A brief word to all those first year university students studying Commerce: there’s something special about the first weeks of uni. It’s not the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends (though that’s obviously a good thing). Nor is it the chance to get involved in all kinds of different activities on and around campus (through broadening your horizons is a worthy pursuit).
A typical approach to analysing markets for goods or services is to think in terms of supply and demand. Even to those who have not studied economics, the idea that a market equilibrium price and quantity occur where supply equals demand is likely to sound familiar. But there is a more subtle and fundamental concept that often eludes even those who have studied economics: elasticity.
As my first year statistics students can tell you, I’m not much of a gambling man. But if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you use social media. I’d even guess most of you only found this post because of social media. So let me ask you this. Is social media a blessing or a curse? Does it boost or cripple productivity?
When the Productivity Commission reported in 2009 that average chief executive pay tripled from 1993 to 2009, you could have been forgiven for shrugging your shoulders and moving on. What else is new? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, right? Well, no. At least, not all the time.
Everybody likes to hear a confident opinion. Take Truman’s wish for a one-armed economist, for example, who would be unable to tell him ‘On the other hand…’. Headlines are often written with a confident certainty. Qualifications and conditions aren’t as convincing. The problem is, it can be difficult to distil even a single scientific study without distorting the complexity of the work.
Unfortunately for scientists (whether social or natural), while people prefer statements delivered with certainty, we are in the business of uncertainty. Our methods are based on scepticism, our conclusions full of caveats. Unlike Truman’s fantasy economist, we do have another hand and are often obsessed with what might be on it.
This is why if someone conducts a study showing one kind of relationship, others will be eager to see if they can find the opposite or no relationship. But this healthy scepticism is sometimes transmitted to the broader public in unhealthy ways.
The clock is ticking down towards the start of the semester. You know those scenes in films where a military unit is checking all their gear, lining up their sights, strapping themselves in? That’s what university students are doing right now. You can hear (or overhear) it in the conversations on campus.
Take this one, for instance:
Student 1: “So, what happens in tutes, then? Do you need to bring the textbook?”
Student 2: “Um…maybe? Dunno. D’you know if it’s an easy subject?”
Those were first years, figuring out how exactly it is you go about studying at university, and trying to pick low-hanging-fruit electives.
Student 1: “I’m not falling behind this semester.”
Student 2: “Yeah, me too. Gonna do the reading.”
Student 1: “Yep. Gonna do it before class.”
No points for guessing that these were returning students, promising themselves they’ll do at least some things differently this time – try to improve on their past performance by learning from past mistakes.
The findings of the Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) report Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport have come as a shock to many and become an enormous media story.
Should we be surprised? Are these just the actions of a few bad apples? And just how serious is the threat from organised crime?
In The Batman Handbook, Scott Beatty sagely advises that to be as good a crime fighter as the world’s greatest detective, you need to ‘Learn everything you can in every discipline, no matter how obscure’. His list of essential subjects, however, does not include economics. This is a tragic oversight, not just because I’m saddened to hear that Batman might not have learned economic theory, but because economics suggests that Batman himself is not the solution to Gotham’s crime problem. Why? Three reasons.
The Holy Roman Empire, 1704: Agnes Catherina Schickin slits the throat of a seven-year-old boy.
1746: Johanna Martauschin smashes the skull of a small child.
1753: Sophia Charlotte Krügerin cuts the throat of a nine-year-old boy.
1761: Eva Lizlfelnerin steals a baby and throws it into a river to drown.
These tales are true, blood-curdling, and perhaps more chillingly still, are the stories of people whose behaviour can be considered rational.