It is imperative for public health professionals to have at least some understanding of the underlying and contributing factors influencing individual health and health systems, including economics.
What exactly is economics?
The best definition that I've heard to date has been something along these lines: the science concerned the production, distribution, consumption, management and exchange of goods and services on local, national and international levels.
Another way to look at it is as the study of money. What is it worth? What is it being used to buy and why? How is it being made? How much of it is being saved? Who has more of it and who has less? Why do some people have more while others have less and what does that mean for them? What should money be used for? How does it alter behavior, if at all? What are the consequences of differing answers for the aforementioned questions?
Economists think very differently about things than people in other professions, because they take the position of maximum profitability, a sort of getting "the biggest bang for your buck" no matter what. They look ahead in a hyper-rational way and decipher the best path to the optimal result, sometimes crossing what others consider to be ethical boundaries. So for people who are not hyper-rational, the thought process of economists can be difficult to follow and even at times, off-putting, regardless of rationale.
One such example that we looked at in class was the case in which the chief economist at the World Bank mentioned in an internal memo that developed countries should begin dumping toxic waste into developing countries. Logically speaking, developing countries need money and we need somewhere to put the waste, so we could pay them to take the waste off of our hands and everyone wins. Of course a major ethical problem with that has to do with the foreseen and unforeseen detrimental health and environmental impacts that the waste will have on people living there. Developed countries could be accused of taking advantage of the dire state of developing countries to further improve their own conditions while creating yet another burden for poorer countries to overcome. When the media got a hold of his memo he was promptly forced to resign because the overwhelming majority of the public views that sort of reasoning as unthinkable.
In class we went through some activities to try our economist thinking caps on for size and I've decided to put them into powerpoints with audio to shake things up a bit. Here's the first:
The Prisoner's Dilemma
Rich in a Poor Country or Poor in a Rich Country?
Ethically Questionable Markets