Economics in Action

On Tuesday 14th November, 15 girls had the opportunity to attend an ‘Economics in Action’ conference held at the University of Warwick. 

We began with a behavioural economics talk led by Adam Thompson, Coventry University, who explored different forms of Nudge Theory, a theory founded by Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler, and then shared results of tests by the Behavioural Insights Team. The one I found most interesting was the organ donation study whereby countries with an opt-out system had a much much higher percentage of organ donors.

What I also found surprising was his honest criticism of Nudge Theory. He said the main issue is that the sample can never be an accurate representation of the population, so it is very difficult to compare the effectiveness of nudge alongside government intervention.

We then heard from Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economics Affairs who talked about economic misconceptions that even newspapers or politicians are guilty of believing. The two things I found most shocking were, firstly, the idea that people who raise prices of key products in a disaster are not immoral exploiters, but instead reduce the effect of disaster, and secondly, that he firmly believed we do not need to worry about the effects of artificial intelligence on employment, as more jobs should be created as a result of AI. Additionally, I found it striking how the misconception that trade is a competition, rather than mutually beneficial, is the attitude of many world leaders (eg President Trump). This reminded me of the arms race and how it was a catalyst for the Great War.

Following this, we had a quick talk about exam technique with John Wood, a teacher and examiner for AQA Economics A Level. I think the most important advice was to keep up with the news so that you can use real world examples in your answers, alongside the theories and diagrams learnt in class.

Shortly after, Laura Gardiner of The Resolution Foundation gave a talk on wages and the flaws of the labour market. Since it has been the worst decade for pay growth in nearly 200 years, this was a particularly interesting topic. It was especially thought-provoking as labour productivity growth has not improved in nine years, and so she went through a few theories to why that is, for example, low capital investment, low skills investment, or simply due to measurement inaccuracies.

The five main debates at the Resolution Foundation concerning pay in the UK are minimum wages, migration, declining trade union membership, increased employment flexibility, and lower job mobility. 

We then heard from Dr Dennis Novy, University of Warwick, who went through the links between Brexit voters and their socio-economic features and non-economic factors (for instance ethnicity, class, identity). He said the main motivator of 'vote leave' was fiscal cuts (proxy of deprivation).

What I found most interesting was that a huge turnout of young people would not have overturned the result. For that to happen, the turnout of 18 to 24-year-olds would have needed to be 120%, or 97% of 18 to 44-year-olds! What I also found fascinating was how an equation could be created to find the vote share/ turnout in an area.

Lastly, Kimberly Scharf, University of Warwick, used her own research to explain the link between fundraising for charity and overlapping social groups. She explored the economics of giving, the impact of non-giving interactions on giving behaviour, social structures, information sharing and neighbourhood size. This talk introduced me to the link of economics and charity and provided interesting areas for further reading, such as the link between charitable giving and socio-economic segregation.

The conference as a whole was an unmissable experience as we got the chance to hear about the most current economic issues. I would definitely recommend this event to anyone deciding to take Economics at A Level, IB, or those planning to do an EPQ based on current economic problems.

Ying Ong, SFC1