An economic education, please?

According to the Council for Economic Education’s annual Survey, only 22 states in the U.S. require that students at public high schools take an economics class before they graduate. Global statistics are hard to find, but the case is fairly similar in all other countries we looked into.

Fornagiel:

As a STEM major who was not interested in economics back in high school, my basic economic knowledge is extremely limited. I have never taken an economics course, and now that I am in college and pay attention to politics, I find myself falling behind due to a lack of economic understanding. I feel that if economics was required in high school, I would be more civically engaged and would understand the economic side of politics much more than I do now.

Look at the United Kingdom —there are many studies done now that indicate that when people voted on Brexit, they did not understand what a customs union is and how leaving it would impact the economy and therefore them. Now, when people realize how much it impacts them and that a lot of those impacts are not exactly positive, they are no longer so certain about their decision. This is something that could have been avoided if economics was a larger part of the education system.

Understanding economic principles is not only important for citizens to engage in their civic duty but also for the population to properly manage their money. Every job has one thing in common—people end up receiving a paycheck. Without a proper economics education, however, many people do not know what they will end up doing with their money. Whether it is a newlywed couple taking out a loan to buy a house or an older couple saving for retirement, it is essential that they both have a solid economic foundation in order to make the best decision for their future.

In fact, 78 percent of Americans say they are extremely or somewhat concerned about not having enough money for retirement. Although this could be in part due to circumstances outside of their control, many cases could point to a cause being a lack of understanding in personal finance.

We cannot just rely on people learning all of these things from their parents: That is an altruistic idea at best. Not all parents will teach their children what taxes are or why they are needed, especially if the parents themselves never really learned. Many just accept taxes as a part of the status quo without thinking too much about it.

Most of today’s politics revolve around economics, and it is very common for me to hear students giving their take on political issues when they have no idea what they’re saying because of a lack of an economics background. That is one of the things that gets to me most: I do not understand how you can have an opinion on a topic you do not fully understand. That is irresponsible at best. Understanding economics is key to understanding today’s political world, which is important for everyone to understand. Furthermore, understanding economics changes people’s perspectives on many current issues.

Someone who has never taken economics might not even realize many of the economic limitations of the government. From free healthcare to “the wall,” it is the nature of the citizen to want many services from the government. Oftentimes, citizens do not understand that the money of the government is generated from taxes, and hence, is limited.

Another benefit of economics is understanding the difference between short and long term goals and benefits. People might see short-term improvement, such as a decrease in taxes and think that it is a good thing. In the short term, of course, it is a good thing since people have more income. When the issue is looked at in the long term, however, one could also see all the downsides of those tax cuts, such as a budget deficit, which could potentially lead to a decrease in social security benefits in the future (for example) because of the lack of funds.

Some also argue that economics should not be a requirement in high school but in college. We take issue with that proposal too. The basic principles of economics should be known by the vast majority of the population. Since not all students attend college, and of those colleges, not all of them are colleges that offer economics, the subject will be taught to a greater portion of the population if it is a high school requirement. Furthermore, it is much more difficult to enforce a national requirement on private colleges. Despite this difficulty, it is still extremely important to understand basic economic principles, no matter if it is learned in high school or in college.

Skarboviychuk:

As someone who is an economics major, I might be a little biased, but I do not understand how an economics course is not a national requirement. Economics is so important both for academics and just for being a citizen. Unlike many subjects students are required to take before they graduate, economics is something that is going to be useful regardless of what one is planning to do in the future.

I keep remembering this exchange I had with a friend a few years back (he has never taken economics) who told me that taking out a loan on a 50 percent interest rate is a good idea. I am at a loss of words about this situation: This person is going to have to go out into the “real world” in a few years, and this is their understanding of taking out a loan. Sure, not everyone who has never taken economics is like this, but this is something that can easily be prevented through education system reform.

I grew up in a family of businessmen, so that was a common conversation topic in my house, but that is more like the exception to the rule than the rule. And when people do not know the economic consequences of an action, it really could lead to chaos.

Whether you’re going into law, politics, history or any other humanities field, a basic understanding of economics is invaluable. Even something as distant as philosophy utilizes economic principles (or economics has philosophical principles, depending on who you ask). In my humble economics major opinion, economics has more use to the average person than taking a science or an art (both of which are high school graduation requirements). You might not have to deal with biology in your everyday life, but you cannot avoid encountering economics.  

Furthermore, even if a student does not go into a social science field, understanding basic economic principles is an important aspect of civic duty. Many policies generated by legislative bodies are economic, including categories such as taxation and social security. Without knowledge of basic economic principles, many citizens will blindly vote for policies according to what they think is right or wrong, without even considering the economic impacts of such policies. In some cases, policies that sound good from a moralistic view are very detrimental economically.

I am not saying that students should be required to take anything more than a very basic introduction to economics; no one other than an economics major in college will need the graphs or mathematical equations that are in economics. But a class that offers a very basic understanding of how the market works, what money is and why it works the way it does, what a government’s budget is and what a budget deficit is, why people pay taxes, interest rates, trade, unemployment and other basic but necessary topics for people to know.

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