Blog: Cost and Benefit

Is it true that what we study influences how we think? Blogger Nadya Karimasari encountered some anecdotal evidence.
Nadya Karimasari

Two weeks ago, I took part in an event called Wageningen Indonesia Scientific Expo 2016, that was held in Orion. Around twenty to thirty out of seventy Indonesian PhD candidates and their supervisors had a poster presentation in this semi-internal event. The Indonesian education attaché from the Embassy in The Hague also attended and gave a keynote presentation.

Most of the Indonesian PhD candidates, at least those who participated in this event, studied natural sciences or economics. I was happy to expose myself to interactions with people from a different background than myself. It was an eye-opening experience, because it showed that people outside my academic “bubble” sometimes had an absolutely different way of thinking. For example, the economics way of thinking still surprises me when I encounter it in real life. When I had my three-minute presentation about marginalized people, one of the judges said “But if you care for them, the cost will be too high and the benefit will not be that much.” I reacted in silence, “But the cost for whom and the benefit for whom?”

Since my undergraduate studies, I used to make jokes about friends who studied economics. Sometimes they are very calculative when it comes to spending money for other people. They would first calculate how that cost would bring benefit for them. In extreme cases, they didn’t even provide me with lunch when I visited their home. Maybe they waited until I went back and then ate their lunch afterwards. I used to joke, “Ya, I bet you are going to be very rich if you keep all your money for yourself.”

In anthropology, we learnt that the meaning of being rich is when we had a rich relationship with others. We learnt about the ethics of care, reciprocity and the gift relationship. It means, as human being in real life, we have more important factors to consider when making a decision than the rational economic cost and benefit calculation.

But economist, do not worry. The judge that I mentioned above was not a representative of economists. He was not even studying economics, an impostor at best.

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