Last week I was in Wellington for a workshop in which 27 ‘young people’ were brought in my the McGuinness Institute to be a sounding-board for the Treasury’s new(ish) Living Standards framework – a policy analysis tool used to ensure that non-economic factors are considered (e.g. social infrastructure, sustainability, equity, risk-management) when discussing and making decisions around public policy.
And that is the most boring sentence I have written for zero academic credit.
A week ago, I was dreading going down even though it was entirely funded by the McGuinness institute – flights, taxis, meals, accomodation, ice blocks and pomegranate cordial – everything. But I was also aware that, in spite of studying a wide range of subjects, my understanding of the economy is about on par with my understanding of the Higgs Boson in that I suspect that they both exist.
Basically, I expected to be asked to apply myself to a task outside of my area of general knowledge let alone my area of expertise, to feel completely out of my depth, and to be surrounded by young people who were younger and better acquainted with every aspect of what we were doing. I also expected that, given the strength my fears and how often things tend to work out this way, it would probably be an amazing experience which would augment my own knowledge, connect me with interesting, intelligent and motivated people and help me shake off the creeping vine of stagnation called ‘2013’.
Ergo – it was everything I intellectually expected but was personally unprepared for.
I feel a little bad actually. I was the only person from a science background there so I actually had the most to learn from the experience and from my peers. I literally hovered on the edges of conversation just to listen to discussions with zero intention of participating. Once I got brave enough I would bring up topics which I had only the smallest amount of understanding of and would then let the group take off while I poached the fruits of their education.
I was completely out of my depth. But the fact that I had the opportunity to learn from New Zealand and international economists and from my peers while not being shunned as a leper or greasy lab rat who never does work which directly benefits people and pours over insect naughty bits late into the…wait…
The point is, I did get voluntary facebook friend invites so they at least thought I deserved the common courtesy of being categorised into the awkward online acquaintance basket.
So. I now know the difference between macro-economics and micro-economics, what ‘externalities’ are, what ‘social infrastructure’ is and I have met a wide range of highly intelligent young people whom I might never have met because their primary areas of interest differ so significantly from my own.
On the first day of the workshop, we attended an annual economics conference and, while I didn’t quite understand all of the vocabulary, the similarities to biology were undeniable. Seriously. Economics is awesome and is literally ecology dedicated to humans. Probably explains the shared etymology. Game theory, cost/benefit analyses, behavioural economics, regression and statistics – from what I can tell as a layperson, economics is the study of human behaviour in which money is the guiding measure of ‘value’, taking the place of reproductive output in biology.
It makes a lot of sense even though I never thought of it that way.
In practical news. In the next two weeks before the university shuts down for Christmas and New Years, I’m aiming to get in contact with relevant iwi for sampling up North, to get some locusts in to feed my specimens under the house and to get familiar with some of the spider families by keying up some pitfall-trap by-catch and comparing my guesses with pre-keyed specimens.
I’m also going to get my hair dyed green. And on the day that I got back from the workshop I watched 16 episodes of Parks and Recreation because midnight burger king (cf. title) and Courtenay Place tend to kill the Friday afternoon PhD vibe.