Imagine a world without proper theories that economists have developed over hundreds of years. Can you see it? Picture a place like Zimbabwe, which has such economic potential, but has fallen to the point of requiring its citizens to pay 1.6 trillion Zimbabwean dollars for a loaf of bread
(Fisher 2010). If that doesn’t
show a government that does not know how to apply the science of economics, I don’t
know what would. Although economics is considered a social or dismal science, it
is a science comparable to chemistry and should be considered a subject of general
education, because economic theories are practical applications of everyday
Sometimes people see the physical sciences as more reliable, or that they state the facts and are not wishy washy. There seems to be this disposition that nothing in the physical sciences change. As an example of the contrary, over the last few centuries many new theories have developed about the atomic model.
|Source: Advameg, Inc. 2015. Atomic theory.|
Accessed December 2015.
First it was Dalton’s model, second was Thompson’s plum pudding model, then Rutherford’s, followed by Bohr’s planetary model, all the way until our current understanding of the atom, which is the quantum theory
(Advameg, Inc. 2015). Does that seem like
a hard and factual science? There are so many theories and assumptions that have to be made
for chemistry to work, why would it not be the same for economics.
Through the Ages
Economics is a different way of viewing the world, and thus certain assumptions have to be made, just as chemist would make certain assumptions in order to view the world in an atomic way. The principles relating to economics were used even in the days of Socrates, but it wasn't really formed into a field of study until the 16th - 18th centuries when the formation of an economic theory called mercantilism was developed
(The Centrist Party 2014). This theory in
simplistic terms means that any nation is only as prosperous as the amount of
money they have (The Centrist Party 2014).
It wasn't until the development of classical economics in 1776, and with the publication of Adam Smith's article called The Wealth of Nations that economics truly began to be viewed as a field of study (Centrist Party, 2014). With the start of this study of viewing the world in terms of economics there were many more theories that began to merge, theories such as the laissez-faire. Laissez-faire was developed in the 19th century, bringing about a free market, which increased the restrictions that governments have on a free market (Centrist Party, 2014). This was a contradicting theory to mercantilism which gave more power to the government, and thus we see the separation of opinions especially concerning economic theory.
This division of opinion in economic theory is what I assume the reason many people consider economics a soft science because it does not have specific unchanging values. The thing to consider is that even though two different theories may seem to contradict, it doesn’t invalidate each individual theory. In the markets or societies that laissez-faire has been implemented, it has proven to be quite effective, and efficient. On the other hand certain governments, such as China, who have more of a government ruled society have also proven to be successful. There is obviously a question of how ethical each theory is, and personal opinion is important in deciding which way is the “right way.” That is the beauty of economics, it can mold to fit the need of each individual.
The View of Our World
Of course the study of economics is not the same as a study of chemistry, but the value each subject presents the world is equally useful. When a chemist decides to present his or her work, they do it with models and formulas. These things are very specific and cannot allow much variation, but the point of it is to help us understand the world we live in. The following definition illustrates this point:
Chemistry is the study of matter and the chemical reactions between substances. Chemistry is also the study of matter's composition, structure, and properties. Matter is essentially anything in the world that takes up space and has mass
I would like to reemphasize that chemistry studies matter, and everything in the world is made up of matter. Thus, chemistry is the study of understanding the world. In contrast, or rather in agreeance to that definition let’s look at the definition of economics, presented by the American Economic Association[IF1] :
Economics is the study of how people choose to use resources. Resources include the time and talent people have available, the land, buildings, equipment, and other tools on hand, and the knowledge of how to combine them to create useful products and services (American 2015).
Similar to chemistry, economics studies the behavior of humans, and the way they interact with the things around them. The world is filled with humans, and so economics, like chemistry, is the study of understanding the world. Just because we view it from a different angle, doesn’t make it any less accurate or useful.
Just as was mentioned before, chemists present their work through models and formulas. That is exactly what economists strive to do. Unlike chemists though, economists have a harder time expressing their work in formulas and models that are so concrete and specific. Certain assumptions must be made, and thus hypotheticals are created, which are oftentimes discredited. What I am proposing that maybe it’s not the study of economics that is soft or unspecific, but rather the inability of economists to communicate their work. If an economist doesn't know how to communicate his knowledge to others, it will make no difference what kind of research he has done, because he can't communicate to others.
Through the Eyes of an Economist
What I want to impress on your mind is that we should not discredit or give less value to economics simply because economists fail to present their findings in a concrete way without assumptions. That is what makes economics what it is. Why shouldn’t it be a required course in high school and college? Chemistry is a required college and high school course, along with many other physical sciences. Many people end up not ever applying the principles studied in their physical science related classes, even though they are important. What I am saying though is that everyone will have the opportunity to apply the principles of economics in their own personal lives if not in their careers. The benefit would be that every person would be able to view and understand the world in a way that would strengthen the state each individual lives in.
I propose that we increase students’ exposure to economics by incorporating core high school and college level classes into curriculum. The more we can incorporate viewing the world in the way economists do, the more likely it is for economists to improve their ability to present their findings. Let’s set aside this fictitious notion that economics is the dismal science with no hope for the future. I invite anyone that has read my words to evaluate the way you view the study of economics and find the desire within yourself to learn more about how you can see through the eyes of an economist.
Advameg, Inc. 2015. Atomic theory. Accessed December 2015. http://www.scienceclarified.com/As-Bi/Atomic-Theory.html.
American Economic Association. 2015. What is Economics? Accessed December 2015. https://www.aeaweb.org/students/WhatIsEconomics.php.
Boundless. 2015. The Study of Chemistry. October. Accessed December 2015. https://www.boundless.com/chemistry/textbooks/boundless-chemistry-textbook/introduction-to-chemistry-1/overview-of-chemistry-26/the-study-of-chemistry-176-7533/.
Fisher, Daniel. 2010. In Pictures: The 10 Worst Economies. Forbes Magazine.
The Centrist Party. 2014. History of Economics. Accessed November 2015. http://uscentrist.org/platform/docs/history-of-economics.