I'm a cool Hell's Angel - on an economic cycle

26th September 2008 at 01:00

Rock musicians rarely think to include demand-side economists in their lyrics, or supply-siders, for that matter. So when Deacon Blue referred to "reading Maynard Keynes" in the 1988 hit "Dignity", it was especially welcome news for those of us embarking on a life of economics teaching.

For a while, the song's frequent air-play meant that our department became linked with the glamour of rock `n' roll rather than with the usual pallor of "boom and bust" analysis. For a time, we could look forward to debauched all-night macro-economic parties, bank holiday bust-ups on the beach with gangs of neo-classical monetarists, and bibulous and seductive teaching colleagues demanding more sweet-nothings about Keynes's general theory of employment.

But those halcyon days did not last long. It was a brief period of high- demand boom, followed by a return to the familiar tale of crash and burn for years thereafter.

But do you know something? I think we are back! If there is one comforting outcome from the present financial and economic upheavals, it is that our subject has begun to rock and roll again. No more are we those rather dull figures in the staffroom who deal in dreary old demand and supply and mysterious diagrams. Instead, our subject is all about shock and horror headlines, stories somehow made all the more chilling by featuring such pantomime-sounding names as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Alistair Darling and now Sir Victor Blank, chair of the Lloyds TSB-HBOS combo.

We and our subject hold new, if somewhat ghoulish, fascination for pupils and colleagues alike. On the great education highway, we have suddenly become the reckless, doom-laden Hells Angels. We are bad news. Outrageous. Irresistible.

As a result, economics has, surely, rocketed to first place in any national league table for subject coolness - or "sweetness", as those of us teaching the fashionable subjects will know to call it. Here I offer you the top 10 in the league table of subject coolness. Unlike certain other education league tables, this one is not based on crude figures. This table is not about dishonest data, it is about honest emotion.


(Last year's overall positions in brackets.)

1. Economics (15)

2. Physics (17) - a colossal climb in recent weeks, mainly based on Cern and the Higgs boson particle experiment. Pundits are not sure whether this popularity will last beyond the autumn.

3. Physical education (23) - another fast riser in recent weeks, after the successes of Team GB at the Olympic Games.

4. Greek (10) - a rapid riser in the past couple of years. Only a relative handful take this subject, but that is the point these days (as in: "I'm doing Greek", "Oh, sweet!").

5. History (1) - with the subject now focused mainly on death, disease and general misery, history has been a consistent top five performer for years now.

6. Psychology (6) - Freud and sex still selling well.

7. Art (5) - always a strong performer. Its tendency to be taught by good- looking staff has kept the brand name strong for decades.

8. Dance (3) - starts to surge back up the table around this time of year, mainly on the back of the new television series of Strictly Come Dancing.

9. The new 14-19 diplomas (-) - aka "bus studies" in the shires. Children catch a bus to school in order to join another bus to head off for their diploma course at another school or college, possibly via a central "hub" collection point to catch a third bus. Afterwards they do it all in reverse. Maybe two-thirds of the school day is spent on the road with various friends, and teachers have fewer children in their classrooms. How cool is that for all parties?

10. Geography (14) - imminent planetary destruction has given a real boost to the subject of late.

(Some subject heads refused to participate in the table this year, believing it to be misleading and divisive. Let's hope so.)

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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