Looking back, my Economics and Politics degree at York has been a great foundation for an interesting career (so far anyway!) in three different sectors. In every job I have done, I have had to work across disciplines and a joint degree provided a great foundation for that.
I started my civil service career as Economic Assistant in the HM Treasury in 2001. In my five years at HMT I did three different jobs – two in the public spending directorate and one in the tax directorate. I learnt how political decisions are taken during Spending Reviews and for Government Budget Statements – it is political, economic, social and environmental trade-offs all the way. Even a rudimentary grasp of calculus tells you that you can’t really maximise four variables…… modelling and equations take you so far, but decision-taking, even in HMT, it isn’t just about economics.
Next stop – the Department for Transport, where I worked on value for money assessments for road build as well as trying to do some work on road pricing. This was a wonderful place for an economist, but where was the politics? Actually, pretty much everywhere, I found. I can’t think of a better policy area to illustrate the economic and political trade-offs that are made on a daily basis.
The courses I took at York led me to see the links between the two subjects (and others), and to realise that most, if not all, policy issues cannot really be categorised into one particular area.
Moving on, I wanted to experience the world of the private sector. Civil servants, particularly Treasury civil servants, talked about the private sector as if it was this place of total efficiency... but was this really true? So after a bit of job hunting I ended up at an accountancy firm. I managed to by-pass all those tedious audit exams and land myself in a team that did business and share valuations for corporate, tax and governance purposes. It was a steep learning curve, lots of accounts, methods of comparing companies, lots of spreadsheets and a wide range of clients. So where was the politics? Everywhere, again. I worked on a large valuation related to a large UK High Street Bank that went into temporary public ownership. The process by which we had to carry out the valuation was governed by a specific piece of primary legislation that parliament had put in place just before the bank was put into temporary public ownership. Also, a lot of the work I did was for tax purposes. This ultimately meant that the reason for doing the work was to determine a particular tax liability. Who sets these incentives? Ultimately, politicians.
After about 4 years, I decided that, although a very interesting niche, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life valuing companies and shares. I moved to work in the strategy team for a child protection charity. Now I have a job where politics and economics meet pretty much on a daily basis. My work ranges from developing policy positions on particular issues, trying to estimate the relative costs and benefits of some of our interventions, to collating child protection statistics to try and answer the question of whether children are getting safer or not.
Since leaving York, I haven’t ever just worked in a single discipline, and a joint degree provided a good foundation for working across disciplines. Which courses were most useful? Applied Economics was certainly useful as you are thinking through how you apply economic principles to real life issues. This is something I regularly do as a part of my work (my current conundrum is thinking through what the economic impacts of child maltreatment are). I also found The Democratic Economy useful, as you do look at the overlap of the two disciplines and for a lot of the reading you were encouraged to summarise succinctly the main points, while weighing up the strength of the evidence – this is something I do on an almost daily basis now.