I am an economist, both by educational background and by profession. However, when people ask about my work or education, I have found that referring to myself simply as “an economist” results in almost universal confusion. This confusion manifests itself in the typical responses, most of which are variations on “So, you look at the economy and stuff?” At this juncture, I generally explain that I am not “that kind of economist”—I am not a macroeconomist. Rather, I am a microeconomist. A common misconception is that most economists care about GDP, unemployment rates, and monetary inflation–topics studied by macroeconomists. The truth is, most of us economists not only don’t care about those sorts of things, we actually dislike them and actively seek to forget everything we learned about them in grad school.
For the uninitiated, macroeconomics deals primarily with the economy as a whole–most frequently a national economy. Microeconomics, on the other hand, focuses on economic phenomena at the level of an individual firm or consumer. Although it’s an opinion based on my own observation and not a theorem, I find that most microeconomists tend to view macroeconomics as kind of like “the art” of economics–it’s pretty and elegant and rich in theory, but it’s ultimately kind of pointless and stupid, because the predictive power of macroeconomic models leaves much to be desired. However, even if such a hurdle was overcome, most of the power to implement policy rests in the hands of political agents pursuing goals which are, in my cynical view, rarely related to ensuring a well-functioning economy with a stable long-run growth rate. In short, why bother with something that is awesome for charts and graphs and textbook covers, but not for much practical utility?
So, yeah. I am a microeconomist. I am keenly interested in economics as it relates to decisions and policies made by individual firms and individual consumers, acting either independently or strategically in response to other firms and consumers. My passion for microeconomics goes far beyond my work, however. For better or for worse, most of my existence–whether it be my style of reasoning, my political attitudes, or even (especially?) my approach to living the gospel–is shaped by my inner microeconomist. It’s who I am, I think, at my core. I was born this way, and am not likely to change. Unfortunately, just as my inner microeconomist causes me to loathe topics in macroeconomics, that same inner microeconomist generally causes me to loathe Mormon blogging.
Perhaps an analogy can help me explain this. Consider replacing “national economy” with “the Church” in a discussion of policy. At the highest level, we have governmental and monetary officials (prophets/apostles/general authorities) who implement policies designed to generate a robust economy (move the work of the Church forward). These policies are wrought upon the individual firms (wards/stakes/missions) and consumers (members, missionaries, women, men, youth, children) in the economy (church). These policies affect all firms (wards) and consumers (members), but not always directly or in identical fashion. This is because, even if all firms (wards) exist for the same general reason—grow/make more money (to bring souls unto Christ)—each individual firm (ward) and consumer (member) faces a broad range of challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and growth patterns. Taken collectively and viewed from 35,000 feet, all of these firm-(ward-) and consumer-(member-) specific concerns mesh together to form “the concerns of the economy (Church).”
True to form, I consider myself a “microMormon” because my religious interests and concerns are almost entirely focused on issues in my own little world: my ward, my home, and my personal life. Consequently, I don’t really get excited or interested in the sort of conversations a “macroMormon” might be passionate about. To illustrate, I care about about how to improve my lessons in Sunday school, but I don’t really care about improving “Sunday school in the Church.” I care about my own efforts as a missionary, and I care about the missionaries in my ward, but I don’t get too excited about Church-wide rules governing missionaries’ behavior. I stress greatly over what I see as social, racial, cultural, and financial barriers in my ward, but I can rarely muster any interest for trends in race-related statements in General Conference or total humanitarian aid contributions in recent years. I am concerned about leadership opportunities for women and how women are treated in my ward, but I find conversations about institutional reform to be generally off-putting.
In short, just as I find most macroeconomist conversations (GDP and trade balances) to be largely dull, boring, and fruitless, I find most macroMormon conversations (Church-wide policies) to be largely dull, boring, and fruitless. In fact, it often seems that the reasons I mentioned earlier for my disdain for macroeconomics are the same reasons I yawn during debates about Church policies: the predictive power of macroMormon debates leaves much to be desired because we have such a paucity of data, and macroMormons virtually never even agree on the interpretation of what data we do have, or what should be done about it anyway. More importantly, even assuming that macroMormons could properly gather and analyze church-wide data on every issue under the sun, the power to implement policy rests in the hands of…not you or me.
I need to state here that I’m not saying that macroMormon topics aren’t important, because they are. Just as it is (admittedly) important for the health of a national economy that someone pays attention to interest rates and yield curves and inflation, there is a real need for attention on, and discussion of, church policies on homosexuality, immigration, missionary work, gender roles, and myriad other issues. We absolutely need to spend time wringing our collective hands over policies—past, current, and future—to ensure that past mistakes aren’t repeated and future successes are possible. I also realize that this line of thinking, taken to its extremes, can be twisted into a defense of “out of sight, out of mind” thinking, and consequently, implicit endorsement of abusive policies through willful ignorance or apathy. Such is not my intent.
Nevertheless, I find that where my thoughts and heart are most of the time, there also are my actions, most of the time. As a microeconomist, I talk frequently about trade-offs and opportunity costs. As a microMormon, I find that frequently, the cost of time spent wringing my hands over church-wide policies—past, current, and future—is time not spent wringing my hands over the problems my home teaching families are dealing with, over the challenges my elders quorum is facing, and over my personal and family discipleship. More devastatingly, I find that it often leaves me sitting in a pew on Sunday, feeling empty, entirely disconnected from the hearts and minds of the mourning, comfortless, and grieving Saints who surround me.
 The confusion among non-economists over this is rooted in the fact that, even though a vast majority (based on my anecdotal observations) of economists are microeconomists (who don’t give a rat’s patootie about GDP), a vast majority of economists seen on television are macroeconomists who are on TV specifically so they can yak about GDP. Yawn.
 This attitude is demonstrated in the oft-told joke that “macroeconomists have successfully predicted 8 ½ of the last 4 recessions.”
 This is demonstrated by the fact that virtually every post in the bloggernacle can be reduced to someone saying “This is how we should do things!” followed by comments saying, effectively, “Oh huh!”