When I began to consider how my degree in economics is preparing me for life, I couldn’t help thinking of the famous passage from Shakespeare;

Kim Swales, Head of Department,
Heather Purdie, Robert Wright.
Photo by Daryl Holden

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

(Shakespeare, As You Like It: 1740)

Whilst the reader may wonder why an economics student recalls, let alone appreciates, the work of the famous English bard, I believe that Shakespeare’s monologue is extremely useful illustrating the many facets that constitute a “life”. I aim to show the reader that a degree in economics allows “men and women” to better play their “many parts” on the “[world] stage” throughout their “seven ages”. My degree in economics is equipping me with knowledge and skills that will aid elements of my decision-making from stage “entrance” to “exit”.

* * *

“… At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.”

I shall not attempt to convince the reader that economics, or more so an economics degree, can prepare us directly for our own entry into this world. It is of course a discipline that one must devote many hours of study to over the duration of a degree. Yet Adam Smith famously believed that man acts instinctively in the marketplace, “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention” (Smith, 1776): perhaps then it is justifiable to claim that economics is inbuilt in our very nature from birth. Instead, however, I will utilise this first act in life to represent the implications of population structures, the economic problems, particularly in the developing world, of explosive birth rates, and the relevant government policy solutions which I have learned of throughout my degree. Economics is fundamentally about the allocation of scarce resources and rising populations place great strain on food, shelter and economic resources. Hence governments all over the world attempt to manipulate birth rates using economic policy; in the UK the government have adopted more family-friendly policies including baby bonds and family allowance schemes to encourage birth rates in light of our aging population. Other countries like China have used the controversial one-child policy to ensure scarce resources are not stretched even further. My place and role within the population structure over my lifetime is better understood given my knowledge of economics.

* * *

“Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face…”

Education, in all forms, prepares us for the future and my degree in economics is, of course, valuable in this sense alone. It is not, however, a purely academic pursuit and has equipped with me practical understanding of everyday life; bond and share markets, financial management, the effects of recessions and the ways to recovery, the impact of interest rates and the role of the government in all of the above. Whether in managing my bank accounts, discussing politics down the pub, or deciding who to vote for in elections, my economics degree has prepared me to a level beyond other disciplines. Politics and economics are intrinsically entwined and particularly with the forthcoming general election (where the key issue is undoubtedly the economy), my rudimentary understanding of Keynesianism and Monetarism, has allowed me to more objectively assess the opposing parties plans for economic recovery. Living in Scotland, where independence is on the agenda, my economics degree allows me to assess the arguments both for and against; is independence economically viable? This issue will have prominence throughout my lifetime and I would like to be prepared and educated to deal with it.

* * *

“…And then the lover… with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow”

With regards to finding a soul mate, economics also has a part to play. When Kenneth Arrow wrote his rational choice theory, in the 1950s, he may not necessarily have intended for students to take away advice on their love-lives from it yet it proved enlightening to me. His theory has allowed me to recognise that, given I prefer good looks to intelligence but funniness to good looks, when I’m out for dinner with a man with an IQ of 240, I am acting irrationally and should make my excuses and leave. The economist knows that rational people have preferences that are complete, reflexive and transitive.

* * *

“… Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths … and quick in quarrel…
And then the justice,
In fair round belly…”

Career is probably the metonym for an average student’s idea of the “life” an economics degree is preparatory for. The core skills of analysis, data-handling, time management, report writing and so on, that an economics degree has equipped me, with are appealing to many employers in finance, marketing, banking and government sectors. As Shakespeare suggests, careers in the Army or the law are also accessible by having an economics. Yet, the pinnacle career the economics student is preparing for is that of the ‘Economist’ and what a worthwhile career that would be. Combining positive assessment with normative recommendations, science with art, equality with efficiency: the economist is a powerful figure in policy-making and an attribute to any society.

* * *

“… Last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history…”

And so to end “this strange, eventful history” of economics, its legacy and its future, I wish to assert that whilst it is an ever-evolving discipline, the legacies of old masters; Smith, Marshall, Keynes, continue to permeate our understanding of markets, agents and all aspects of public life. I am sure the reader never before realised that Shakespeare could be implicit in economics, but I hope I have illustrated through his acts and stages of life, how relevant my degree in economics is: providing me with knowledge, skills and an awareness in facing all facets of personal, social and professional life ahead of me… And so I enter the world stage with my copy of Shakespeare in one hand and my economics degree in the other.