Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eekonomics


I am an Eco graduate, although English Literature is what I really wanted to major in. And to this day, I regret following my head and not my heart.

Like many other Eco grads in India I switched to Arts after studying Science upto class 12. Economics was the easiest subject to sell to my skeptical-about-Arts dad.

Growing up in a colony of scientists bursting with high-achiever kids was what made all these justifications necessary. Even to myself, I guess. Smart people just didn't do Arts in those days (and even now, rarely do).

Given that all my friends were either in IIT, medical college or studying physics (leading to the clear and acceptable career path of an MS and PhD in America), Economics seemed to be the most acceptable option. The compromise option.

My argument was: "It's almost a science - even has its own Nobel prize!". And that, I discovered, was the crux of the problem. Economics has so much mathematics that it defeated - for me - the purpose behind quitting science in the first place.

Wealth of notions
The first year, first month of Eco featured concepts like "Diminishing Marginal Utility" which made a lot of sense. Of course, the 6th chocolate was going to be less fun to eat than the first one you put into your mouth.

As time went by the behavioural aspects started taking a backseat to
a) Facts & figures
b) Mathematical equations or "econometrics".

In FY and SY there were, at least, other interesting subjects like French and English Lit. Studying economics and only economics in the third year made life in the classroom a crashing bore.

The fact that I passed with 'flying colours' as they say is besides the point.

It was in this context that I was amazed and pleased to read Freakonomics. Of course, Steven Levitt is not representative of your average eco professor in an American university, but it's great that economics is - at last - producing such mavericks.

Because like other sciences, eco needs experts who can make the subject more relevant - and more exciting - for the aam aadmi.

As I wrote in my review of the book for Businessworld magazine

Reading a book written by a professor of economics for pleasure - not passing an exam - is like attempting to climb Mt Everest in a bikini. It's simply not done! Unless, of course, the professor happens to be University of Chicago's bright and borderline Steven Levitt, the 'rogue economist' who in his new book, Freakonomics, explores the hidden side of everything.

What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? These are some of the intriguing chapters in the book, the 'riddles of everyday life' which interest Levitt more than where interest rates or global trade is headed.

As The New York Times article on Levitt (which led to this book) notes: "His abiding interests are cheating, corruption and crime". You might wonder, though, what do these subjects have to do with 'economics'? To which, Levitt would say: "Cheating is a primordial economic act: getting more for less."


Hmm. Wish Ms Jasdanwalla of Sophia college had similar views. I would have spent a lot less time doodling in class.

You can read the rest of the review here (free registration available for those in India). Also check out the Freakonomics website and blog here.

The book does cost about 800 bucks - not cheap - but is worth it.

11 comments:

  1. Thoda sar ke oopar se gaya. Rashmi your blog doesnot allow bloggers other than blogspot.com to comment.my url is vasanthi.rediffblogs.com

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  2. I wonder why international publishers don't price books in a manner which can suit the Indian market.

    At the right price, these books can become a runaway success. Maybe a cheaper, locally produced Indian version could be an option.

    I noticed that Jack Welch's Winning was priced in the range of Rs. 750. This was quite similar to the pricing in other Asian markets. They can use some tools like the Big Mac Index to do this kind of pricing.

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  3. I would like to further discuss the statement, "..to this day I regret following my head and not my heart.." I am sort of in the midst of what my mom called "..the biggest mistake of my life". The impact of which is yet to completely sink in. A lot of people make this compromise and end up saying all's well that ends well. I'd like to read some opinions on this point.

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  4. I have read this book and let me tell you this book may actually not have a Diminishing Marginal Utility at all.

    And for the Price, it surely is worth it. I am sure there are other "Giffen" costs in your life that you can substitute for this book :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I believe at least the paperback edition is available for Rs.500 or below.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey Rashmi
    The economics(hons) course in DU is so archaic, it hasn't been updated in the past 30 years ,as a result of which final year is filled with subjects about USSR and socialism.Moreover, this subject is just not scoring, just about 6 people in my class have got a 2nd division , the rest have either flunked or have got a 3rd division.And this is so unfair because there are some places where there is a 50% criteria for postgrad.I think something really needs to be done to make it more relevant and in line with today's reality.

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  7. Buy the book at StrandBookstall Online for only Rs 495 and even more worth it

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wish I had known that earlier, Shivaji :) Headbanger, it's sad to know nothing changes in our univ system.

    We had a paper called Economic History of Russia and Japan - the textbook stopped at 1970 . This was right after perestroika! The prof took some lectures on the changes et al and students grumbled - yeh exam mein nahin aayega ...

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