This weekend, my wife and I spent hours with my cousin discussing elements of politics, science, ideology, mathematics, semantics, economics, and a few other long words I don't feel like typing out right now. The conversations were engaging, and perhaps even heated at times, but most of all they were enlightening. I got to hear the perspectives of two intelligent people I respect, and I realized how little the average person respects (let alone likes) economics.
Economics serves as a bedrock of many other social sciences. The interaction of supply and demand curves is used to explain marketing, research and development, finance, and so many other fields. I still love to recall the lectures of my graduate professor who could explain why people want to be underpaid, why companies would pay more to sell a product for less, and other such seemingly ridiculous suppositions. I'm not even going for the truly outlandish ones there, either. Yet when those concepts are explained using economics, they each make a lot of sense. My undergraduate professor had a great way to explain the law of diminishing return of investment - one piece of apple pie may be wonderful, but the fifth piece makes a person never want to see apple pie again. Those two men did wonders to help me appreciate their field, and I have tried (often futilely) to share what I learned with many I have come in contact with.
I know economics does not explain everything in life. I know that not every decision can be explained by economics (though some economics professors may try). I simply value the light economics can shed on many decisions people make in their everyday lives. Dr. Randy Pausch, for instance, explained the reason there were few great doctors in the field of cancer research focused on pancreatic cancer - there was no many to perform the research. Sure, everyone would love to find a cure to that horrible disease, but without the funding it is hard to attract enough people to do it. The medical field in general has a shortage of doctors - especially in fields that do not pay as much as surgery, for instance. Do people not want to be doctors anymore? Sure they do, but with the extreme cost of going through school, along with the time spent not earning a paycheck, it becomes difficult for many people to justify the sacrifice. Reduce the cost, shorten the time commitment, or increase the payout and more people will enter the field. That's what economics demonstrates.
I understand, though. Lock three economists in a room with the assignment to define "value" or even "money" and they'll run out of oxygen before they agree on anything. Economics is not an exact science - it is a social science. It has a lot of room for interpretation. It also has a lot of value for interpreting, though, too. I just wish I knew how to help other people see how.