are asking them for advice. Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, once famously requested to be sent a ‘one-armed economist’, because he was so tired of hearing every economist say, ‘On the one hand, this,’ and ‘On the other hand, that’.

3. Economists are closet environmentalists. Just like environmentalists, they are constantly trying to understand how we, the 7 billion people that inhabit this planet, can get the most out of what the universe gives us for free—sunlit skies, clean air, flowing rivers, lush forests—without mindlessly destroying it and ruining things for ourselves. The two groups have very different ideas on how to make this happen, though.

4. Economists are wizards who make magical things happen with numbers. They have shown, time and again, that when, say, a billion people work together, the sum of their individual efforts is far greater than what it is supposed to be.

5. And by the way, if someone told you they didn’t think about Economics at all, they don’t know what they’re talking about, because everyone is thinking Economics all the time, even if they don’t realize it. Every time you go into a supermarket and find your favourite breakfast cereal, you are benefiting from the Economics of a free market, which makes sure that everything the consumer wants (and some stuff that she doesn’t even know she wants!) is available easily to her. Every time you scarf down a dosa at your local South Indian café, you are helping the economy of your neighbourhood grow. Every time you pay for a plastic bag in a store because you neglected to bring your own from home, you are participating in the fight for a cleaner, less toxic world (who do you think came up with the idea to have people pay for plastic bags so that they eventually use less of them? An economist!). So there!

By now, you are convinced that your manic-eyed interviewee is either wilfully exaggerating or has a couple of screws loose. But admit it, either way, your interest has been piqued.

So stick around and listen in while we talk about Economics. I’m betting you’ll be glad you did.

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Rupa Publications India (10 February 2017)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 176 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 8129145197
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-8129145192
Reading age ‏ : ‎ 12 – 16 years
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 195 g
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.95 x 0.99 x 19.79 cm
Country of Origin ‏ : ‎ India