For every 99 students who cannot wait to turn their backs on this dreaded subject, there is one who aspires to go the LSE, draw some lines and win the USD 1.4 million Nobel Prize in Economics. Winning this highly regarded prize is easier than it looks, according to previous recipients, if you employ some simple strategies.
We spoke to ex-RJ, ex-GEP world leading economist turned MindChamp Dr Adam Smith about winning the prize. Adam won the Nobel Prize in Economics after his classic, the Invisible Hand really took off and is perhaps the best placed economist to answer some of our questions.
Dr Smith started with a key mantra in economics, one that has been responsible for the success of almost every great, from Stiglitz to Sprightly to Sloman: “Fancy names for common sense”. He described this guiding principle as perhaps the most important part of economics, differentiating it from mathematics and political science.
This brings us to the first important point, anything an economist comes up with must not be comprehensible to the layperson. In his words, “If someone who didn’t study economics can think of it, it’s not economics.” This makes sense (although economics doesn’t necessarily) as a sufficiently obtuse layer of obfuscation is necessary before a reader may consider himself clever for understanding what exactly has been written.
“Think of economics as another language, just like Klingon or Quenya. It’s just made up words to explain the same thing” proclaimed Dr Smith, drawing parallels between rare languages and economist-speak. He cited the famous example of the Tinbergen-Theil theory of economic policy. While daunting at first, the English translation is simply “there’s no one solution to multiple problems”.
Amateur economists often fall victim to the chasm of common sense here. Upon addressing a new topic they often hesitate for a moment, engaging in logical, but non-economic journalistic heresy which leads them along the entirely incorrect path because this makes the issue comprehensible to the layperson.
Of course, merely speaking and writing like an economist is only half the battle, not only do renowned economists have to understand all the jargon, they must also use it in a particular sequence. He likened this as a form of steganography that economists use when communicating with each other. The language of economics is based on very strict rules that dictate only a fixed number of permutations and therefore only a fixed series of possible sentences and paragraphs. Economists then memorise these religiously to get their point across.
There is also the content of the economic analysis. This is often sidelined due to the importance of the other criteria but it is definitely not to be underestimated. The content of any good economics research must be based substantially on prior art. By presenting arguments that other economists already understand, it is easier for one’s own work to be understood. When we asked Dr Smith about the adverse impact this might have on the actual value of such “research”, he pointed out that established thought is obviously established because it’s correct.
Finally, there is the style with which an economist produces his work. A skill that most professional economists overlook is the need for speed. A key consideration in the selection process, Dr Smith says, is the ability of an economist to churn out economic analyses in record time. As a rule of thumb, he tells us anyone aspiring to win the prize needs to be able to fill in around 4 pages in 45 minutes. According to him, simply pain in the hand is not enough, “it must feel like death, it must be entirely numb, it must be the invisible hand”.
The sheer volume of text produced, as well as the unwieldy obfuscation that accompanies it renders economics an unassailable fortress most sane people would be wise to keep their distance from.
As a final note, Dr Smith suggests simultaneously subscribing to two opposing schools of thought to enjoy the resultant synergies and maintain your infallibility. Baron John Maynard Keynes puts it succinctly, “it is better to be vaguely correct than precisely wrong.” After all, If you predict all possible outcomes, you can never be wrong.
In conclusion, winning the Nobel Prize in economics definitely is an uphill task, but it can be made significantly easier through the adoption of various strategies. The exact extent of the impact of these strategies is unfortunately difficult to precisely measure, especially given the constantly evolving opinions of the committee in charge. Nonetheless these guidelines provide a clear and accurate framework for any aspiring economics student to make it big.