Thursday, July 21, 2005
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.