With more than 40 years’ worth of teaching experience and several influential publications under his belt, Emeritus Professor Galal Amin is one of Egypt’s foremost economics authorities. On the heels of his recent honoring with the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts and Literature, the AUC School of Business sat down with Amin to find out about his thoughts on the worlds of teaching and economics.
What led you to academia?
I think I have always wanted to be an academic, and I think that [developed further] at some point when I was in university. I was in law school because I liked economics, but there were no economics schools at the time, so whoever wanted to study economics needed to either study law or commerce. Starting my second year of university, I knew that I wanted to be an academic, and I have not changed my mind.
I love teaching. [Irish playwright and political activist] Bernard Shaw has a famous quote that says that whoever knows how to do something, will do it; whoever does not know, on the other hand, will teach it. I do not think that this applies to me. I have always loved to teach, and I believe that this runs in the blood, where everything that goes into your mind is something that you want to explain and deliver to people. I think I have that natural inclination towards it.
What do you love the most about teaching?
Teaching is really just one thing: communication between you and other people. The best feeling is perhaps when you notice that you delivered your idea fully and made others comprehend it. I have also always liked to mix in the private with the public, and most of my lectures feature personal anecdotes.
Do you feel that it is better for instructors to be subjective in their lectures?
I do not really believe in objectivity, and I think that it is impossible [to reach]. Even if someone feigns objectivity, one will always present an issue from a certain point of view. It is human nature to engage more with someone who is subjective.
How has education changed throughout the years?
I really do not know if it has changed or not. There have always been very different professors throughout the years. From my own experience, when I first went to university, classes had around 800 students attending them, so there was no room for interaction. In these settings, it is very hard for professors to interact and engage with students. Communication has improved a lot [since then] between instructors and students and even among students themselves because the world has changed a lot. I think this has made the process more sincere.
Do you feel that public economic awareness has improved over time?
Certainly, with the passage of time life is becoming more dominated by economic issues. Economics was immoral in the past, but bit-by-bit everything became about [it]. There’s a reason for that [change], but it is hard to pin down.
Famous writer John Stewart Mill – who used to write in the mid-nineteenth century – used to always discuss ethics in economics. From the end of the [nineteenth] century, conversations started about isolating ethical topics from economics and to instead discuss ‘pure economics.’ From that point on, economics started becoming detached from everything, including politics and ethics. The reason for this is that our lives have changed. Buying and selling are now more important than they were in the past. Social relationships are now dominated by cost-benefit analyses.
Do you feel that the spread of capitalism has contributed to that?
Society has become more consumer-oriented than it was in the past. People are now more assessed on how much money they make and spend more than they were in the past. This makes economics very important. I think technology contributed a lot to this change. Consumerism has expanded with economic development. We [Egypt] have it better than other countries in this regard, but we are following in the footsteps of the advanced, industrial west. Economists would say that this is a good thing, but others might disagree.
A distinct turning point in this transformation is the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whether you liked it or hated it, they [its leaders] claimed that there was something more important than products: the distribution of wealth. When the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the 1980s, [American political scientist] Francis Fukuyama wrote his famous essay, “The End of History?” What he meant by that is that capitalism had emerged victorious or, in other words, that economics had emerged victorious. I think he was right.
Do you feel that any viable alternative to capitalism could emerge in the foreseeable future?
I do not like the word capitalism anymore because it is always changing. Capitalism was much different 100 years ago from what it is today. Is something going to come in its place? I am a bit pessimistic about that because I do not see any indications that people are going to go back to look at non-economic considerations.
What is your take on the economic situation in Egypt nowadays?
I am leaning towards thinking that the situation is worsening, to be honest. The distribution of wealth is getting worse and the average development is not enough. Any country, no matter its resources, could always do better. There is mismanagement in Egypt.here
For more on Amin's thoughts on the Egyptian economy, click here.