IBJOpinion

HICKS: Economist job more exciting than most think

Mike Hicks
January 8, 2011
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Mike Hicks

Recently, my wife has stopped calling me an economist. It is too hard to explain what I do, so she calls me a professor (which has far more cool points to Harry Potter or Gilligan’s Island fans).

Her reticence begs the question, “What does an economist do and why would anyone want to be one?”

I went to college to become an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. On my first day at Virginia Military Institute, as I passed through the desks where one chose a major and service, I proudly announced I wanted to become an electrical engineer and infantryman. The captain just smiled, and told me the U.S. Army would never allow such a silly thing.

I asked, “What is the next most difficult college major that would ensure I could get into the infantry?” He pointed to a nearby table and said, “Economics is a tough major, but it isn’t practical, so you can still be in the infantry.”

I suffered through three years of a liberal arts economics degree when, at last, as a senior, I fell in love with it. Economic modeling was a clear and wonderful insight into matters big and small. It offered a way of looking at problems and assessing the benefits and costs of a solution against a common standard. I was hooked.

By then, I was destined for another career, but, after eight years of soldiering, economics pulled me back into the fold and into a doctoral degree.

Graduate school in economics did not come easy to me, and I continue to struggle with new ideas and techniques every week—sometimes every day. When I hear today’s students groan and despair in their economics class, I fully understand why. Describing the behavior of people, businesses and governments in equations is intensely abstract, and not everyone is good at abstractions.

The most common mistakes I hear about economists are that we have some special insight on investing, or that there is some political litmus test we must pass (those distinctions belong elsewhere).

What makes economics exciting, and ultimately the most influential of academic pursuits of the past century, is the combination of two traits.

The first is that, through the use of mathematics and statistics, economic analysis is enormously transparent. This process takes several years of graduate school and a lifetime thereafter to master.

Second, economists have long used a rigorous benchmark against which to measure the merit of a policy or program (Who are the winners and losers, and what is the net gain?). This is maddening to folks with a political agenda, and breeds a famously prickly reputation for economists.

But these two features place economic analysis in an enviable position to address nearly every issue. So, today, the most influential research in management theory, social, education, health, taxation, environmental and legal policy all comes from economists.

It may not be a practical field, but it sure is exciting. Now, if I can only get my wife to agree.•

__________

Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. If what you stated is true, then this article is entirely inaccurate. "State sells bonds" is same as "State borrows money". Supposedly the company will "pay for them". But since we are paying the company, we are still paying for this road with borrowed money, even though the state has $2 billion in the bank.

  2. Andrew hit the nail on the head. AMTRAK provides terrible service and that is why the state has found a contractor to improve the service. More trips, on-time performance, better times, cleanliness and adequate or better restrooms. WI-FI and food service will also be provided. Transit from outlying areas will also be provided. I wouldn't take it the way it is but with the above services and marketing of the service,ridership will improve and more folks will explore Indy and may even want to move here.

  3. They could take the property using eminent domain and save money by not paying the church or building a soccer field and a new driveway. Ctrwd has monthly meetings open to all customers of the district. The meetings are listed and if the customers really cared that much they would show. Ctrwd works hard in every way they can to make sure the customer is put first. Overflows damage the surrounding environment and cost a lot of money every year. There have been many upgrades done through the years to help not send flow to Carmel. Even with the upgrades ctrwd cannot always keep up. I understand how a storage tank could be an eye sore, but has anyone thought to look at other lift stations or storage tanks. Most lift stations are right in the middle of neighborhoods. Some close to schools and soccer fields, and some right in back yards, or at least next to a back yard. We all have to work together to come up with a proper solution. The proposed solution by ctrwd is the best one offered so far.

  4. Fox has comments from several people that seem to have some inside information. I would refer to their website. Changed my whole opionion of this story.

  5. This place is great! I'm piggy backing and saying the Cobb salad is great. But the ribs are awesome. $6.49 for ribs and 2 sides?! They're delicious. If you work downtown, head over there.

ADVERTISEMENT