Serially awesome Cambridge economics professor Ha-Joon Chang has written the world’s smallest economics textbook. 

It’s five key points, all of which are illustrated above; and most of which boil down to “economics is a discipline for the people, and to serve the people. It must be taken back from the political agents known as economists." 

Why Your Rent Is So High and Your Pay Is So Low 
by Tom Streithorst

In the 1950s, the average New York City apartment rented for $60 a month — around $530 in today’s money. With the US median wage at $5,000 a year, New Yorkers spent 1/10 of their salaries on rent. After World War II, apartments were so cheap and available that Manhattanites would regularly move every September just to get the landlord to repaint their new home. In those days, an apartment was a place to live. Now it is as much an investment as shelter.

UChicago: An Economist’s Love Letter

By Basil H., UChicago ’15

Why should you attend UChicago?

As someone who intends to become an economist – and considering that UChicago is well-known for, among other things, its economics program – allow me to explain why UChicago is so great, from the perspective of an economist.

To an economist, you go to college for three reasons:

1)  College is for human capital accumulation

First, you go to college for “human capital accumulation.” By which I mean, you go to college to learn things: “human capital” is a fancy economics term for knowledge.

At UChicago, you will learn a lot. Perhaps most importantly, you will experience the famed Core curriculum. The Core is essential for providing an introduction to rigorous university-level thinking, which in many ways is entirely different ballgame from what is done in high school.

More than that, however, the Core also provides a shared experience both socially and intellectually. For instance, all first years register for a Humanities sequence, ensuring that whenever you meet another first year for the first time, you’re guaranteed to already have something in common to talk about. But the Core is also a shared intellectual journey. When you’re up talking philosophy with your housemates at 2am, and your roommate says, “Well, Adam Smith would argue…,” you’ll be able to think to yourself, “Hey, I know exactly what (s)he’s talking about,” since you’ve also read The Theory of Moral Sentiments or The Wealth of Nations.

For me, UChicago has been an intense academic boot camp, and I’ve come out of it extremely confident in my intellectual abilities. If you attend UChicago, you will accumulate a lot of human capital.

2)  College is a signaling mechanism

The second reason that economists see people going to college is that it acts as “signaling mechanism”. One of the most important reasons to go to college is simply to be able put it on your resume. A large chunk of academic economic research show that part of the financial return to higher education is being able to tell employers, “Hey, I graduated college.”

I don’t think I need to list here the stats on UChicago’s college ranking or our reputation for academic rigor and excellence; I’m sure you’re already aware. Suffice it to say that when employers see “University of Chicago” on your resume, they know exactly what that means.

3)  College is a consumption good

The third and final reason you go to college is that it is a “consumption good”. In other words, you derive intrinsic utility from it. Put even more simply: college is fun! And UChicago is lots and lots of fun.

If you attend an April prospective student overnight, this will quickly become clear to you. When I did my April overnight, I had the chance to meet current UChicago students who dispelled any concerns I had about finding fun at such a rigorous institution. Attending UChicago has been – without a single doubt in my mind – the four best and most fun years of my life.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is your fellow students. Everyone is super smart, super fun, and super exciting to be around. And if you have been accepted, it means that you are too!


So that’s my economist’s argument for why you should attend UChicago. First, you go to college to accumulate human capital, i.e. you go to college to learn, and you will learn lots at UChicago. Second, college is a signaling mechanism to employers, and the UChicago brand sends an excellent signal. Third, college is a consumption good – it’s a lot of fun – and, if anything, UChicago is way too much fun.

What counts as voluntary? Is it possible to be coerced by circumstance?

For more:
The Beauty Business: Pots of Promise, "An industry driven by sexual instinct will always thrive."
An article on beauty industry economics, practices, history, and theory. Published May 22nd 2003

I strongly disagree with the general premise of this article about the inevitability of the capitalist, racist, patriarchal beauty industries, which is that “An industry driven by sexual instinct will always thrive”. The author attributes the human reliance on the beauty industries to evolutionary psychology and a particular take on social Darwinism.

The author states that, “The pain [of beauty practices] has not stopped the passion from creating a $160 billion-a-year global industry, encompassing make-up, skin and hair care, fragrances, cosmetic surgery, health clubs and diet pills. Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education. Such spending is not mere vanity. Being pretty—or just not ugly—confers enormous genetic and social advantages. Attractive people (both men and women) are judged to be more intelligent and better in bed; they earn more, and they are more likely to marry.

Beauty matters most, though, for reproductive success. A study by David Buss, an American scientist, logged the mating preferences of more than 10,000 people across 37 cultures. It found that a woman’s physical attractiveness came top or near top of every man’s list. Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist and author of “Survival of the Prettiest”, argues that “good looks are a woman’s most fungible asset, exchangeable for social position, money, even love. But, dependent on a body that ages, it is an asset that a woman uses or loses.”

Beauty is something that we recognise instinctively. A baby of three months will smile longer at a face judged by adults to be “attractive”. Such beauty signals health and fertility. Long lustrous hair has always been a sign of good health; mascara makes eyes look bigger and younger; blusher and red lipstick mimic signs of sexual arousal. Whatever the culture, relatively light and flawless skin is seen as a testament to both youth and health: partly because skin permanently darkens after pregnancy; partly because light skin makes it harder to hide illness. This has spawned a huge range of creams to treat skin in various ways.

Then again, a curvy body, with big breasts and a waist-to-hip ratio of less than 0.8—Barbie’s is 0.54—shows an ideal stage of readiness for conception. Plastic surgery to pad breasts or lift buttocks serves to make a woman look as though she was in her late teens or early 20s: the perfect mate. “Mimicry is the goal of the beauty industry,” says Ms Etcoff.

Basic instinct keeps the beauty industry powerful. In medieval times, recipes for homemade cosmetics were kept in the kitchen right beside those used to feed the family. But it was not until the start of the 20th century, when mass production coincided with mass exposure to an idealised standard of beauty (through photography, magazines and movies) that the industry first took off.”

 Excerpts from the article:

- “The emerging beauty industry played on the fear of looking ugly as much as on the pleasure of looking beautiful, drawing on the new science of psychology to convince women that an inferiority complex could be cured by a dab of lipstick. Even then, ruthlessness and outright quackery lurked behind the façade. On launching her famous eight-hour cream, developed for her horses, [Elizabeth] Arden quipped: “I judge a woman and a horse by the same criteria: legs, head and rear end.””

 - “Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the global beauty industry—consisting of skin care worth $24 billion; make-up, $18 billion; $38 billion of hair-care products; and $15 billion of perfumes …”

- “Two potentially lucrative markets are being all but ignored by the traditional beauty companies. The first is cosmetic surgery, already a $20 billion business, which has been growing and innovating by leaps and bounds. The number of cosmetic procedures have increased in America by over 220% since 1997. Old favourites, such as liposuction, breast implants and nose jobs, are being overtaken by botox injections to freeze the facial muscles that cause wrinkles. With the number of these up by more than 2,400% since 1997, botox injections have become the most common procedure of all. … The second big new market is in “well-being”—whole treatment systems that cover beauty, exercise and diet, including visits to spas, salons and clubs, and hark back to the early days of Mesdames Arden and Rubinstein. People are increasingly seeking natural cures rather than turning to chemicals, and an emphasis on being fit—not just thin—is growing in popularity. The trend is being led by a list of celebrities. Avon’s boss, Andrea Jung, says modern beauty has been “redefined as health, self esteem and empowerment.””

- “What used to be the preserve of actresses and celebrities has become safer and more affordable. Alan Matarasso, one of America’s leading plastic surgeons, says: “Ten years ago you could reconstruct a woman’s breasts for $12,000—now it can be done for $600.” Drooping prices have helped cosmetic surgery to move into the mainstream. More than 70% of those who come under the knife now earn less than $50,000 a year.”

- “ … the beauty business needs to guard against a growing consumer backlash. Like those facing the tobacco and food industries, this has two elements. The first concerns truth in advertising. Creams and cosmetics are making increasingly extravagant marketing claims. So far, women have been willing to buy into the illusion. Should that change (and there are signs it might), then manufacturers expose themselves to potentially ruinous litigation.

Second, there is a moral dimension. The beauty industry is at a stage where it can permanently change a person’s looks. Given advances in genetic engineering and the competitive drive, a race for beauty is conceivable in which people will strive to model themselves on some form of idealised human being. By selling the weapons to win this war, the industry may find itself roundly condemned and subject to legislation.

Public handwringing is already evident in the case of teenagers indulging in cosmetic surgery. In “Branded”, a book on marketing to teenagers, Alissa Quart notes that in America the number of teenage breast implants and liposuctions rose by 562% between 1994 and 2001. There is a cynical marketing phrase for all this: helping “kids look older younger”. A number of new books have begun to question the ethics of marketing beauty products and services to adults too.”

The author concludes that: “The beauty business—the selling of “hope in a jar”, as Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, once called it—is as permanent as its effects are ephemeral.”

Global, multi-billion dollar industries that drastically and disproportionately impacts the decision-making of women and girls to give into the pressures of compulsory femininity (a part of female socialization) which idealizes an ageist, racist, misogynistic model of womanhood that is white, thin, “young” (teenaged and in early adulthood), and femininely gendered (for the heterosexually-attracted male gaze) is not inevitable. As a Radical Feminist, for me to agree that the beauty industries are permanent fixtures in social structures would be defeatist. I will never accept it. I refuse. We can still push back.

VACCINES are medical science’s nuclear weapons. Clean water and sewage disposal aside, they have saved more lives than any other public-health measure. Vaccines have wiped smallpox, a disease once dreaded by rich and poor alike, from the face of the Earth. They may soon do the same to polio. They have driven words like diphtheria and whooping cough from public discourse in rich countries, and might do the same for measles, mumps and rubella were it not for the vanity, selfishness or foolishness of a minority who will not immunise their children against these threats. They also offer the elderly protection, albeit imperfectly, against the lethal ravages of influenza.
—  The Economist. 2015.

(TitleThe American Association for the Advancement of Science; Onwards and upwards)