How Studying Economics Ruins My Life

25 Mar

University applications should come with a warning: “Ministry of Education: This degree may transform your thinking.” However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that most freshmen come unprepared, not expecting to be turned into a new “dear-20-year-old-me“.

Today I would like to share one important insight with you: If you study Economics, your logic may prove not only useless at times, but once in a while outright fatal. The Problem here are not complicated graphs or models that do not work (hello, macroeconomics) – it´s merely the assumptions you make.

It probably comes as no surprise that rigorous economic models need some underlying assumptions (e.g. “this works only if all people are rational”), but the thing that nobody tells you is that making assumptions is contagious! Example: I was washing a window. It didn´t quite work out, so I just shrugged and said “yeah, let´s assume* that the window is clean…”

Funnily enough, sometimes you do get away even with the most ridiculous assumptions. Example: I went to a pub with some friends of mine and we did not know when the pub opened. We all assumed that it won´t be a problem – and surprise, surprise, the bartender actually opened the pub for us quite a bit earlier than he was supposed to.

Unfortunately, the life of an assumption-making student is not always so easy. Your wi-fi won´t (always) miraculously start working after you turn it off and on again, your library card may have its moods and the university cafeteria always runs out of muffins five minutes before you enter. Your non-economist friends no longer understand your jokes and your stomach cannot stand your cost-benefit analyses of extra junk food consumption anymore. In a nutshell, if you are not careful it it easy to become detached from the real world (something like a theoretical physicist, as anyone who knows Sheldon can testify).

On the other hand, as long as your assumptions do not make you contribute to the list of the Darwin Award Winners (e.g. “let´s assume that the electricity is turned off”), you are doing fine. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest sticking to making assumptions about maths or other – relatively – harmless concepts, while being back the “6-year-old you” when it comes to dogs, snakes, high buildings or holes in the ground. Chances are that little kids have better survival instincts than your fellow economics classmates – but hey, nobody is perfect…

* Reminds me: Do you know the joke about an engineer, physicist and an economist? As an experiment, an engineer, a physicist and a economist are placed in separate rooms and left with a can of food but no can-opener. A day later, the rooms are opened one by one. In the first room, the engineer is snoring, with a battered, opened and emptied can. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he beat the can to its failure point. In the second room, the physicist is seen mouthing equations, with a can popped open beside him. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he examined the stress points of the can, applied pressure, and ‘pop’! In the third room, the economist is found sweating, and mumbling to himself, ‘Assume the can is open, assume the can is open…’
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Posted by on 25 March, 2012 in Education


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