Falling out of love with economics

I almost didn’t apply to study PPE because I wasn’t sure about studying philosophy. It seemed so pointless – why would I waste my time with something as impractical as philosophy? What I really wanted to study was politics and economics – two subjects through which I would be able to understand the world, so I thought. Nevertheless, the thought of being a PPEist, at the University of Oxford was much too tempting for me, so I applied regardless.

When I arrived at university it turned out that economics was the subject which I didn’t enjoy. I had loved it at A-Level, but could not say the same about how I found it now. Gone were the diagrams and discussion, and in its place came differentiation and utility functions. I discovered that economics is far more mathematical than I had realised. Now, I look back and realise that I was never really interested in the mathematical analysis that actually underpins economics, I actually wanted to learn about the interesting ways that people interact. My love of economics was grown and cultivated by Freakonomics – but I now realise that the economics that I thought that I enjoyed was actually economics through the eyes of a journalist, who takes the research and presents it in a way that the average person can appreciate. Now I realise that I want to be the average person, or perhaps even the journalist – but certainly not the economist.

Despite this realisation, I remained persistent that I would study economics. A large part of the reason why I thought that I would stick with economics, and why I think many people stick with it is the idea of utility. Economics is seen as more of a ‘serious’ subject than politics and philosophy, a subject which gives you the skills that you would need to get a job – which often seems like the main reason why people are at university. This meant that dropping economics felt like a conscious decision to reduce my employability. I have never wanted to subscribe to this idea – I want to actually enjoy my degree and study things that I am interested in. Being in a position where this is even an opportunity is a great privilege – many people often feel pressure from those around them to study whatever has the highest earning potential, rather than being able to study what they love. (I do feel obliged to note that I am still going to graduate with an Oxford PPE degree – it would be facetious, and frankly incorrect, to pretend that my degree is unemployable because I am not taking more economics papers).

As a great Nigerian poet once said, ‘I can’t come and kill myself’.

Wanting to enjoy my degree is why I ended up dropping economics in the end. Over the course of my first year, I realised that philosophy was actually quite interesting, and that I might want to keep studying it alongside politics and economics – the rare tripartite combination. This remained the plan until one fateful Monday evening in Trinity Term. I had procrastinated my problem sheet until the night before it was due in, and was once again attempting to do it all that very night. As I sat in my chair, desperately not wanting to do the problem sheet, I came to a realisation – I don’t enjoy this. Having to do economics was actually just making me sad. As a great Nigerian poet once said, ‘I can’t come and kill myself’. Why should I put myself through so much misery for economics? For economics?

 Now, almost two terms since the decision to drop economics, I’ve realised that it was actually one of the better decisions I’ve made in a while. Although two essays a week is a bit of a grind, not doing economics is definitely worth it. Occasionally I see some of my economist friends doing economics work and pity them, thankful that I will never have to know what a Lagrangian is. (side note – please look out for your second year economist friends – the economics life is not an easy one). This decision to drop economics was also paired with the decision to do philosophy, which is also one that I am proud of – philosophy is great fun and appeals to my tendency to ask ‘why’, in a manner not too dissimilar from a toddler.

I would like to conclude by attempting to be balanced about economics. I (obviously) think that studying philosophy and politics, and stoking your curiosity and gaining a deeper understanding of the world is a great thing to do – but I’m sure that there are also great uses for economics. Probably.