Why every military officer should study economics

1) Some have characterized economics as a "decision-making science." As the Naval Academy is first and foremost a leadership school, accruing a body of knowledge dealing with decision-making would greatly assist you future officers. After all, how will you lead people if you do not know what guides and motivates their decisions?  Much of economics focuses on the unintended consequences of decisions (such as what happens when the government attempts to prevent terror attacks), potential time inconsistencies of military and governmental policies, the allocation of scarce military resources, rational decision making, and thinking and planning strategically.  You will be a much more effective leader with mastery of such concepts. 

2) Along with leadership skills, the Naval Academy stresses the importance of technical and analytical skills (such as an understanding of thermodynamics).  These are often categorized as engineer-oriented (Group 1), or science-oriented (Group 2).  As it happens, economics (Group 3) often uses the tools of both - a thorough study of economics will allow you to understand the engineers' problem-solving approaches and the scientists' need to understand how the world works.  In other words, you will get the technical skills, but you will be using them in interesting real world problems.   

3) Economics lends greater understanding to military history.  Analysis can deal with general conflict history, or specific conflicts like the U.S. Civil War or the second World War,  In fact, did you know that economic factors caused WWII?  Moreover, did you know that economists actually helped the Allies win WWII?

4) One cannot have a good grasp of national security issues, and the global challenges that U.S. military forces will face in the coming decades, without a clear grasp of development economics.  According to Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "It's all about economics" - economics and national security are intricately intertwined. 

5) Majoring in economics is rewarding.  Majors receive average starting salaries that are in the upper range of salary offers made to majors with other business degrees, and significantly above most majors in other areas of the liberal arts.  If one day you find yourself out of the military, a study of economics provides you many alternatives. 

6) Finally, economics will allow you to see the world anew by delving into almost everything, from the most grandiose and far-reaching to the seemingly trivial.  So it is actually a lot of fun to study economics.  Well, so long as you are curious about how the world works. 

By the way, these views do not necessarily represent those of my colleagues in the department or the Naval Academy, but simply voice the subjective musings of yours respectfully,

 

A. S. Rahman

Associate Professor

Department of Economics, USNA