‘Economics is the science of people in the course of their everyday life’ – Alfred Marshall, Cambridge professor of Political Economy, 1895
Most people’s conception of economics is that it is all about money, but this is not an accurate reflection of the nature of the subject. Money is simply convenient shorthand, a means of measurement, rather than an objective in itself. Economists study the factors that contribute to material well-being; the conditions necessary for improvements in welfare and why they are constrained in so many situations.
Economic things are those which are scarce. As a society, we have to decide upon a way of choosing how, what and for whom to produce. In market economies, private ownership and the pursuit of self-interest are paramount through the workings of the price mechanism, and microeconomic theory analyses the strengths and weaknesses of free markets in this context. Macroeconomic analysis, by comparison, focuses on the factors which influence the performance of national economies. We address questions such as:
• Does the growth of output contribute to material well-being?
• To what extent is inflation a problem?
• What are the causes of recessions and unemployment?
• How does government policy influence economic behaviour?
At St Paul’s, we believe that economic reasoning provides an important framework for developing practical, analytical skills which complement academic study across a broad range of subjects. There are rarely clear-cut ‘right’ answers in the social sciences and we aim to develop the independent critical-thinking skills which enable our students to tackle complex real-world issues. Economics is, of course, a subject where an interest in current affairs and a curiosity for learning about how the world operates are vital ingredients for success and we teach by the application of theory to real world examples. Classroom debate is an important part of the learning process, developing the evaluative skills which are crucial to a nuanced understanding of contemporary affairs. In this manner, abstract concepts and terminology come to life. As Old Paulina and Cambridge Professor of Economics, Joan Robinson stated: ‘the purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists’.
Economics is available at A level in the Senior School, and a short introductory course in the subject is a popular option within the V General Studies programme. We follow the Edexcel board at A level, although, naturally, we aim to stretch our students well beyond the confines of this specification. The Robinson Society invites eminent speakers from business, finance and politics to talk about current economic affairs. We also enter the Proshare Student Investor Challenge and many different national essay competitions as complements to the curriculum.