Sabal: Why economics is relevant

Ceteris Paribus

WHILE I was talking to our potential enrollees for AB in Economics during the Xavier Ateneo open house, a handful of students asked several questions on the importance of Economics as a pre-law course, why Mathematics is part of Economics, and the chances of getting employed if they graduate in Economics.

Those are valid questions that every teacher in Economics must be able to clarify. Some students find disinterest in the course because of graphs and numbers. I must admit that Economics was not my first choice. Way back in High School my dream was to either become a journalist or a political scientist. Fate placed me in Economics –even took further studies after college graduation to closely understand it.

Simply put, Economics give life to numbers. We can’t just associate inflation as one of the unintended consequences of certain government policies or forecast that the Philippines will become an upper middle-income country in the next few years without showing statistics and numbers that support it. It is important to understand the costs and benefits of flagship programs, through empirical studies that use models, to be able to show if it made the lives of its target beneficiaries better-off. There is no such thing as subjective and emotional (normative) statements in Economics without giving claims that can be tested, amended or rejected by empirical evidences (positive). One can only give a value judgment after looking at all possible evidences that either support or reject the idea at hand. Numbers are important in Economics because people’s lives and future are at stake. But Mathematics is only one of the many languages in Economics. Mathematics, although is itself an important subject, is not the only tool that Economists use in explaining complex economic relationships.

Economics is also a good pre-law course. Take it from my friends in Law School as one of their first few subjects require them to know the basic factors of production. A wise Lawyer argues with facts backed with empirical studies and statistics to be able to give a robust claim. Above all, what is to be learned in Economics that is important in law is the analytical skills. The purest definition of Economics is making the best of what we have. Everything in this world is scarce, be it money, natural resources, even time and energy. Economics studies how to arrive to an optimal choice (not just a mere choice) given constraints and limitations. In lawyering, not all evidences are available. Sometimes the law itself is limiting but how do you maximize the facts at your hand and take it in your argument’s favor makes one a premier Lawyer.

Lastly, there are vast job opportunities out there that an Economics graduate can grab. Economics is composed of a lot of fields of expertise, be it in business economics, environmental economics, international trade, and even behavioral economics. A good marketing requires understanding on consumer behavior. A good financial analyst must articulate the tools in macroeconomics and its importance in ensuring a strong and stable economy. Economists can also work with different disciplines like in Engineering, Agriculture and even in Nursing and Education. These disciplines require an understanding of economics also.

In this contemporary world, Economics is more relevant and important than ever. The World Economic Forum (WEF) identifies several skills needed in 2020 -– the time for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (the period of robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the likes). As WEF explains, over one-third of the skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed by 2020. The “future of jobs” looks at employment, skills, and workforce strategy for the future. Most of the skills identified by WEF can be acquired through Economics, such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, people management, judgment and decision-making, and cognitive flexibility. These are the skills that the leading global employers are looking for new generation graduates.

The challenge among teachers is how to make Economics learning accessible, relevant and appealing among new generation learners. Economics is more than just graphs and models. The discussion in economics is not just demand and supply. Economics is more than that –it’s about making a society more equitable and just. It is also about honoring individual freedom of choice and enterprise without discrediting the role of the government as enabler, facilitator and regulator. Economics remains to be an important and relevant discipline in the 21st century.

Jhon Louie B. Sabal is the OIC-Chairperson of the Department of Economics of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. Mr Sabal is a graduate of MA in Economics at Ateneo de Manila University.


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