Why non-specialists need to understand economics

Deborah Mabbett
Wed 31st January 2018 | Blog

Deborah Mabbett is one of our enthusiastic volunteers who are helping to shape our new e-book for students not specialising in economics, Economy, Society, and Public Policy. She explains why she got involved.

Who are you?

I am a professor in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, and convenor of a masters degree programme in public policy and management. My academic training right through to PhD level was in economics, and the subjects I teach have plenty of economics embedded in them.

Why did you decide to help pioneer the new e-book?

I think it is very important for non-economists to have sufficient understanding of economic concepts to be able to evaluate claims and arguments for themselves. This a safeguard against allowing economists to run away with claims that there isn’t any alternative when there really is. It also addresses the opposite danger: that economic insights are simply rejected out of hand, which is the defensive reaction of some politically-committed students when faced with arguments that they don’t feel equipped to grasp and challenge.

What do you think is exciting about the project?

The main CORE project is a huge leap forward in teaching economics, and many of its innovations also make economics more accessible to non-specialists. The new project can develop these aspects, particularly around the use of data and analysis of topical policy problems.

What have you learnt from the project so far?

The teaching culture in economics is very different to that in some other social sciences – certainly in politics – where textbooks are rarely used and there is a lot of emphasis on understanding debates and divisions between different schools of thought.  This is a barrier that the project can overcome, but it will take some work. I think Economy, Society, and Public Policy may be particularly useful for public policy masters’ students, as they can readily see the value and relevance of learning a toolbox of analytical techniques. Politics undergraduates may prove to be more resistant, but we will see.

The project to produce Economy, Society, and Public Policy is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.