This I Believe

Eric - Los Altos Hills, California
Entered on May 31, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the elegance of social and economic institutions. I think my path towards a passion for economics started when I was in 5th grade. I was never a very popular kid in elementary school, but when I moved to New York at the end of 4th grade I became particularly isolated from the “cool clique” that dominated social life at Fox Meadow Elementary School. There was one kid, a leader of the pack, whose power always fascinated me; all of the other “in” kids used to follow him around and their ridicule kept us “out” kids away. One day, spurred by a bit of animosity and much more curiosity, I followed him around all through lunch, silent. By the end of our break, the king of the playground jungle, too embarrassed to call on his followers, had taken personal responsibility for punishing my impudence. It soon became apparent that after years of relying on his disciples to do such dirty work, and not being very strong himself, the king was struggling to put down even the weakest of rebellions. His inability to intimidate a nerd like me had a profound impact on his social authority. The experiment taught me about the fragile and self-sustaining beauty of social power and was a satisfying conclusion to my first childish inroad into the world of social science.

It wasn’t until eighth grade that I realized that there was a formal venue for studying such fascinating interactions. With ample free time and still a bit of a loner, I began to read the works of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. Their vision of an “invisible hand” in markets that helps coordinate individual self-interest in the pursuit of social good was an astounding example of the hidden logic of social affairs I had been quietly observing. With the arrogance of youth, I felt that the discipline had been invented for my sake.

As I dug deeper, however, I discovered that the optimistic portrait painted by free-market economics told only part of the story. My passion to see rational structure in society became not just a lens for understanding the world, but vision for improving it. Pervasive inequality and waste bother me not only, or even primarily, because of the suffering they cause; for me, such injustice simply does not make sense.

Over the last few years I have learned to apply the tools of game theory to understand everything from the structure of flirtation to the proper role of international justice. At the same time I started a group that lobbies for opening American agricultural markets to developing countries. These pursuits are all motivated by the same deeply held belief in finding, or creating, simple order in the seemingly complex chaos of economy and society. I believe that by better understanding the principles that guide the civilization we live in, we can gain the power to improve that shared community. In short, I believe in economics.