So you’ve just kicked off your uni adventure at Sydney and maybe you’re not 100% sure what majors and minors you should choose. That’s fine. Like many people, you might want to look around and see what’s on offer before you decide on the main focus of your studies. If that’s the case for you, here are a few reasons to consider Political Economy (PE) @ Sydney.
What is Political Economy?
I had no idea what PE was until someone suggested I study it. I asked my politics lecturer where I could go to study economics to help me argue with economists. He recommended PE @ Sydney. It was good advice.
Let’s start with the economy.
Political economist Frank Stilwell defines the economy as: “the means whereby goods and services are produced, exchanged, and distributed among the members of society. Incomes and wealth are generated through these processes of production, exchange, and distribution”.
“Economics”, writes Stilwell, “is the discipline that studies these processes”.
So what’s the difference between economics and political economy?
According to Stilwell, political economy rejects a narrow focus on “pure markets” in favour of a “broader view of economic enquiry, its social purpose and its political application”.
It’s an approach that stresses the importance of historical processes, structural forces and institutions in shaping economic outcomes.
PE also acknowledges the role values play in influencing what economists choose to study, how they conduct their investigations, and the policy implications of their research.
Why study PE?
PE starts by providing you with a firm foundation in the key theoretical approaches to studying the economy.
You’ll study the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the radical critique of capitalism developed by Karl Marx, the dominant neoclassical school, the ‘Keynesian revolution’, and the analysis of power and institutions associated with economists like Thorstein Veblen and J.K. Galbraith.
After being introduced to these fundamentals you’ll have the choice of studying a wide variety of subjects, covering topics such as inequality, development, the history of capitalism, the tension between economic growth and ecological sustainability, economic cycles, neoliberalism and the role of finance in the economy.
To give you some more insights, I asked some postgrad students why they study political economy. Here’s what they said.
Political economy challenges me to be critical and to cut through simplistic or propagandistic ways of seeing the world. Political economy is fundamentally about how we organise our lives and provide for our basic (and more complex) needs. It makes a practical difference in people’s lives. Political economy cares about questions of class that we don’t often hear about in our daily life. Don’t let anybody tell you that we live in a classless society! — Claire, PhD candidate
Economics is more than neoclassical economics. Economics is not just about mathematics; it’s also about economic history and the history of economic thought. PE teaches pluralism of approaches as opposed to Economics & Business which teaches THE economic truth. To learn about inequalities, the place of financial markets, the advantages and disadvantages of free trade, globalisation, and economic development, mainstream economics is not enough. If you think economics is a social science then you have to study PE. — Raúl, PhD candidate
Political Economy gives you the tools to understand the issues facing the world and allows you to focus on – and break down – those issues into their important components. It is one of the best things you can do for your analytical skills and knowledge. — Annie, Honours student
It’s not hard to see economics as the critical foundation upon which all social and political life is built, and if so, we deserve a better, more critical understanding than that offered by “mainstream” approaches that are patently failing a majority of people at the behest of a minority. — Matthew, PhD candidate
What’s so good about Political Economy @ Sydney?
Political Economy @ Sydney is taught by the largest grouping of political economists at any Australian university. It offers the most developed and integrated undergraduate and graduate courses and is recognised as a leading centre of economic analysis and research.
PE also has an active presence on campus. From running conferences and seminars to the Wheelwright Annual Lecture that brings renowned international political economists to Australia. ECOPSOC (the PE students’ society) also has regular events that combine PE, beer and pizza! And PE has a proud history of struggle for the right to teach alternative economics at the University as told in the book Political Economy Now!
Again, I asked some more postgrads what they like about PE @ Sydney.
Economics is the language of government. Working as a policy advisor, I realised I needed to understand the economy. But I wasn’t convinced the best way to do it was spending two years solving equations. Sydney University’s political economy program offered a strong conceptual approach to economics, integrating knowledge from other disciplines. It was the only program of its kind, which made the decision easy. — Matt, PhD candidate.
I chose to do my PhD at the University of Sydney because of its reputation as a supportive and engaged department. That the department and the student clubs run regular forums, conferences and events has been one of the highlights studying here. I feel part of a community of researchers, committed to pursuing key questions in political economy and engaging with others inside and outside the university. — Elizabeth, PhD candidate.
Traditional political science and economics departments try to model what is. The Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney asks: what should be? This department attracts talent (both professors and students) from around the world. This is one of the few departments on the planet where one can still study political science, economics, and moral philosophy together as one discipline. — Toby, PhD candidate.
What can you do with a Political Economy major?
Political Economy graduates have gone on to occupy a wide variety of positions in various professions and industries. From academic economists, prominent public intellectuals and leading financial journalists, to politicians, union organisers, businesspeople, activists, public servants and lawyers.
Studying PE @ Sydney offers students a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of the economic processes and relationships that profoundly affect both their own lives, and the lives of people around the world. If that sounds interesting to you check out the units of study and consider enrolling in ECOP1001 today!