Saturday, July 2, 2016

What do War and Peace, Brexit, and nuclear fission have in common?

I have a lot of interests— Russian Literature, nuclear physics, politics—but economics is not just a thing that I study so I will have a job someday, it’s a passion in it’s own right. I'm fascinated by the application of economics, especially in weird aspects of life. This is manifested through my somewhat obsessive following of the British EU Referendum (Seriously if anyone wants to discuss Brexit, please talk to me), my tune-ins to Planet Money and Freakonomics podcasts, and my growing collection of economic nonfiction.

My interests inform my research because I am passionate about my research, in the abstract and the particular. Economics research can be applied to every one of my interests. It can add important context to War and Peace, can explain why we don’t have any research reactors producing major radiomedical isotopes in the United States, and is so entwined in politics that I don’t even need to justify the link. 

When I say I’m an economics and math major, I often get a look of slight judgement. It’s a look that has an inherent condemnation for being a sellout, trading soul for financial gain, for being a mini-Faust of capitalism. But they shouldn’t look at economics that way because although everyone assumes that economics is about money and profit margins, the truth is it is at root actually about people. It’s about how people interact with each other, it’s about how you can optimally create a functioning society, it’s about how people are rational and how they are irrational, and it’s about incentives and the pursuit of happiness. I often see it as applying math and equations to look at the effect of human interactions like how do people choosing whom they marry affect income inequality? Why is there such a gender wage gap and how could we try to solve it? How can we model the process of dating? Should you go to school for one more year? How much does a society value a clean lake?

While I find all of economics fascinating, environmental economics is an area that I am especially interested in. It seems especially relevant and poignant in a way that other areas of economic research are not. I may be fascinated by how micro choices like who you fall in love with affect society but it is not going to yield important policy recommendations like environmental economics has the potential to.  It is exactly the significance and the civic engagement in this research project that make this project so fascinating, important, and enjoyable.

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