Sat, March 02, 2024

Simon Says: Economics and Inequality

                               Dr. Simon Medcalfe, AU Economics Professor

What is the most pressing problem economists today should be addressing? Over the last five years the CORE (Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics) Project has been asking this question to new economics students at universities throughout the world. Students can only respond in one word or term and the answers are represented in the word cloud below (and located on the CORE Project website Larger words represent more students identifying that problem as the major concern.

The biggest problem as identified by new economics students is inequality. But it is not just economic students who are concerned about inequality, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta hosted a virtual event on Racism and the Economy with a focus on the wealth divide in October 2021. In recent years COVID related topics such as recession and recovery have often been top of the list, but these are also tied to inequality because the disease has impacted people differently.


Although unemployment looms large in students’ minds other traditional macroeconomic topics such as inflation and monetary policy are mentioned much less often. This is different to conversations I have with older people around Augusta who are worried about rising prices and getting people (not themselves!) back to work. New undergraduates are more concerned with non-traditional economics topics such as sustainability and climate change which have a larger prominence. Maybe this is to be expected, as they are several years from joining the workforce.

I supervise several undergraduate students who research topics of interest to them. Over the last few years students have researched sustainable fashion, the growing trend for vegan and vegetarian diets, and the socio-economic determinants of COVID-19 outcomes, all of which would be considered non-traditional topics when I went to college.

Some students are still interested in traditional economics topics. One student is currently researching the trade off between wage increases and unemployment. This topic has been around since 1958 when Kiwi economist A.W. Phillips first identified the inverse relationship.

Overall, economics is a very broad field that can address many issues of our times.

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