Hello from a still-sunny-ish, slightly-colder London!
In this post I’d like to share a few of my academic “revelations” from the first few weeks of classes, and end with personal highlights including my trips to Stonehenge/Bath and to Cambridge.
Before I introduce what I’ve been learning, I want to explain my understanding and highlight the importance of learning with a “spark of relativity.” This concept was explained to me two years ago by Professor Russell Muirhead in my “American Political Thought” course, and made a big impact on the way I approach education. A paraphrase of his definition, as written in my notes, a spark of relativity is:
“the belief that the beliefs you hold might not be the comprehensive truth,
and the need to look further to understand”
These sparks encourage us to question everything, and believe nothing fully – after all, all we believe is based in theory. Indeed, in this world of increasingly dogmatic beliefs and outspoken opinions, a spark of relativity (or perhaps many sparks) is needed for people to explore counterarguments and be willing to listen and understand other perspectives.
The importance of this spark of relativity has become especially salient for me at LSE, as the courses I’m taking challenge me to critically think about economics and the foundation of my knowledge. At Dartmouth, I assumed from my economics courses that free markets and open int’l trade systems were the best form of economic development, and that government interference would inevitably retard the growth of a country. However, my interdisciplinary Master’s courses at LSE question my infallible belief in this neoliberal outlook. (Neoliberal = complete free-market capitalism)
Through my classes, I am taught to question everything. Rather than believe unfailingly in economics and the markets, we must also question if pure economics holds the whole answer. Perhaps there are more “human” aspects that economics simply cannot capture. Though it is understood that economics is not perfect – assumptions are not always held, and equilibrium not always achieved – do “market failures” warrant increasing government intervention? Or to those arguing for more government intervention – can human beings (with selfish tendencies and imperfect knowledge) truly achieve a better outcome? These are questions I will be exploring in this coming year.
Here’s a little taste of what I’ve learned in my classes, which challenges my neoliberal beliefs:
History shows that protection in early economic development might have a role in protecting nascent economies. Western countries espouse tenets of the “Washington Consensus” – ideas of free market liberalization – to developing countries. However, if we look at the development trends of “developed” countries today, history is an indicator that these countries did not take the path they are recommending to others. In its development stage, the US was one of the most protected countries – in 1820 the average tariff level for manufacturing products in the US was around 40%, and these protectionist trends continued throughout the early 20th century. In Britain, policies after 1721 were in place to promote manufacturing industries by means of import tariffs and export subsidies. Germany also had a history of employing direct involvement of the state in key industries. (Chang, “Kicking Away the Ladder”) Only once these countries achieved industrial supremacy, did they then liberalize. Historical records indicate that the government might play an important role in early stages of economic development. The debate is still open, as arguments for government intervention failures could be made as well.
After each class, I leave questioning which arguments I believe and wondering how I will ever fill the gaps in my knowledge. Employing my “spark of relativity,” I hope to explore arguments both for and against a neoliberal world order and to form my own opinions on the subject.
A few personal highlights of the week:
- Last Sunday I visited Stonehenge and Bath, and got a great history lesson! In Stonehenge, I listened as an audio guide taught me about this 5,000-year-old structure and the means by which it was constructed (stones were moved 160 miles from Wales!). In Bath, we took a tour of the 2,000-year-old Roman Baths and walked around the city, which is filled with Georgian architecture from the 1700s. Fun fact – Bath is the only entire city in Britain to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (thanks, Lonely Planet).
- Last Wednesday, my friend Caitlin and I saw Les Mis at Queen’s Theatre in the West End! Though we were nearly the highest row in the theatre (sticking to our student budgets), we still enjoyed the incredible singers and the story.
- On Saturday, I walked with friends into Borough Market, perusing through the many food stands and sampling the selections. Afterwards, I walked to the Imperial War Museum and spent time in the WW1 and Holocaust exhibits.
- Today (Sunday) I spent a day in Cambridge. After the 6:30am wakeup call, I took the 1-hour train to Cambridge and spent time wandering the campus. I attended Matins in the King’s College Chapel, then walked around the different colleges. Pretending to be a Cambridge student for the day, I was able to visit King’s College, Trinity College and St. Johns and enjoyed a nice afternoon sitting in the parks out back. Just had a short 6 hours in Cambridge before I had to catch the train back for tennis practice!
This past month has flown by incredibly quickly, and I’m trying to explore as much of the UK as I can while managing academics. Making new friends, visiting museums, and day trips have been highlights of my past month, and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store.