Undercover Economist

June 19, 2010 12:52 am

Dear Economist: Which economics articles should I read?

I am a diligent worker and an avid reader of your column. I have, however, become a victim of imperfect information. I am about to do my first-year exams and have just found out that not only should I have been reading your articles, but the whole of the FT and The Economist as well. I may not have substituted enough leisure for work and fear I am about to pay the price. What should I do? And would it be right for a journalist of high calibre to use his perfect information to suggest articles on macro and micro economics over the past year?

Will, Cambridge

Dear Will,

Nice try, but your story doesn’t stack up.

The Financial Times and The Economist are invaluable sources of information about the real world. You, on the other hand, are about to sit economics exams at Cambridge. If you have not yet learnt to appreciate the difference between reality and Cambridge economics, I really am worried about you.

This is especially true if your ignorance has survived your professed diligence. But I rather doubt that you have worked as carefully as you claim. You say that you are a victim of imperfect information, but surely previous exam papers are available for all to see.

A more likely interpretation is that you’re a victim of hyperbolic discounting, where you irrationally regard revision as a chore that fails any cost-benefit test, right up to the last few days before your exam. It’s a subject you may encounter in your third year, if you get there.

It’s not too late. Memorise your Taylor series and a couple of variants of the prisoner’s dilemma, and you’ll be fine. As for articles, I’m proud of a column I wrote for this magazine on November 6 last year on the economics of Jamie Oliver. It won’t get you through your exams but at least you’ll be able to whip up a fresh garden salad for summer.

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