Rough draft: sop take 2

As a child, I had great contempt for subjects of human nature, English and social sciences. They seemed to me to be deeply narcissistic. Besides, I felt they had nothing to do with a greater pursuit of the truth. I remember arguing vehemently with my 8th grade literature teacher about whether or not “The bumblebee flew anyway” had a subtext. “If the author had some lesson for his readers to learn” I argued, “why didn’t he just write the lesson out in plain English?!” Part of this bias can be explained by my growing up in the middle of the Redwood Forests of Northern California, conservative and largely unpopulated. Most of my experiences, playing in the creek or hunting tweety birds, were governed by the natural world rather than people.

However, when I went to school in Berkeley, I saw my world shift from being governed by nature to a near 100% saturation of human pursuits. Like a set of a play that is brought in to cover the bare rafters and structures that make up the stage, Berkeley covered all I knew about how the world worked with the constructs of modern human civilization. I was struck by the fact that each tree was placed by a human; every rule to follow was a human law rather than natural. I realized that people, especially large groups of them, had a logic of there own, perhaps distinct from nature. I began to ask myself, “What laws govern these people?” There were the obvious answers: government and politics, the police and power. These were brute force kinds of answers. Possibly true, but uninteresting. What struck me were more subtle issues that dealt with the layers of abstraction involved in everyday interactions of people. Buying apples at the store involves a tremendous amount of faith in these unsaid laws of human interaction. Why does money have value and why would the apple vendor take it in exchange for an apple (which by the away arrived to the vendor via a complex scheme of domestic and international trade)?

My years in industry have deepened this mystery. I’ve been involved in both the buying and selling of software. I’ve struggled with creating new products, setting prices, and trying to find buyers. I’ve created “value propositions.” Why do people buy things at the market price or any price for that matter? I’ve taken finance classes. Price is the NPV of net future cash flow. What happens in cases where future cash flows are uncertain or unknowable? Even without perfect information, the price is set, people still buy and people still sell. My experience in the real world, while sparking my interest in the theory of price setting, has shown me how important these decisions.

For such an important and regular activity, determining price and trying to place value on stuff is an extremely hard thing to do. Aesthetically and innately, I’m attracted to the prospect of understanding this problem better, to the science of setting price (determining value) and to the study of the environment that allows for such transactions to take place. Yet, what excites me most is the prospect of teaching people the tools of economics so that they can better make these decisions.


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