Before coming to university, I wanted to study a degree which could teach me as much as possible about the world.
In sixth form, my friends and I had witnessed the British government mishandle so many issues, from climate change to Brexit, and there was a general feeling that politicians were letting us down. We were inspired by a desire for revolution and believed we had the power to change politics. I thought that a dual pathway of economics and philosophy would help me learn about the world and give me tools to evaluate decisions in an ethical way.
On my first day of university, I was so excited. Curious about the world and full of hope, I couldn’t wait to get started.
In a lecture hall filled with two hundred eager students, our spirits were dampened quite quickly. My micro-economics lecturer seemed more interested in getting through content as soon as possible, rather than trying to inspire us about the world. I was bombarded and slightly bored, by the technicality of economic theory. We were shown graphs, models and maps of indifference curves and budget constraints with no social context, and not much relevance to the world today.
We were never asked to really think – only memorise and regurgitate. Tutorial sheets of aggregate demand and supply equations filled my weeks. It left me questioning economics as a discipline altogether. What was the point? What is economics? What purpose does it serve?
Studying philosophy encouraged me to question everything. I once asked my macro-economics lecturer, “Why study an economy with only two goods, when in reality, there are millions of different types of goods in circulation?”. It seemed pointless and over-simplified to me. He gave me a “get on with it” type answer, suggesting that it was a useful thought experiment which could give us the tools to explore more complex theories. This only made economics appear more abstract and intangible to me, leaving me dissatisfied and disillusioned.
“The lecture hall was filled predominantly with men. Despite being in my third year, I am yet to have been taught by a female lecturer.”
When speaking to fellow students about my frustrations, I found that they too felt consumed by the abstract theories and mathematical equations in economics.
I also noticed that I was in a minority group. The lecture hall was filled predominantly with men. Despite being in my third year, I am yet to have been taught by a female lecturer. Economics, as a discipline, is largely dominated by men. I felt conflicted and discouraged – am I in the right place? Am I wanted here? Is this a problem?
My philosophy seminars, however, left me feeling inspired, interested and curious to know more. We were encouraged to question everything, come up with our own ideas about theories and respond to other students. In my Ethics tutorial, we argued over the existence of an objective moral reality. In my Metaphysics seminar, we explored the nature of properties such as colour, shape and size. My contributions were always welcomed and respected. My questions were never disregarded and were answered with enthusiasm and interest. It felt like a safe space.
I am still surprised by the lack of collaboration between the Economics and Philosophy Departments at my university. No courses, modules or lecturers attempt to connect them at an undergraduate level. As two separate disciplines, I feel they have a lot to learn from each other and can be informed by one another.
In my independent study, I found myself exploring the connection on my own. Thinking about the ethical implications of economics, thinking about the abstract nature of economics, questioning economics as a subject altogether. What is a good economy? What is a bad economy? Philosophy has taught me to critically engage and place value judgements on theories.
In my third year, I am now enjoying economics more. I have specialised away from the core, theory-heavy macro- and micro-economics modules, and into health economics, business economics, and economic history. I am feeling more inspired by the content. I am learning and understand why the abstract theories we learnt in first year can be useful for understanding broader ideas in economics.
In the future, I would love to see greater unity between the economics and philosophy departments at universities. I would also love for my course to include different perspectives of gender and race to make it more accessible and reflective of the real world.
3 Comments on “The Mint is listening to… Sophie Adamson 21, Third Year Economics and Philosophy”
A really interesting article in that many years ago I swapped (part of) a University course from Economics to Philosophy because of the sheer technicality, boredom and lack of interest in what I was presented. At the time I thought, as it were, it was me – but, noting that I’ve maintained a, very broad, interest in economics, the article has made me reflect that there may have been other factors in play.
Macroeconomics is more interesting than microeconomics because it attempts to deal with matters of a more profound nature and on a greater scale. I think it would be better if the universities applied this policy of teaching it first, instead of weeding out those students who cannot manage the finer points of micro- at the beginning. I suggest that a new student should read some of my writings about macro- in order to get a bit of interest fired-up.
SSRN 2865771 is a short paper explaining how to model the Big Picture in the most logical way and it includes the most simple yet fully comprehensive model, unlike the oversimplified one usually shown today.
SSRN 2600103 is slightly longer with photographs of a mechanical model (for mechanically minded students) who would like to see how our social system actually works,
Fascinating. No wonder we are not producing many young economists prepared to challenge the dead hand of orthodox, Monetarist, regressive economic dogma, if students are not given the help to look at the big issues of macroeconomics.
I’m not a conventional econ student, btw. I’m a 71-yr-old who has just completed MMT101x Modern Monetary Theory- Economics for the 21st Century, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. This shows how economics can look at the big picture, with all its social and geo-political implications.