Economics as a Career and Tool for Making Intelligent Choices in Daily Life
By Arshad Muhammed
A running joke in our department during my days as a student of Economics was that, if asked what the ‘sum of two and two’ is, a mathematician would reply ‘four’, a philosopher would point to the mathematician and reply, ‘they say it is four’, while the economist would wait till she was out of earshot and then reply, ‘I can make it whatever you want it to be.’ It sums up the challenge and the opportunities that economics encompasses - borrowing the words of Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson, “Economics is not an exact science. It's a combination of an art and elements of science. And that's almost the first and last lesson to be learned about economics: that in my judgment, we are not converging toward exactitude, but we're improving our data bases and our ways of reasoning about them.”
Economics has been in practice since
humans had to choose between the scarce resources available, but emerged as a
discipline only a few centuries ago. Everywhere we look, we can find elements
of economics and its allied disciplines around us. We open the newspapers to
read about the economic policies of governments in power, and at the time of my
penning this opinion piece, the breaking news was the Reserve Bank of India’s
decision to cut the repo rate. Without realising it, our personal financial
choices are decisions based on core theories of economics. The very act of
analysing the trade-offs and choosing constitute the heart of the subject, and
is being advanced today through game theory and behavioural economics. The
price rise and depreciation of goods and services, the optimal level of
pollution in our cities, the cut-off marks of competitive examinations, class
test strategy, techniques for parenting and coaching sports teams, the
recommendations and advertisements on our social media – all of these involve
economics at some level. Suffice to say that people in any career use economics
in their work at varying degrees of sophistication.
A Viable Academic Option
In India, economics has emerged as a viable academic option, with top colleges and universities offering courses. The discipline is expanding and today, intersects public policy, psychology, political science, history, data and computational sciences, management and philosophy. Society is delving deeper into the economics of poverty, the economics of health and education, and the economics of the social phenomena we experience, to understand the problems ailing our society and the possible solutions to them. A student having completed her undergraduate course in Economics has greater career opportunities available to her today. This is why students and parents need to rethink their ideas about the discipline at the school level itself, considering ours is a country where a professional degree in engineering or medicine is perceived as having greater social and intellectual capital.
Following a BA or BSc in Economics, one
option is for the student to pursue a post graduate degree in economics or its
allied research disciplines, if she would like to focus on entering academia
and possibly, continuing research into the area of her choice. Many students
pursue their advanced degrees, in India or abroad, and then join colleges and
universities as faculty members. In India, there are reputed seats of higher learning
offering post graduate and doctoral programmes in many fields in economics. One
has to then write the NET (National Eligibility Test) for the Economics
discipline to be able to join the faculty in the colleges in our country. A
career in research may also be pursued along with teaching, and classrooms can
become the best platforms for broadening the horizons of the subject. Students
can also shift to other post – graduate programmes in humanities and data
sciences, utilising their understanding of economics in those disciplines. Academia
and teaching might seem stagnant and unsatisfying to some of us, given the
hurdles plaguing the academic community in our country. That is one reason why
numerous students look for job opportunities outside academia, after their post
– graduate courses or sometimes right after their graduation.
Economists Gaining Visibility in Corporate World
The trend of joining the corporate sector is gathering momentum amongst students of economics, immediately following graduation. Private and foreign banks, financial consultancies, and investment firms have started recruiting economics graduates into the diverse job profiles open today, including that of data analysts, financial consultants, operations analysts, investment bankers and market researchers. Fresh from their graduation, these firms invest in training their recruits and offer good pay packages, depending upon the university and the performance of the student in her academic and extra – curricular endeavours. The average starting basic pay of an economics graduate, in a corporate placement in India, ranges from Rs. 2 lakhs to Rs. 10 lakhs per annum, according to payscale.com. There are exceptional cases of students earning upto Rs. 30 lakhs per annum right out of college, but we should not be making our decisions on such outliers. There is scope for climbing up the corporate ladder, and many pursue a management or business course later, to augment their skill sets and gain an edge over the others in the highly competitive corporate sector. For a better starting salary, an increasing number of economics graduates have also started writing their CAT examinations and joining management schools, so as to be equipped with an MBA prior to joining the private sector.
Service and Economics
If the corporate sector and academia do not cater to one’s interests, the public sector is teeming with opportunities. The job security, perquisites and opportunities offered by the public sector have allured students and parents alike. Writing the central and state government recruitment tests have always been in vogue amongst economics graduates, and the rising importance of an understanding of global economic issues for policy makers and administrators have led to not only greater demand for students of economics, but also to more aspirants of government jobs choosing economics for graduation. Aspirants to the All – India Services also realise how economics is an integral part of their examination and further training. The three – year course and the overlapping of the university curriculum with the examination syllabus are advantages for civil service aspirants. The Indian Economic Service is a specialised central government service for those who have done their post– graduation in economics. The Reserve Bank of India as well as public sector banks and corporations also recruit economics graduates for their specialised job profiles through their tests and interviews. A career in UN specialised agencies is also possible for students of economics, with many job profiles available exclusively to those who have studied the discipline. NGOs working in diverse social sectors also recruit economists as researchers and consultants.
One another advantage of the subject is
that the Bachelors course in India is of three year duration and arms the
student with a certain basic understanding of the world and the country, though
restricting oneself to the university curriculum may not necessarily broaden
our horizons. This will be a useful outlook even if we are shifting to fields
like mass media and communication, journalism and the arts. Economics graduates
populate diverse walks of life in our country – revealing how much this social
science encompasses diverse fields.
Relevance of Mathematics in Economics
It is not necessary to have studied Economics as part of the Commerce or Humanities streams in school. Many colleges actually prefer students who have a background in Science subjects, as this leads to a certain scientific thought process that is essential to understanding the language of Economics. Of course, such a logical approach is not restricted to only science students, and can be developed in all streams, but science students do seem to have the edge when it comes to building such reasoning – it could be an outcome of the countless mathematical derivations and proofs one has to study in grades 11 and 12. A good understanding of mathematics will be a powerful tool for an economist, but economics does not require all the fields of mathematics we study in high school. Delhi University makes it compulsory for students to have done Mathematics for their matriculation, but the marks need not be considered when we calculate the Best Four Subjects percentage (refer to Delhi University Admissions page for further details). In conclusion, students from all streams can apply.
There are many undergraduate programmes in economics in the country, with Delhi University probably being the most renowned. St. Stephen’s College, Lady Shri Ram College, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Hindu College, and Miranda House are some of the 75 colleges of the University of Delhi offering undergraduate programmes in economics. Economics, being one of the most sought after courses, generally has higher cut-offs than most other subjects. The Presidency University (Kolkata), St. Xavier’s College (Mumbai), Loyola College (Chennai), Madras Christian College (Chennai), and Ashoka University (Sonepat) are the other seats of higher education offering undergraduate courses in economics. Many of these universities have different approaches to understanding the subject, with Delhi University being deemed as having quite an analytical and numerical approach, arising out of the influence of the Delhi School of Economics. There are also numerous programmes offered in Kerala. Following graduation, the Delhi School of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indian Statistical Institute, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, and other central universities such as the Hyderabad Central University offer post – graduate and doctoral programmes. Interested students also pursue advanced courses abroad, with Europe being the top destination.
This article only aims at pointing out that economics is also a viable option for higher education and employment, and has as many, if not more opportunities than other professional courses. It being a social science and evident in our daily experiences, Economics is an excellent choice today for interested students, and for those who would like to do an undergraduate programme in 3 years and decide on their career trajectory later. Unlike the previous decades, there are a rising number of job opportunities for students of economics, and it also plays the role of an adequate academic buffer. To gauge one’s interest in the subject, we can always go back to our NCERT textbooks, read the economics and business sections of the newspaper with renewed interest, and peruse through some interesting and entertaining books catering to all, like Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, Klein and Bauman’s Cartoon Introduction to Microeconomics and Landsburg’s The Armchair Economist, to name a few. The choice is for us to make, based on our interest and passion, and one needs to do so with adequate knowledge of the scope and understanding of the utility of all streams of study available to us, which is again a tenet at the heart of Economics.