Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bringing Together (Seemingly) Disparate Interests

Before I came to economics, I started out studying physics. When I was in high school, it was around the time that the Large Hadron Collider was running in Geneva and the discovery there of the Higgs Boson particle—which gives other particles their mass.  Those developments, plus a good physics teacher in high school, motivated me to start there in university. But after doing some freelance journalism that year (which I had continued from high school), I decided studying social problems was ultimately more interesting, so I switched to the social science that looked most like physics: economics.
             Economics was appealing because—much like physics—it seemed general. Economic analysis can be extended and applied to all sorts of different problems. And I liked the work of the classical political economists—the predecessors of modern economics (people like Smith, Ricardo and Marx)—who wrote wide-ranging treatises about all sorts of societal issues. (I was also more of a materialist at the time, so my attraction to economics was partially due to thinking—wrongly—that economics was the underlying cause for all, or nearly all, social phenomena).
           My interest in economics naturally complemented my attraction to another discipline dealing with the general: philosophy. I had first involved myself in philosophy in high school where I once argued—wrongly again, I now think—against free will. Currently, I’m interested in philosophy of economics (which includes ethics, political philosophy and philosophy of science), so, to me, it’s a natural extension to my study in economics.
            Some people have been surprised to learn what I’ll be working on this summer. A project looking at the effects of manure use on water pollution sounds more like something for the ecologist than the economist. But, as I mentioned, part of the beauty of economics to me is its generalizability. In this project I’ll be using economic methods (econometrics and cost-benefit analysis) and policy simulations to try to figure out the effects of manure use and some possible actions to encourage sustainable use.  
            Economic methodology also overlaps with philosophy. Part of what philosophers of science do is deal with epistemological issues like the determination of causality. This has obvious implications for econometrics (and other sciences). In thinking about causality, I’m also interested in the limits of economic analysis, so I value the interdisciplinary LAKES program that gives me a chance to look at these problems through different perspectives.
            And, of course, I have an interest in the environment. From a young age I remember being drawn to environmental issues. (I remember having an existential crisis about global warming in third grade.) Moreover, I  like to spend time outdoors and obviously care about having a healthy environment. Thus my project this summer will bring together what may seem like disparate interests of mine: the environment, philosophy and economics.  

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