Macro vs. microeconomics

Jim McCrane

Many students at the University end up taking at least one economics course before they graduate. Although C&F majors have to take at least three (micro, macro and international), students in other programs usually end up taking only one as part of a social sciences requirement. Come registration time, you will see your course book and the two choices for basic economics: micro and macro. Then you will ask, “Which course is easier?” “What do I learn in these courses?” “Is any of it useful?”

Dr. James Giordano, a C&F economics professor, offers some guidance. “Macroeconomics is flashier. It touches on GDP, inflation, unemployment and other things you read about in the newspaper. Micro, on the other hand, is the basic level and all other economic theory gets built on top of it.”

Basically this means that the choice depends on what students are looking to get out of the course. Microeconomics focuses more on basic theories of supply and demand and how businesses decide how much of something to produce and how much to charge for it. Students who have any desire to start their own businesses but are not C&F majors should definitely take this course. Casual students may benefit from micro as well since it can explain why stores can sell CDs at $15 even though it only costs a couple of bucks to make them.

Macroeconomics, on the other hand, looks at the big picture (hence the “macro” prefix). In this course students learn about the national economy. Students can walk away from this class being able to interpret the latest GDP figure from the last quarter or explain why a five percent rate of unemployment is not necessarily a bad thing. As long this course is better for people who want a basic knowledge of how things work in the business world. It’s the kind of course that will make someone CNBC-literate. Students would not be afraid of the Wall Street Journal after taking macro.

The downside is that students do not walk away with the same basic how-and-why knowledge of how businesses make decisions. Therefore, this course is more suited to the casual learner who does not seek to gain many technical details out of the course.

Neither course is particularly easy. They both have their share of lists to memorize, graphs to interpret and definitions.

Students who prefer visual aids probably would enjoy micro more because there are more graphs, especially with supply and demand. Students who enjoy looking at data will love macro because there are lists about everything from the types of unemployment to the factors that create the GDP. Those students who hate math don’t need to worry because there is only basic arithmetic and low-level algebra (such as plugging in numbers) in either course.

In the end, the decision is up to you. I personally recommend taking microeconomics if you are taking just one economics course. It offers a lot more for those who have any interest of organizing a business in the future. On the other hand, if all you want to do is read the Wall Street Journal without getting lost (the “Personal Journal” section doesn’t count), then macro can provide explanations for the many technical terms in that paper. Either way, you don’t have to be scared of failing. It is not impossible as you think about what’s being said, and a lot of the material is common sense with fancy terms attached.