It’s easy to get lost in economic jargon. However, there is a secret weapon to navigate this bewildering economic nonsense: contextual understanding. But why is contextual understanding so powerful?
Contextual understanding is the ability to understand concepts in real-world terms—the ability to take abstract ideas and know how to apply them. This skill is critical in economics, where theories and models are created by analysing past events. However, often we learn economic concepts in isolation without understanding the context, meaning we’re missing a considerable chunk of knowledge.
While some IB textbooks may attempt to showcase studies and real-world examples, these are largely mainstream and unimaginative. Subsequently, IB examiners quickly get sick of reading hundreds of commentaries on ‘overfishing’, for example. So to truly understand economics and write informed and unique commentaries on the concepts we learn, we must dive deeper into contextual understanding with non-IB resources.
The news is one of the best and most easily accessible tools to bolster economic understanding. While it won’t necessarily explain concepts, once you’ve learnt the basics, articles on the economy can be a handy way to build a repertoire of contextual understanding. For example, an article on inflation and the Fed’s response to it may easily become the argument of your next commentary. Or you may begin to understand the importance of protectionism when reading an article on the US-China trade war.
Reading the news doesn’t mean you must religiously follow the Economist. Instead, I recommend subscribing to a daily or weekly newsletter summarising notable events. One of my favourites is the New York Times Morning Briefing, which is free to subscribe to. You might also want to follow Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman’s Columns in the NY Times. There is also the Economist’s Weekly Edition, which summarises notable events this week.
YouTube is often a hit or miss when it comes to pure economic analysis. However, some channels can give you incredible insight into cases you may not have been aware of. Channels such as Wendover Productions, Economics Explained and Polymatter create mini-documentaries on exciting topics and phenomena that you can easily incorporate into your next assignment.
For example, a recent Polymatter video, “Why Foreign Aid Doesn’t Work”. This video presents some great arguments you may choose to incorporate when discussing strategies to promote economic development.
Podcasts aren’t necessarily for everyone. However, when it comes to economics, some of the best resources you can find are podcasts. Shows such as NPR’s Planet Money or Freakonomics are some of the most popular and respected economic publications. Furthermore, pairing these podcasts with the news can be an incredible way to understand current events deeply. A recent example of this is Planet Money’s September 2nd show “Breaking down the price of gasoline” – looking at why exactly gasoline is so expensive, which acted as an extension to what you might have read in the news. And not to mention – Podcasts are free.
Economics can get challenging at times, particularly when you can’t seem to grasp economic models. However, by staying informed through the news and employing various resources, economics can become a subject that feels like common sense. Moreover, these resources will improve your critical thinking skills. It will also allow you to write more nuanced points of analysis. And most importantly, boost your grades in upcoming commentaries.