This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a week-long economics/leadership program at Yale University, organized by FTE. The first half of each day was centered around learning about economic theory, while the second half was focused on activities to practice leadership techniques. Throughout the program, I established friendships with interesting and amazing people, and I learned important life lessons that I would’ve never learned in a normal school classroom.
The economics lessons had similar topics I learned in my AP Economic class, but because it was only a week-long program, it was shortened to the basics. However, I learned how to apply concepts that I learned from AP Economics to everyday life, and I expanded my perspectives of certain topics and practiced economic thinking. The teacher challenged my previous conceptions and ways of thinking, and the activities that went along with the lessons also deepened my understanding of the topic, and helped provide real world examples. The teacher did a very good job of connecting the topic to something the students could relate to.
The focus on what the teacher taught was different from the focus of my AP econ teacher. My AP econ teacher was helpful with applying graphs and other quantitative practices to real world economic examples, and the teacher from the EFL program specialized more in economic foundational theories and applying that to our own opinions and beliefs.
Some of the foundational theories of economics that the EFL professor taught throughout the week were:
- People make choices, and these choices are the source of social outcomes
- Choices impose costs
- People respond to incentives in different ways
- Institutions are the “rules of the game” that incentivized choices
- Important Institutions: Open, competitive markets, Property Rights, Rule of Law, Innovation/Entrepreneurship
- Understanding based on knowledge brings value to opinions
Overall, he emphasized the importance of free trade, and demonstrated this with multiple lessons. For example, when he taught the class about international trade and tariffs, the activity he had us play out showed us that when there are no tariffs or barriers of trade, people are generally happier with what they purchase than if there are preventions in place. I could apply this lesson to what I learned with the world trade graphs in my AP course: tariffs and taxes (trade barriers) cause deadweight loss and inefficiency. The lessons I learned in the program could apply to the lessons from my AP class, and vice versa, and it helped to deepen my understanding of economics.
The last takeaway that the EFL teacher highlighted is that everything is nuanced. Nothing is as black and white as it seems. Furthermore, many topics and terms are subjective, as they can mean different things to different people. It’s important to question your own beliefs and try to understand other perspectives as well.
The teacher brought up topics of disagreement, such as sweatshops and child labor, and showed perspectives that some might would overlook. His main goal with this is to show the nuance and complexity of opinions and topics. For example, with the topic of sweatshops and labor laws, he asked us what the other choice would be for the workers in these factories. He mentioned that in a lot of situations, working in factories was the one of the few choices available to these workers. From a quality of life standpoint, their best option was to have more factories that would increase competition between shops for labor, which in theory would result in better pay and treatment of workers. In my opinion, there is a moral issue that arises with this outlook. Furthermore, it’s only considering the labor side of the sweatshop problem and not the environmental side. The United Nations considers sweatshops to be the second most polluting industry in the world with 93 billion cubic meters of water being used by the fast fashion industry, and half a million tons of microfibers being dumped into the ocean every year by sweatshops. Despite my disagreements, the teacher’s perception still taught me to question my beliefs and that not every argument has a 100% right perspective or a 100% wrong perspective.
The leadership part of the camp reinforced what we learned in the economics lessons by connecting economic concepts to important leadership skills. For example, the concept of opportunity cost was shown in a leadership activity where we had to do an obstacle course where we only had time to plan before the course, but while we were actively solving the obstacle course, we weren’t allowed to talk. For my group what ended up happening whas that the time taken to plan for the course ended up taking away time to actually do the course, demonstrating the problem of opportunity cost and scarcity of time.
This program changed the way I approach decision making and I am so gratefuI got to attend. I met so many amazing people at the program, and I strongly encourage any rising juniors/seniors to apply.