My end-less love affair with economics

Posted: January 3, 2013 in Adam Smith, Economics, Economies, French Physiocrats, Market forces, UP Manila, UP School of Economics
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A confession is needed right away.  I dropped out from the graduate program of the UP School of Economics (UPSE) decades ago.  Which may not surprise some since I also dropped out earlier from the electrical engineering program of the same school.

Why I dropped out from these programs are two separate stories.  I left engineering program as I dropped out from school to join the underground anti-dictatorship movement.  Why I left UPSE is more complicated; perhaps, another blog entry next time.

Nonetheless, my interest in economies and economics remained and had in fact strengthened since then.  Prior to the short stint at the UPSE graduate school, I was employed by a merchant bank.  There, I learned the rudiments of financial markets and goods.   Of course, the markets then were not as complicated and overpowering as they are now. However, the principles of making money on money remain fundamentally the same.  

After earning a bachelor’s degree in social sciences (economics and history), my mentors at UP Manila convinced me to lecture there.  Before I knew it, I left my job with the merchant bank (perhaps I didn’t like the commute to Makati) and became a full-time instructor.  I handled courses in introductory economics, macroeconomics, money and banking, development and research methods.  It is known that one really starts learning when one teaches.  One can never over-prepare for class; one is always on the lookout for the curveball–the question that stumps you.

I did learn much from teaching the courses mentioned above.  However, one notable course–History of Economic Thought–made me first realize that economics is a living discipline.  More important, there are more than one economics contending with each other since the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith until today.  Especially today when a particular economics holds sway.  An economics which prescribes, in my opinion, that almost all aspects of human and public life be determined by market forces.

As professor of political science, the knowledge of economies and economics have become necessary.  In my case, I had to continue upgrading my reading lists.  In addition, I also read blogs of economists–famous and obscure. I have taught international political economy since 2004 and the readings ante crisis were quite different since the US and European crisis and the BRICs phenomenon.  I find it a continuing and creative challenge to make students without formal training in economics understand these issues.

I will share another secret. I never forget that they are political science students.  One must choose the proper ‘hooks’ like the riots in Greece, the probable return of Silvio Berlusconi as Italian prime minister, and the Democrat-Republican post-2012 election showdown on the fiscal cliff.

A well-chosen hook always works.

  1. Dan Villanueva says:

    Bong, since you have some economics training, I suggest you write a piece on why the Philippines has been an underachiever, using a framework similar to Acemoglu-Robinson.

    • bongmendoza says:

      Dan, I got turned off from academic economics when it focused almost entirely on complex models (that didn’t have a good record at prediction). My interest was kindled by an economic historian, Douglass North, who eventually won the Nobel Price for Economics. I was so thrilled with his Nobel price lecture “Economic performance through time.”

      In 2000, I co-wrote with an economist our take on why the Philippines was a laggard in a region of performers. We covered the period from 1946 to 2000. I did emphasize how the poverty and alienation of the underclasses from the country’s economic and political system, among other things, can undermine growth and needed political stability. Parts of that writing found their way to this blog.

      Joey meanwhile focused on total factor productivity (TFP) and investigated its secular decline. Looking back, it appears that our writings were not well-integrated.

      If I am going to use a framework ala A&R, it’s better that I compare the Philippines with another Southeast Asian country.

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