Economics Personal Statement (Zulhaiqal Iqmal)

Zulhaiqal Iqmal is currently studying BSc Economics at University of Warwick. He completed his A-Levels at Epsom College and will be graduating in 2021. This personal statement was part of his successful application to LSE, UCL, University of Nottingham and University of Warwick for Economics.

 Microeconomic frameworks are fascinating! The engineering of socially optimal outcomes led me to explore Becker’s exposition of a framework to find the optimal responses that minimised the social loss from crime. Inspired by his approach, I completed an EPQ on the economics of crime. The first part of my research analysed how an individual’s decision to commit a crime could be explained by rational choice theory; if a rational individual commits a crime, the expected utility they get from doing so must be higher than the expected utility obtained through any other path. I then used this simple framework to judge the microeconomic optimality of anti-crime policies in the US. Through this research, I was exposed to the concept of the Lagrangian in simple static optimisation, and enjoyed this mathematical approach to economics. As a scholar of the Malaysian Central Bank, I want to use sophisticated microeconomic models to craft robust regulations for Malaysia; I look forward to learning optimisation techniques at degree level.

My interest in rationality and microeconomic regulation led me to consider whether governments could employ frameworks like Becker’s to achieve efficient outcomes. I think that the government should exploit the individual’s tendency to maximise utility through the use of nudge theory, which presents a socially desirable choice as the one which maximises their personal utility. One example I found particularly interesting was Volkswagen’s ‘piano stairs’; the simple act of turning stair-climbing into a fun activity made stair-climbing the utility-maximising option compared to escalators and elevators, even though climbing the stairs still required more physical effort and time. Such policies can be viable alternatives to conventional intervention like taxation and subsidization. However, the literature on behavioural intervention – for instance to reduce smoking –  is inconclusive. For instance, Gine et al. conclude that “quit and win” contests had clear success in getting people to cease smoking long-term, but Cahill and Perera concluded the exact opposite – they found that the use of “quit and win” contests caused fewer than 1 in 500 smokers to quit. This demonstrated to me that using behavioural policies is risky; costly intervention may accrue no significant benefits. 

Evidently, working with existing utility functions may not be satisfactory; if individual utility functions can be modified, the effectiveness of microeconomic policies can be amplified.  As a Muslim living in Malaysia, where Islam is the religion of the majority, I was intrigued to discover Ahmad’s work in ‘A Macro Model of Distribution in An Islamic Economy’. He explains that in the institutional framework of an Islamic economy, the fear of God is present, which causes individuals to not only be motivated by self-interest, but also by the fact that they will be held accountable by God in the hereafter. Furthermore, tithing is practiced in the Islamic economy as an inviolable pillar of Islam. I postulate that the concept of brotherhood inherent in Islam causes individuals to include the utility of other individuals in their own utility functions – this might explain the altruism I often observe in the Islamic community. Historical studies posit that when Prophet Muhammad brought the migrants from Mecca to Medina, he declared the migrants and the Ansar (the original citizens of Medina) to be ‘brothers’. This brotherhood was based on mutual socioeconomic support, and caused two previously disparate groups to work for a common good, transforming Medina into the economic hub of the Islamic world. This role of institutions like religion, which can alter the incentives of microeconomic agents, is something I am keen to delve further into.

I love the rigour and richness of Economics, and am excited to gain a grounding in economic theory at university.

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