A funny thing happened on the way to becoming an economist: why I did not

Economics is a tough subject for me.

When I took the first class—Introduction to Macro Economics— in college, I managed an A and the teacher was a Dr. Bedell, I think. The next class was Introduction to Micro Economics taught by the same prof. On day one, she came in, looked around and saw several who had been in the first section and said something like, “I have learned there was a lot of sharing on tests last semester, so all of you who were together last semester, separate.”

The only other time before this I had been accused of cheating was High School Chemistry, on a test covering the periodic table, which is nothing but memorization, but I am lousy at memorization, so I spent a week working on the most beautiful and tiny cheat sheet ever created in the history of cheat sheets. As I was walking in to take the test, I just couldn’t go through with it and tossed it in the trash. But some one, some girl whose grades were slightly better than mine, knew about it and ratted me out. After a big deal with the teacher, I retook the test and got a really good grade, but it stung and stayed with me.

To say Dr Bedell pissed me off is an understatement. I cornered her after class and told her I was offended.  This had no impact, so I brazenly told her I would get a perfect score for the semester, which made her laugh tell me she had never given a 100 on any one test, much less the whole semester.

Passing out the graded first test, she dropped mine in front of me and announced loudly it was the first 100 she had ever given. I am not that smart.  I studied my fool tail off; it was personal. I was challenged and when this happens, I can get rather bull-headed. After the second test, I had other kids asking me to miss some questions because I was screwing up the curve. I told them I couldn’t do this but I would talk to Dr. Bedell about kicking my grade out when figuring the curve. because of the personal nature of what was going on.  She agreed only if I got a perfect score all semester. Well, I got the perfect score for the semester and I did not die at the hands of my classmates because she did not use my scores for the curve.

I took two more Econ classes and got pretty good grades and the head of the department talked to me about changing majors to Economics.  But then I took a 4000 level Advanced Macro Economics class and could not even read the book.  In the real world, the Laffer Curve was the big deal at that time, the idea that lowering marginal tax rates increases productivity and tax revenues—the heart and soul of Reagan’s Trickle-down Voodoo economics we still cannot shake. While the instructor was talking, and drawing his graphs, I could follow the logic, but when I walked out of the class, it all might as well have been said and written in Klingon because I could understand none of it.

I talked to the department head and told him this and that since I could no longer understand the material, I would not be an Econ major, and while I did finish the class with an A, what he told me then explains an awful lot about the mess the country is in.

What he said is this (or something very close to this): That shouldn’t stop you.  Nobody understands this stuff. No one.  So, you can say whatever you want and people will believe it.

So I finished the degree of debts and credits, became a CPA and the older I get, the more I know he was right: no one understands how the economy works.

And while the right says lowering tax rates spurs economic growth and investment, I think it causes an increase in savings rates, not investment. I had the chair of a county Republican committee convinced of this in 2008 and she was ready to change the mailer before I told her that doing so would get her removed from her position. What the Laffer curve does not say is that lowering tax rates to almost nothing is good.  There is an equilibrium point and dropping the rate too much causes a decrease in tax revenues. (Norquist would never accept this, nor could most Republicans these days.)

Here’s the thing: I do not have the requisite degree to enable me to speak and have people believe me. What I say needs to make sense to change minds.  Maybe I should have become an economist.

4 thoughts on “A funny thing happened on the way to becoming an economist: why I did not

  1. I remember my first lesson of economics, I spent most of it colouring in different sections of graphs and making fun of economists and now – I cant get enough of it; even though I don’t think its ever come in handy in my entire life!

    1. it is fun to mess with, but like you, it hasn’t helped me a great deal, except that when the politicos start talking, a little of it floats back to the surface, and then I laugh because of what the dept head said and go on.

      Thanks for reading and commenting

      1. You’re welcome, I do like being able to explain things like GDP and stagflation to people when they ask and their next question is always ‘who on the tv do politicians and economists make it sound so complicated the?’!

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