By Brennan Sullivan
Economics professor Steve Ziliak put on a lecture in the Spertus Lounge open to Roosevelt students and faculty interested in up and coming approaches to studying economics.
The talk on April 4 was led by President of Northwestern Morton Schapiro and Professor Gary Saul Morson. The two published a book in 2017, “Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From The Humanities.”
Professor Ziliak has hosted multiple events this spring semester alone and has been bringing speakers to the Roosevelt community since the fall of 2004, nearly 15 years.
“The RU Econ Seminar Series is a university curriculum and network and transformative experience all in one, changing lives and careers for many, such as distinguished RU alumnus Christian Delgado, now at Google,” Ziliak said.
Other featured guests have been economist and Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase, former advisor to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, economist Burton Weisbrod and New York Times best-selling author, economist and political scientist James Robinson.
Schapiro has published over 100 articles and written or edited nine books, including “Cents and Sensibility.” Schapiro’s work predominantly focuses on the economics of higher education. Schapiro has also spoken before both U.S. House and Senate committees on issues relating to economics and education.
Morson, a Slavic language and literature professor at Northwestern University, has also written about a variety of aspects of the arts and humanities. Morson’s work includes a variety of literary genres and “the history of ideas” in Russia and Europe, according to Northwestern’s staff biography of Morson.
The two academics brought their very distinct disciplines together to take a different look at the modern economic system and how economists analyze it.
In an opinion piece published by Morson and Schapiro in MarketWatch, a financial and business newsite, they said, “If economists learned from great literature, their models would be more realistic, their predictions more accurate and their policies more effective and more just.”
Both during the lecture, and more comprehensively in the book, Morson and Schapiro argue in “Cents and Sensibility” that the traditional study of economics could be strengthened significantly if it incorporated other fields of studies that observe human behavior; the humanities.
The speakers highlighted both the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to demonstrate how people are not always completely rational actors like most conventional economic theories claim they are.
“Everybody said that if we convince people from Great Britain, especially lower-income people, that it’s going to be bad for them to pull out of the European Union, surely they’re not going to vote for that,” Schapiro said, noting that they did.
Schapiro also used the 2016 President Election as an example. “To say that he was the President for the people who would restore jobs… maybe he tricked some people, but I think that there are a lot of people who voted for him even though they knew he wasn’t bringing back coal and steel,” Schapiro said.
During the lecture, Schapiro asked his colleague what knowledge on human behavior would have helped “better anticipate” the outcome in Great Britain and the U.S. in these times? What did the liberal media miss?
For Morson, it was the way people react to feeling like they have lost their self-worth. “It is incredibly condescending… If you insult people, tell them that they’re stupid, that they have bad values. Some of them aren’t going to like it,” Morson said.
“To them, their self-worth is more important than the economic factor. It’s really dangerous to have an elite who that thinks of themselves as morally and intellectually superior,” Morson said.
Dan Roy, a junior economics major who attended the talk, said that he enjoyed professor Ziliak’s event and the topic of conversation.
“I think that it’s beneficial and necessary for the future of the field of economics, considering it covers, widely the overall ability to provide for a citizenry in every aspect of society,” Roy said.
Marketing major, Tina Gil, said she felt similar and said that other areas of study are already doing what Schapiro and Morson have suggested.
“I’m a marketing major and they instil in us that the way to be an effective marketer is to pool from all these other fields. Marketing pulls a lot from psychology, economics, finance, I think there is so much value in the marriage of two fields,” Gil said.
Towards the end of the discussion, Schapiro shared with the Roosevelt attendees some of the advice he gives his own students who similarly plan to pursue a career in economics.
“I teach a lot of economics and math majors, many of them want to work in India or in China. I love econometrics, but I tell them… If you want to understand China or India, study their language, study their literature, study their history, their politics, their religion.”