Think Like an Economist

Christopher Oldcorn
Mar 20 · 4 min read
Man Reading Newspaper Sitting on Stair Wall from Pixabay

“We live in strange times” Paul Krugman

Occupy Wall Street

Great Recession


Housing Crash

Trump’s Tariff Wars

What do these five events have in common?

They are all economic events.

Economics surrounds us.

Economics affects our daily life.

However, which parts of economics are essential?

How do we separate the critical events from the noise?

We live in a time of “fake news” including fake economic news.

Turn on any of the cable news shows and watch two “experts.”

They never agree, and we don’t know whom to believe.

Photo by Sam Wheeler on Unsplash

This article is the start of a series on economics.

I want to make economics easy for any person to understand.

Thinking like an economist isn’t hard.

People think only geniuses can be economists.

But basic economic principles are easy to grasp.

Thinking like an economist will help you better understand the news.

By understanding economics, we become better citizens.

Do You Think Like an Economist?

You purchased tickets to an outside music concert that cost $250.

It is pouring rain, and you live an hour away.

Do you go?

Most people would go to the concert because they spent $250 on the tickets and don’t want to “waste” their money.

An economist won’t go if they don’t want to get wet or drive two hours in the rain.

You spent the money in the past and cannot get it back.

But you cannot get your time back either.

An economist thinks, “My life starts now. What occurred in the past is irrelevant.”

Photo by Cameron Casey from Pexels

Sunk Costs

It doesn’t matter how much you paid for the tickets.

You don’t get your money back by attending the concert.

The tickets are a “sunk cost.”

You don’t get “sunk costs” back (unless you can return the tickets).

You should only attend the concert if it has current value to you.

Photo by Chetan Vlad from Pexels

Psychologists Two Reasons

It’s hard for most people to understand the ticket money is gone.

But their time isn’t, and they can do whatever they want with it.

Psychologists have two reasons why it’s so hard.

First, faulty framing.

We take our time and tie it to the ticket price.

Remember when your parents said, “Waste Not, Want Not.”

If you don’t want to go to the concert.

You’ve wasted your money.

If you go when you don’t want to go.

You’ve also wasted your time.

Cut your losses and just lose the money.

Use your time to do something else you enjoy.

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

Second, cognitive dissonance.

Wasting the $250 to most people feels painful.

Only the Rich can waste $250 and not feel like they wasted the money.

Most people go to the concert even if they don’t want to stand in the rain.

If they don’t go, they feel dissonance.

People make up a reason to go such as “it’s not raining that hard.”

People go to the concert, so they feel the money isn’t wasted.

Dissonance fixed.

Final Thoughts

How do we apply this article to our everyday lives?

First, understand the difference between sunk costs and future costs.

Second, don’t do activities to justify sunk costs.

If you stand in the rain at the concert, you can’t read that new book you bought.

Third, do you really want to do an activity or are you trying to prevent cognitive dissonance?

Economics helps us to act more rationally.

Do you want great content? Sign up for my newsletter here!

Christopher Oldcorn is a writer and journalist. He holds a BA in Psychology from Laurentian University, and a post-grad in Research Analysis from Georgian College. Christopher studied at The Centre for Investigative Journalism (Goldsmiths, University of London). Recognized as a Top Writer in Government, Politics, Books, Climate Change, Productivity, Creativity, & Writing.

You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +436,678 people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +515K people. Follow to join our community.

Christopher Oldcorn

Written by

A writer curious about the world. Published over 150 stories in 20+ publications. Keep in touch

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +515K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade