Is It Better To Study Economics Or Computer Science?

from the how-about-both? dept

Economist Arnold Kling is pointing out that while fewer college students are enrolling in computer science majors, the number focusing on economics is exploding. It’s probably a rather cyclical trend — but Kling suggests this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. His point appears to be that you can pick up enough computer science on the side, but that learning economics could come in a lot more handy — even in the technology industry. Of course, he leaves out the fact that you can also pick up an awful lot of economics on the side. I’d argue that both skills are important, and it’s difficult to see one being much more important than the other. If you have a proclivity towards one, then pursue that — but if you’re really skilled, why not learn both?

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Comments on “Is It Better To Study Economics Or Computer Science?”

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no (user link) says:

First, what does an economist do other than write pointless books that nobody reads and guest on television talk shows?

Second, neither job is “better” in modern and future America. If you want job stability, go for a service career like working in retail at THe Gap or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s. As potential “economist” students, you should ALREADY know this. America is on its way to being a third world nation as it sells out its citizens and labor and science to India, China, Singapore and Russia.

moe says:

Re: economists & the U.S. as a 3rd-world nation

Wow. Your comment is woefully uninformed.

Who do you think sets the economic policy of the U.S. (and the other developed countries of the world) – economists do much more than just adjusting the Fed rate. Ever heard of the World Bank?

Whereas you see the U.S. spiralling into a third-world nation, most of us realize the country has been migrating from a production-based economy to a service-based economy for decades.

You were right on one point, however — economics students already know this. Maybe you should sign up for ECON101?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: economists & the U.S. as a 3rd-world natio

Who do you think sets the economic policy of the U.S. (and the other developed countries of the world) – economists do much more than just adjusting the Fed rate. Ever heard of the World Bank?

Oh, you mean the World Bank? The one that is, IMO, at least partially responsible for the majority of anti-american sentiment across the globe? Yeah, I’ve heard of them, so has everyone else. It’s what we in america don’t hear about that is troubling.

here’s more info on the background (the background link in the article is broken):

Sorry for the rant, but this info is rarely seen in american media, hmm, wonder why…WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

Also, can’t forget, opinion of course:
Service Economy = Modern Feudalism

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The real wealth and prosperity of a nation can only be measured by what it produces, not by how many product ideas a fraction of the nation’s researchers can ship off to be produced in some other country. No amount of business or government propaganda that asserts the contrary can change that fact.
In America, we gave manufacturing a low social status, compared to more glamorous fields. Then we kicked manufacturing out of the country, for short term corporate profits. Now manufacturing is done in countries that previously needed our charity. Soon we will hold out our hand for their charity.
If you read the news, you’ll be aware that the countries we outsourced our production to, are now buying their old customers and/or doing their own research and design work. They are not merely cogs in a manufacturing process – they are intelligent human beings.
No TV sets or radios are made in the USA – not for many decades. India is selling tractors here (Mahendra). IBM sold their PC business to Lenovo (China). There are only two US disk drive companies (Seagate, which is the largest in the world and Western Digital) – and both already manufacture offshore. Now, a Chinese company wants to buy Seagate.
A country cannot be prosperous if its economy is based on McDonalds employees selling hamburgers to Walmart employees, and vice versa.

Devin Magnuson says:

Re: Re:

It seems to me, you have no education past an 8th grade level.

First and foremost, pointless books and television talk show guests?? do you really think, provided this is true, people would be flocking to this degree field if this is all they did?

Secondly, a service career like Gap or McDonald’s? You are partially correct. YES the economy of the US is moving from manufacturing of goods to a service based economy. Now again I you must have zero education, or for that matter common sense. Economics and Computer Science ARE in the portion of the economy that is considered the “Service Sector” Therefore, sure you could get a job flipping burgers, which I assume is the equivalent to your job, and live off of food stamps and government programs the rest of your life, OR you could be proactive and seek education past the 8th grade in your case, or for the rest of us, after High School.

Finally, and I quote: “As potential “economist” Students,…” What the hell is an economist student? An economist is a career field, NOT a field of study. Again if you had a bit more common sense and a decent education you would know, considering they said it in the post that you are commenting on, they refer to this group of students that are aspiring to become economist’s as an Economics Student.

I would normally address your notion that America is ging to become a “third world nation”, however, given your lack of, and I hate to sound like a broken record, common sense and a decent education, it is not worth it.

ALL OTHERS READING THIS: If there is one thing you should learn from “no” it is simply this; Be Cool, Stay in School!

You're a total dipshit says:

Re: Re:

Economists do more than write “pointless” books. They run this country financially, technically, and administratively. Without the science of economics, the entire world would be retarded just as you are. Macro-Economics even works at your pathetic level when you decide to either take a shit or lick your mom’s ass first.

Computer guy says:

Re: Re:

Amen. Economists are the crackpots of their companies who come up with all sorts of bizarre concepts. Excel can do many of the things they can do better, like make graphs and do equations automacally. What does an economist do? Draw graphs by hand and do equations on paper and calculator. Computers are the way of the future, and Arnold Kling can shove his comments….

Estepona (user link) says:

Computer Science vs Accounting

As someone who studied computer science and having pondered the same question myself, should I have done something like accounting instead?

I would recommend to anyone who is thinking about going into computer science to take something like accounting instead unless you have a very very strong passion for computer science.

Property Estepona

Jason (profile) says:

Re: Computer Science vs Accounting

Be an accountant instead? No F#@$@#$ way!

I’m so sick of this “pick a job based on how much I’ll make crap”. My advice learn to do something you love to do, if you have that kind of drive you can succeed at anything.

Of course, I’m just probably showing that strong passion for computer science you’re talking about….

Shohat says:

After all, it's just a matter of leaders/heroes

Currently, leading figures are economists, not engineers and scietists.

Because Science is stangnant and due to the lack of innovation, you have more “economical” heroes that affect our lives, while in beginning of the century and post-WW2 era we had inventors/scientists as heroes.

There are no engineering role-models nowaways, no scientific breakthroughs, but everyone know what is going on with the stock market, US’s huge debts to China, and the shifting economics.
End of the day , 50% of education choices come from exposure and “advertising” of a certain subject, and in our times, Economics sure do get a lot of air time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Real computer science is hard to just pick up on the side. Just studying “Computer Science” (the term is used pretty loosely at a lot of universities) on the side may not be the best way to approach it. In college, I learned way more than I ever thought I needed to know when it came to computer science. Had I learned it on the side, I would never have obtained the level of understanding that I have now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Go with what you enjoy doing and (preferably) are good at doing. You can pick up “a bit of” the other stuff on the side. You can rarely get a job with the stuff you pick on the side, you usually need to get some serious training for that. OTOH, if you have been trained in both, it will open up a whole new set of jobs at the interface of the two fields. These jobs, in general, tend to be rarer than the jobs in the mainstream but there are also fewer people qualified to do these. And once you get one of these, you have a fairly good niche where your job in unlikely to be threatened.

Anonymous of Course says:

Or be a weather forcaster...

If you obtain a degree in computer science you’ll
quickly find that you’re expected to make correct
decisions and produce accurate results if you
expect continued employment.

With a degree in economics there seems to be no
such pressure.

The short sightedness of the economic policy set
forth in the USA, where quarterly (or more often)
reports rule the management, is destroying
industries by the score every year.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of the attention
deficient population… politicians bending
in response to the latest poll, the latest
soft news phenomena, the immediate need trumps
the long term goal. Or is it simply greed?

Bill (profile) says:

Play sports, or get involved with some other team function.

No matter how good technically you are as a computer scientist, economist, or engineer, if you plan on advancing in your career, most of your job will be as a manager.

At that point, you’ll need the people skills to coordinate your people, leveraging their technical skills to complete the assigned projects.

John B says:

Reading a book versus engaging in in rigorous disc

It requires a LOT more studying and interactive discussion to understand economics than it does to learn computer programming. I say this as someone who has been programming computers for 25 years (BASIC, Visual Basic, FORTRAN, Pascal, SQL, Java, HTML, etc.), is a serial (and successful) entrepreneur in a technical field, and has a Masters degree in Economics.

In my experience, very technical areas, like computer programming, can more easily be learned from books and personal experience. More theoretical areas, even ones that involve a significant mathematical or technical component, such as economics, require the discussions that occur in the classroom and among colleagues to really get an understanding of the subject and how to apply it. While programming certainly has general principles, it is very task-specific, and so knowing how to apply it is very task/situation specific, depending upon needs, resources, etc. Economics is more generally applicable and requires a broader set of informed experience from which to draw more general conclusions. Applying the principles of economics to specific markets, companies or situations does benefit from specific experience and training. But the intensive studying required in a good graduate program and the accompanying interactive and rigorous discussions with people trained in the underlying principles is more important to understanding the principles of economics than it is to understanding programming.

Darrell Young (user link) says:

Been there, done that...

I graduated in 1983 with a BS in Information Systems. I chose that over Computer Science, because computer science was more directed towards “systems” level software development: hardware and networks. Info Sys wrapped around a business degree meant I had an understanding of how businesses were driven by the computer. By computer, I don’t mean the lightening fast laptop/desktop you currently own. I mean mainframe. As a mainframer, I made good, solid wages over the years. I was making $92k in the early 90’s and by 2000, I was pulling in $140k. Life was good for the mainframer during Y2K. My Colorado license plates in 1999 said, Y2KHAHA.

Getting a degree in computer science nowadays, means more about the web than it does hardware/network. I would not encourage anyone to get a computer science degree, but rather to learn web development. I would move you toward .NET, PHP, VBScripting, Visual C, Java and the likes. Learn to use the Macromedia suite of tools called Studio. There’s still a need for the mainframe, so it wouldn’t hurt to pick up some COBOL. COBOL still makes the mainframe go round. COBOL is not dead folks, Y2K proved that. Those systems are not retired, as many of the developers on them are. Google COBOL and see what comes up.

Economics can be studied easily because it has its models. Learn the models of capitalism and get on down the road.

John B says:

To the people that think that economic forecasting is inaccurate: Greenspan and his colleagues at the Fed have used economic models with thousands of variables (programmed with the help of computer scientists, I am sure) to help maintain price stability in the U.S. for decades. Without this stability, the U.S. economy’s prosperity wouldn’t last more than a couple of years. Now THAT’s value added!

To the people that think that the U.S. will be a third world country: In addition to what the others have said about being a service economy, I will add that the U.S. produces most of the economists in the world and these people often have very influential positions, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Overcast says:

Getting a degree in computer science nowadays, means more about the web than it does hardware/network. I would not encourage anyone to get a computer science degree, but rather to learn web development. I would move you toward .NET, PHP, VBScripting, Visual C, Java and the likes.

In my experience, a computer science degree has little or nothing to do with Hardware and Network – really.

It’s primarily mathematics and computer coding. A lot of analytical math classes, perhaps a few statistical – depending on the demands of your school.

Where I took my Computer Sciences classes – we could take about 4 more math classes for a double major – adding Mathematics.

One is not better than the other in either regard, they are two different fields of study, albeit, both Mathematical to a degree, but ComSci is more ‘theory’ type math – like Algorithms and Calc, whereas Econ would be more statistical.

I’ve trained a number of interns who – after 3 years in college, didn’t know how to change out a Network card 🙂
But Computer Science’s goal isn’t to teach hardware repair.

A wise choice may be to Major in whatever your primary interest is and minor in the other..

Funny thing is – it’s just a repeat of the past. My Dad has an Economics degree – back in the 60’s Education and Business degrees (like Economics) were ‘the place to be’. Then in the 80’s and 90’s – Technical fields came alive again.

I guess the ball’s just back in the other court now, lol

Danny says:

Re: Re:

Funny thing is – it’s just a repeat of the past. My Dad has an Economics degree – back in the 60’s Education and Business degrees (like Economics) were ‘the place to be’. Then in the 80’s and 90’s – Technical fields came alive again.

I guess the ball’s just back in the other court now, lol

I think that has to do with the simple ebb and flow of job market requirements. For years a tech related major was the place to be…until suddenly there were more people with tech degrees than available jobs. I’ve seen quite a few people who graduated with egineering degress and became managers at Target, Best Buy, or whereever.

Perhaps the tide is turning toward Economic related degrees now but that will change depending how fast the Economics related job market gets saturated.

Peter says:

“. More theoretical areas, even ones that involve a significant mathematical or technical component, such as economics”

Umm, Computer Science counts as well. “Programming” is not Computer Science, and I think your assertion that it is proves that Computer Science is not as easy to learn on the side as people think it is.

Learning additional programming languages is (for the most part) just learning new syntax. The really interesting parts of computer science are (again, for the most part) math based, not syntax based.

moe says:

chiming in again...

First, to clear things up: CompSci = programming, low-level computing. Info Systems/Mgmt Info Systems = systems and how they apply to the company.

Re: Accounting vs CompSci — speaking as someone with a dual-major in accounting and mgmt info systems, i recommend this route for any interested. Most (but not all) business degrees nowadays would benefit greatly by having a minor or major in mgmt info systems. That’s just today’s business environment.

Re: Prosperity = Production — you are correct. The major economic indicator is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Granted, exporting all manufacturing overseas would be disastrous, but don’t discount another shift that is going on: we’re making less of the base materials, but we’re (1) taking those base materials and combining them to produce goods, and (2) we’re providing services related to the goods we no longer produce. GDP includes the value of both goods and services.

Re: Short-sightedness of U.S. economic policy – don’t confuse the stock market and financial pundits for economic policy. The monthly and quarterly reports wreak havoc on financial markets because they only look at the current report. Take a look at the Fed under Greenspan, and now under Bernanke, and you’ll see their actions are more in line with trends and incorporating current reports with the previous quarters/years results. U.S. economic policy isn’t knee-jerk and is relatively consistent.

Rabid Wolverine says:


You’re all a bunch of fat, dumb, lazy fools.

We are the reason that the rich man is selling our country down the drain. We let them get away with it.
When is the last time you saw someone protest against jobs going to China or India? When was the last time you refused to buy one of their products (and don’t say you can’t do without it because you can.)
When was the last time you called (don’t bother writing, no-body reads mail and only subjectively reads e-mails) one of our gutless politicians and made a stand about this sorry state of affairs? One, twice, never?
Until we realize that we are the power in this country; corporations, special interest groups and spinless, corrupt politicians will continue to run over use, and guess what, we deserve it.
Lenin once said “The capitalist will sell use the rope to hang them with.”
Lenin got it wrong, we will loan them the money to buy the rope making machine, set it up for them, help them tie the noose around our necks and even pull the trap door lever for them!

A. L. Flanagan says:

CompSci, and where the money really is

>> First, to clear things up: CompSci = programming, low-level computing. Info Systems/Mgmt Info Systems = systems and how they apply to the company.

Uh, no. Not really. CompSci = The study of the mathematical principles underlying the algorithmic solution of problems. Also known as the foundation of the entire Information Revolution.

You’re probably mistaking CompSci with one of those “six month” learn-to-program things.

Meanwhile, Information Systems is more of the application of computers to business. Also an important thing. Personally I went for CompSci, but it’s almost a matter of taste, or where you want to concentrate your studies.

To tie all this back to the topic: I’ve got a CompSci major and an Econ minor. My pay is OK, but if I really wanted to be rich, I’d have gone into investment banking.

moe says:

Re: CompSci, and where the money really is

I stand corrected. My comment was a sweeping generalization from an outsider looking in. I didn’t have the smarts in mathematics to pursue CompSci, so as a layman the break between CompSci and Info Systems basically boiled down to low-level “make the silicon work” versus applying computers to business (as you put it more clearly than I had).

dorpus says:

False Dilemma

There are any number of other careers that offer better job security and often better pay. The health sciences, transportation industry, agriculture, etc. has thousands of different specialties, and new ones are created every year. Career guides only list a fraction of all the careers out there.

I would say that people going into economics or CS are investing with the herd, and will find themselves being culled during tough times.

JustMe says:

I have a degree in electronics and CS. I now have a nice tech job that provides me the income to be able to invest to make even more loot. The only economics I took while in college was Engineering Economics. I learned enough in that one class to understand I needed to learn how to get interest working for me instead of against me. Ten years later I think I finally have both CS and Econ working for me.

Lest Parks says:

It all depends on what you like

After reading all the threads it seems that some peep’s really have a strong opinion on this. As for someone who has a degree in both – a MS in CS and BS in Econ – I can definitely say that some are misinformed about the context of what both subjects teach and provide; in so much as for a foundation for a career.

CS is a discipline, heavy on mathematics and primarily focused on software development – as stated in a previous thread. It strives to provide efficiency in data extraction and manipulation, in such area’s as engineering, medicine, and yes, even economics (i.e. models & forecasting).

Economics also utilizes mathematics; especially when creating and understanding their models. However, the economists apply their wares in both commercial and govt sectors. Every financial/banking company; from American Express to Goldman Sachs has a number of on economists on staff. However, to really get anywhere in this profession, one definitely has to pursue a graduate degree – preferably, a PhD.

In the end though, it’s really a matter of what you ENJOY doing. Both professions offer a great salary, but if you hate what you do, then does it really matter if you make the big money?

Finance Junkie says:

Having studied both Computer Science and Finance in college, I would have to say that would be very diffucult to learn either subject on the side.

Currently working for a financial institution has shown me that both skill sets are very important if you look to excel in a global economy that is driven heavily by computer based market evaluation.

Anonymous Coward says:

In the end, the most secure jobs are those that do one or both of the following:
– make average men powerful and powerful men maintain their power
– make average women more beautiful and beautiful women maintain their beauty
You can look at any society, rich or poor, developed or not, modern or ancient, this is the basic mantra for a successful career.

CharlieHorse says:

it's quite simple, really

read these 3 treatises on economics and you’ll have just about all the basic econ you need.

Economics for the Citizen – – Walter Williams

Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy – Thomas Sowell

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics – Henry Hazlitt

if you think it’s for you after reading these, then why not go for it? I actually enjoyed reading these enough to begin to study the various econ “schools of thought.” Not quite enough to make me switch careers – but highly interesting nonetheless. Yep, I’m still an it/csc geek and loving it.

If you love learning and problem solving I think both fields will offer an equal amount of challenges. I also wholeheartedly agree with the statement above about doing what you love – not just going for the job that will pay the highest. I’ve been in it/csc for almost 30yrs (or something – gosh I haven’t thought of it recently … what year is it again ?) and I’ve seen so many coming in this field who literally say to me that they “got into computers for the money.” They rarely last long. It takes not just smarts and intelligence to be in it/csc – it takes a very particular (some would say peculiar) bent of personality. I would wager that econ diehards would say the same of their field.

Hmm, and in that respect, it might be an interesting exercise to examine the ways the two fields are similar and where they diverge .. anyone?

EP says:

Translators required

You cannot do both Econ and CS without going crazy. Example:

myList = [a, b, c]

Econ major: OK, give me item 1.

CS major: That would be “b”

Econ major: No the item before that

CS major: You want the 0th item?

Econ major: {smoke coming out of ears} That really makes no sense, does it?

CS major: No, I suppose not.

Econ major: So let me be specific: give me the item in position 1.

CS major: OK

CS major: That would be “b”.

CS major: So, let me ask you a question. What is the cost of your Economics education?

Econ major: Well, it depends.

Steven Ashley (user link) says:

Is It Better To Study Economics Or Computer Scienc

Today, Econ no doubt is better. First of all it is easier to learn to start with, and economic theory does change every six months so once you’ve learned it you’ve learned it. Not so with compsci six months after you’ve learned it, it has changed again and you have relearn it.

Then there are the political games being played out in the I.T. Industry. My I be so bold as to direct you to my post called The collapse of the Computer Science Degree in the U.S. via H-1B. which deals with the issue in more detail.

Lisa P says:

What do we prefer to choose as our major study? Do we think our advocacy and dedication for community service could be one of the strong bases? Fewer physicians are going into family practice, and small consumer loans should always be an option in the event that someone has to pay for a visit to a medical practitioner. The Physician’s Foundation recently released a report where 78% of doctors who responded believe there are already too few family practitioners, and over half of those who responded are frustrated with the interference of government and HMO regulation of their practices and are likely to quit their practice. In a similar manner, governments and banks looking to eliminate consumer freedom to choose small scale emergency funding – like installment loans – will drive customers to far less desirable options and even to the breaking point. Studies are beginning to show that local economies are impacted negatively by the absence of payday installment loan lenders, like studies done by Dartmouth College’s Assistant Economics Professor Jonathan Zinman. Doctors as well as consumers should be contacting their congressmen to ask for the right to choose for them, for the choice for health and for their financial freedom being placed where it belongs – in their hands. Click to read more on Short Term Installment Loans.

Captain Coward says:

Since when does CS Change every day? Languages change, specific applications change, operating systems change. If you think those constitute computer science you have probably been reading too many trade magazines. Just because the compiler has changed does not mean the algorithm has changed. Management of Information Systems as they call it is NOT computer science. This is why “Outsiders looking in” will never be able to make a valid argument in this case. I say study both. Computational economics is a good field.

Jabba says:


For a short period, I was an Economics major and read books about it at that. That experience taught me that Computer Science is a great undergraduate major like engineering fields. Economics can have a massive, massive salary, but few relatively few graduates get those lucky jobs. Computer Science has loads of job opportunities and they are increasing much faster.

Brian says:

2007 to 2014

It has been 7 years since this question was asked, interesting people are still landing onto this page and answering. I would say, that big-data analysis would need to be utilized, if one is to evaluate the degree the provides the best possible salary — due to high demand and skill shortages in an economy.
I am an economics major and an IT entrepreneur.

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