Regrets-I’ve had a few…


It is natural perhaps, after a certain age or a few failures, to wonder whether the sacrifices you made or decided not to be make were worth it. As people in the 21st century we ponder on this a lot, however I would like to introduce to a technique that is a little more outside the box and may help to resolve some of that bundle of thought in your mind.

What? Economic thought. What? Well it is strikingly bizarre the first time one hears this yet is extremely useful for the decisions in every day life that cause a of us to think. What is the real cost of our choice? Of any choice? The answer is what you give in order to obtain something. If say, you have 10 dollars you could buy a book worth ten dollars. So the price of the book is 10 dollars, right? No, actually. The true price of the book, and hence, what you should consider before buying it. This is known to economics as one of the basic concepts, opportunity cost, the real cost of our choices.

For some people, it may be a struggle between work as in their professional life and their personal life. How can you objectively decide what is more important if you are a cancer researcher with a partner and a child? One the one hand, you are close to making a ground breaking discovery which may save thousands of lives in the short run and may be millions in the long run. You love your job and the satisfaction you derive when you reach the zenith of a problem, your day at work feels like infinite pleasure, like a continual crescendo which feels you with joy. But then again, seeing your partner happy with your child in their arms makes time freeze before you and you feel that you could stare into such scenes of beauty forever. So what do you do?

Let’s take at it from an economist’s standpoint. If you spend an extra hour at work, you will spend one less hour with your family. As an economic agent, with scarce time that cannot serve all your infinite wants, you are faced with the fundamental economic problem, too many wants too few resources. In this case the scarce resource is your time. In order to make this choice effectively you must make it at the margin, meaning that you think of the cost of ‘one extra’. What is the cost of one extra hour at work? What is the cost of a second hour at work? There will come a point when you stop being more efficient to your personal development by working that extra 3rd or 4th or 5th hour. Then you should, according to economic theory, invest in the most efficient option. As long as it is efficient, to saty for example one extra hour, you must consider the opportunity cost, the real cost. What is worth more, what is higher on your scale of priorities, advancing your researching or spending time with your loved ones? Their rekative importance can determine their ooportunity cost for you. In life things don’t have prices so it’s not always obvious and hence we since we lack perfect knowledge, all choices are subject to bias, nonetheless economic theory remains extremely helpful.

Another important economic consideration which is especially relevant in everyday life is the time dimension. In the short run, few things will have changed in your life so id it worth making a change to your routine? In the long run, factor inputs will have changed, so you may have moved or your child may have gone to another club. In the very long run, all key factor inputs will have adjusted, so your child may have grown up and left home. Economically speaking no decision is valid unless it takes into consideration the time dimension. Arguably, there is no such thing as a bad choice, but rather a choice made in the wrong time.

Thirdly, what is the effect of your choice, what externalities arise from it? An externality is an effect on the third party, which was not part of the transaction, in this case, your family. They are not directly involved in the work you do, however, how much will it benefit them? How much of a social benefit will it have on the greater world?

Lastly, in a cost push analysis, if the private and social costs exceed the private and social benefits than the investment is not worth taking on. These of course, in such a personal scenario should be ranked with relative importance to your own values and opinions.

Overall, it is impossible to not have to make choices unless you own an infinite amount of something. The concept of choice is one we face all the time in our day-day life and can take different dimension, anything from whether to cross the road at a particular time to whether we should invest ourselves in a project or a person. This is all very complex and evidently many more considerations partake in it than are shown in the aforementioned example. I am not suggesting we simplify human emotion to what a greater teacher of mine called ‘not an exact science’, however we make our choices somewhat more rational with basic economic concepts and subsequent decision-making process. All in all, I hope someone in this great big world has found this to be helpful but if you’re still torturing over it here is a piece of advice. Perhaps a little poetic, perhaps a little risky but often true…

1. ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’
-Charles Bukowski


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