Friday, September 23, 2016

Economics: It's Personal

I know, economic thought can seem anything but personal. Mention economic rationale to others as an appropriate strategy for social problems, and the average person quickly loses interest, if they had any interest to begin with. That's often been my experience as a layperson, over the last thirteen years. Somehow along the way, economic thinking became disassociated from the circumstance of our daily lives, and it's not easy to get it back. Yet - at the risk of seeming pedantic - get it back we must, if only because identity politics and social justice diatribes are hardly going to get us to a better, more constructive place.

Part of a lack of productive dialogue is due to the fact that - as Narayana Kocherlakota noted - economic professors have been "doing well" for decades. Why fix what does not appear to be broken - at least from where one is standing? And since economists are the ones expected to address economic concerns, it's easy to assume that society as a whole is in little need of substantial adjustment, or the experts would already be on the case.

Indeed, economists are "on the case", but mostly in terms of the always popular identity politics, instead of where municipalities are increasingly overwhelmed - both socially and economically (and everyone imaginable is getting the blame for failed cities, as a result). Otherwise, economists are more inclined to closely examine local conditions, in parts of the world where local politics are less likely to interfere with one's own attempt to provide an objective view.

Only consider, the brief mention (if at all) in the news, when local citizens in struggling U.S. cities initiate discussions re lack of jobs and local economic opportunity. Why doesn't anyone take these earnest requests seriously? Why doesn't this initial hopeful economic framing on the part of local citizens, remain in the consequent discussion and  public response?

Instead, it all gets reduced to yet another round of identity politics reaction. Sometimes the riots, property damage and social destruction don't start in earnest until these valid economic points are roundly dismissed. Yet the economic foundation is a problem which few individuals respond to, at a gut level. Is real economic response (instead of reaction) not "interesting" or challenging enough, even for economists? What the heck is going on?

Even though it is rational to hope for greater social tolerance, populations can hardly expect to achieve social justice, when there are few economic means to make it so. Without such means, economists mostly become reduced to extended discussions and studies which suggest government should help the marginalized, or government should not help. Perhaps it is off limits to suggest that the marginalized could help themselves. Nevertheless, that's a lot of lost effort, not to mention the loss of any meaningful vote in Washington this silly season.

So the challenge is to once again make economics personal. Today, despite the danger of oversimplification and potential immediate counter response to the contrary, I'll leave it at a few suggestions that might at least make sense - particularly for the lay reader - at a gut level.

Where there is a very real and persistent lack of economic complexity:

1) Become willing to monetarily reimburse one another for the simple act of helping one another.

2) Do so by means of a long term commitment, so that instead of local education being about some ridiculous abstract preparation for the "world of work", it becomes part of the world of work, and also about helping one another.

3) Prepare a yearly calendar for planned time in which everyone can both help one another and spend time with one another, and leave room not just for the necessary, but also for spontaneous efforts as well.

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