“What are you majoring in?”
“Probably econ.” I often sound deflated and resigned.
There’s no “probably” anymore—I am a rising junior and if I want to graduate in four years, there are no other options.
But I still say “probably”—to distance myself from the folks who are interested in jobs as Money and Prestige, rather than jobs as Missions and Passions and to acknowledge some hesitations I have about econ.
One hesitation is about how mainstream economics undervalues supportive and caring labor. An example of the mainstream mindset is gross domestic product (GDP), which does not include non-market transactions in its calculation. Historically, this design has meant that the work performed by women in the home is ignored.
But the supportive and emotional aspect of my work at the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is extraordinarily unique and meaningful.
As an advocate (a volunteer trained with CEF), I work with Members, who are individuals that make appointments with CEF to work toward their own financial/employment/housing goals. This work is about listening– to truly hear what their goals are—and supporting—so they can achieve them. It is also about acknowledging alongside Members that the systems and circumstances surrounding them are often terrible and unfair. Advocates support; we don’t give orders.
As an assistant organizer with the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable— a discussion with landlords about the community can support them in leasing up voucher holders—I work with Janet Xiao, one of the co-directors of CEF. Yes, I do some typical Interny Tasks—drafting important documents and following up with people—but I also do some supportive work—creating space for Janet to sit and eat and just be after a full day of meetings, intentionally not talking about CEF things etc. This emotional work is important too.
But I didn’t fall into majoring in economics by accident. I (shamefully) liked the perceived quantitative and “logical” reputation that econ majors enjoyed, and the increased job security that followed. I saw it as an adaptable path that could grant me access to the worlds of nonprofits, governments and academia all at once.
And I genuinely believe and admire some of the ideological tenets and concepts of economics (yes, economics is a social science with political ideologies, no matter how hard it wants to be like physics.)
In particular, I believe in rationality—which is the idea that individuals do the best they can under the circumstances they’re in. The key word here is “best,” which includes a perception of optimal outcomes (perhaps influenced by historical information asymmetries?). I softly reject the recent pivot toward behavioral economics and the resulting implication that people are irrational and not agents of their own lives.
Instead, I affirm this aspect of classical economics and CEF: people are naturally resourceful, creative and whole.
Economics can be problematic, but not always.