I want to learn, but they aren’t teaching me. This thought echoed in my mind as I found myself drowning in yet another meaningless formula.
I am an economics major, and I’ve known that I wanted to be one since my junior year of high school. At the University of Michigan, many students think of economics as business-adjacent — we’re the “Rossholes” who couldn’t get into the Ross School of Business. To me, though, it is so much more. I fell in love with economics because I wanted to understand people and their decisions. I believe in economics as a tool for social growth, and that understanding how people behave and act is key to creating a high-functioning society. Economics provides a way for people to learn how we interact with the world and with each other, which gives us the tools to fundamentally change the workings of society.
That said, the department of economics at the University has been beating this society-focused ideology out of its underclassmen students. Simply, the curriculum lacks accessibility, social thinking and a global outlook. Economics 101, a class taken by many students at the University of Michigan, provides an introduction to economic theories for students from every college, including the Business School and College of Engineering, as well as students from a myriad of majors in LSA.
The quintessential class for freshmen, Economics 101 has the unique opportunity to provide students with a new outlook on the society they are poised to enter. However, the applications of economics are not discussed in introductory economics classes and only rarely are discussed in the upper-level classes. They ruin this unique opportunity by using cut-and-paste formulas to explain economic theory instead of using the most basic logical theories to ground the class in reality. We should be learning about the applications of and reasoning behind economic theory to ground students in the practice of thinking using economic analysis. Instead, these classes dive headfirst into problems that often make it difficult for students with no economic background to understand why the answers are correct.
Is it really a wonder, then, why so many students complain about having to take economics classes when it is never shown to apply to their own majors and future careers. Engineers will understandably roll their eyes at supply and demand even though the analytic thinking required for economics could give them a different way of problem-solving that can be applicable to their own lives.
In addition, the introductory economics courses are almost entirely U.S.-focused. In my four semesters of economics classes, I have yet to even spend a day learning about another type of economic system. In a rapidly globalizing world, it is nonsensical to assume that the only type of economic system we will encounter will be our own. Raising a generation of economists that only know the workings of the economic system they were raised in is counterintuitive, backward-thinking and borders on the kind of brainwashing that we so proudly condemn other countries for doing.
However, I can’t place all the blame on the economics department. At this University, the Business School is seen as the premier social science major, with economics students cast in the roles of “boring” and “delusional.” Students are taught in this fashion, too — as though they will need to be mindless cogs doing investment banking, floor trading or something else that keeps the capitalist machine running. This is understandable, as business and economics are similar in many ways and are often interchangeable majors in many careers. Nevertheless, this thinking is unnecessarily reductive and discourages people like me — those who are interested in the actual study of economics — from being academics or philosophers within the field.
When most people think of economics, the immediate connotation is money, banking and finance. But to me, the first thing I think of is society.
I envision a world in which incentives are created to help society and the people within it flourish. Economics is a beautifully human field, where the basest instincts are studied in a modern context, with all the rules and regulations of today’s world. It is a study that can never fully be completed, where constant learning and revision is expected, where imperfections are completely normal — the models can never truly be perfect because they are built off of imperfectly human decisions. In fact, that is why I love this field. It is ever-changing and ever-evolving, but it has the potential to save our society.
Within economics lies some of the most effective solutions to climate change, racism and healthcare, and they are just waiting to be unlocked. The LSA economics department owes it to its students to show them that.
Thus, I end my plea simply. Please do better. We want to learn. We want to change the world. Teach us how.
Mrinalini Iyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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