Career Skills People & Society

Taking the stuffy out of economics

He’s an economics instructor at the renowned Cambridge University. He’s served as a consultant to the World Bank and other prestigious financial institutions. He’s a fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington and the author of several popular books.

If Ha-Joon Chang came across as a snooty intellectual you probably wouldn’t be shocked, though that would go against everything he believes. The South Korean argues that economics is not just for those with lofty IQ’s and fancy degrees; it’s accessible to everyone – which may explain why Chang’s 2016 video presentation, Economics is for Everyone, is one of the most popular video talks in getAbstract’s library.

Economics has always been an intimidating subject, Chang says, mainly because we defer to “experts” who complicate matters with thorny mathematical formulas and esoteric jargon and principles. Marxist, Keynesian, GDP, regressive tax, supply side, variable cost, etc., etc. Yuck. No wonder we can’t be bothered.

“Economics has been uniquely successful in making the general public reluctant to engage with its territory,” Chang wrote in his well-received 2014 book, Economics: The User’s Guide.

Chang’s point is that average people know plenty about economics. They’re in the trenches every day, working hard to support a family and hopefully move up the ladder. You’re entitled – strongly encouraged, even – to have an opinion about economics. You don’t need a master’s in political science to express your views on Obamacare or be a psychologist to weigh in on gay marriage, right?

Unlike physics or chemistry, with their immutable laws and theories, economics is a fluid, inexact science subject to society’s evolution and peoples’ behaviors. Neoclassical economics, for instance, the most popular of the nine major schools of economics, posits that people tolerate work to afford pleasure. But as we’ve seen in the age of high-octane consumption, making more money does not ensure happiness. Often it’s quite the opposite.

“Any subject studying human beings, including economics, has to be humble about its predictive power,” says Chang.

Economic insight, Chang explains, requires being receptive to contrary viewpoints instead of stubbornly clinging to a single philosophy. Every school of thought has its valid points and flaws. If you are just able to grasp the basics – don’t worry about the fancy terms – then economics will not seem so daunting.

Take it from an expert.

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