Math at Applied Economics

One needs mathematics to do economics; parts of calculus and parts of linear algebra are our workhorses.

However, one doesn’t need advanced mathematics in the sense of a mathematician to seriously pursue economics. It has been said that the only truly advanced mathematics ever used by Nobel laureates in Economics has been in connection with general equilibrium theory [Eugene Silberberg, The Structure of Economics—A Mathematical Analysis, McGraw Hill, 2nd ed., 1990]; at the opposite extreme, one of the laureates, Ronald Coase, illustrated his seminal ideas with nothing more abstract than arithmetic examples!

We require of our entrants a working knowledge of Differential Calculus, which in turn requires a minimum of a single course in Calculus, taken in High School, Community College, College, or elsewhere. Those with only this minimum are required to take our non-credit, but full-length, Math Methods for Economists course in their first semester, which is available both on-site and on-line, and costs only half our usual tuition. It covers those parts of Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Optimization Theory, and Linear Algebra, which are necessary to pursue economics.

Those entering our program with at least two courses in Calculus may study the extra material on their own, using the textbook for Math Methods for Economists, linked below, and according to pointers or lectures given by their instructors, perhaps using textbook appendices or notes. However, it is strongly recommended that entrants with Calculus II also take our full-length, half-tuition Math Methods course.

If you have not had a Calculus course in college, consider the following inexpensive ways to prepare for entry to our program:

We encourage all our students to study: Carl P. Simon, Lawrence E. Blume, Mathematics for Economists, Norton, 1994, the text for our Math Methods for Economists course. It can accompany you throughout your time at our program, and beyond. There is absolutely no need to learn even nearly the whole content of the book, and you can always use it as a reference. Buy used; save 50%. This is a small investment with big returns for half a lifetime or longer.

The table of contents of Edward T. Dowling, Schaum’s Outline of Mathematical Methods for Business and Economics, McGraw Hill, 1992, skipping Chapters 7 and 8 on Linear Programming, gives a fair idea of the minimum math needed in our program. Doing many of the exercises in the book is the best way of learning the material.