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2 Getting round obstacles

2.3 Coping with difficult parts

Salim and Lewis mentioned that they found some sections of Layard's article difficult. So did I; for example, anyone without a background in economics would have difficulty grasping the arguments in paragraphs 13 and 14.

So what should you do when you can't make sense of what you read? Should you search online to find out about taxation theory? For my own satisfaction I searched for a definition of ‘marginal rate of taxation’ just to get the gist of it. I also tried to write down the main steps of the argument in paragraphs 13 and 14 in my own words; however, I soon felt I wasn't doing much more than copying out the original words, without getting any closer to the nub of it. So, I decided to move on; but first I made a stab at summarising what I had read. This is what I wrote:

Top levels of tax should be higher, to discourage people from ‘polluting’ the happiness of others ? then more can go into public expenditure. Europeans seem to accept 60% as top tax rate (including indirect tax).

As the article is about ‘happiness’ not ‘tax’, it did not seem worth investing any more time in these two paragraphs. I felt I understood enough to follow the general gist of Layard's argument. You don't have to understand fully to benefit from reading when you study but you do have to constantly keep weighing up:

  • why you are reading that particular text,
  • what you need to get out of it, and
  • whether you are making enough progress to justify the time it is taking.

How long did you spend on paragraphs 13 and 14? Did you feel you were able to understand enough for the purposes of getting through this article? Or did you just skip ahead to the last paragraph? If you weren't ‘getting it’, that was a good decision. It's important not to let the tough bits beat you. They often make more sense when you come back another time.

Box 3 Glimpses of understanding

When you are new to a subject, your ideas keep being shaken up and reshaped. A thought comes briefly into focus then dissolves into confusion again. It is rare to feel you understand something fully. Instead you learn to get by on glimpses of insight.

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