Dal Alert!

Receive alerts from Dalhousie by text message.

X

Lars Osberg, university research professor

A day in the life

Lars Osberg, university research professor

lars-osberg-300

The market may be a good servant, but it’s a bad master. The market can help you to achieve particular social goals, but it can never tell you what those social goals ought to be.

Defining the role of the economist in society


You never know what direction an economics education will take you. Mick Jagger, frontman for The Rolling Stones, started an economics degree, but dropped out when rock and roll started to pay. 

“That’s a practical illustration of the economic principle of opportunity cost,” says Lars Osberg, Chair of Dalhousie’s Economics Department.

For Dr. Osberg, economic analysis has been about trying to improve the well-being of society. He’s interested in economic development, labour markets and poverty issues. He sees that same urge in many of his students, who combine a broad interest in social issues with an analytic turn of mind.



The financial crisis since 2008, and the dramatic impact it had on many of the world’s economies, rekindled a popular interest in economics, he says – and with good reason.

We need economists to understand the causes and the implications of these shocks to financial markets as they continue to ripple around the world. Economists think about the psychology of the market, the politics of government intervention and regulation and the mathematics behind risk assessment.

“One of the big advantages of economics as a discipline is that things have to add up,” he says.

Every transaction has two sides and they have to balance. For example, nobody can lend without somebody else borrowing. Numbers enforce a type of discipline on economics. Unfortunately, however, many economic policies in the world today do not add up.



“The market may be a good servant, but it’s a bad master,” he adds, quoting an old Scandinavian proverb. “The market can help you to achieve particular social goals, but it can never tell you what those social goals ought to be.”

“Economics really does emphasize society as an interacting system where all parts of it affect all other parts.” he says.

“An awful lot of stuff gets passed off as economics which isn’t,” he continues. “Part of a good economics education is that you get to know what economics can tell you and what it cannot hope to tell you.”



Once you sort that out, you can start building economic policies that work.