Monday, October 28, 2013

Economics and Human Welfare - Do These Two Actually Go Together?

The title makes me smile, plus this post serves as a mental break from the "serious" track I've taken lately. For those of us who enjoy economic thought and discourse: of course we believe that economics and human welfare go together. In fact we can be quite emphatic about our "obsession", even if some of our most relevant topics are like the tree falling  in a forest...does anybody really hear it fall? We want to believe that spending our time with these matters can actually have some effect on the ultimate outcomes of populations. But a good portion of the public is not so easily swayed by the endless arguments and battles of ideas.

Thus, do others relate or "connect the dots" in their lives, to what the economically minded speak of? Is much of the discussion really just academic discourse for people with nothing better to do? Surprisingly enough, there is real concern for the human condition under all the posturing and stubborn stances - even if that concern is wrapped in language that sounds like any significant emotion has "left the building". To be sure, a good deal of what economics enthusiasts fight over, is not in a layperson's language. Still, all that logic and reasoning is anchored by...feelings (don't tell the guys I said that). Strongly held feelings, I might add.

Sometimes a social situation may seem a bit iffy, and the enthusiast may have to start "small" to get things rolling. At the very least, a microeconomic discussion can focus on something quite specific if the "big picture" turns out to be too "threatening" at first. Then perhaps the enthusiast will have a chance to progress from there...Engage people in thinking about a very definable something and it might not be too obvious that other economic concepts are "lurking" for their chance at the light of day, in the background.  How does one approach matters delicately when it comes to macroeconomics, for instance, if the political divide in the house resembles the Grand Canyon?

One may find themselves challenged to explain how macroeconomic stability has something to do with whatever is happening in this room: in this very moment I might add. For the individual who has discussed economics long enough, doubtless there are stock answers at the ready. But for some of us, we don't necessarily have the "right" generic answer for any group - that is, we might not be able to explain to just anyone how economics, let alone Market Monetarism can make a noticeable difference in people's lives.  Of course in the meantime, that usually wouldn't stop us from trying.

What's more, the entire realm of economic discussion goes well beyond what some of our friends and acquaintances may think is actually possible! Just thirty minutes spent online with different blogs tells that story. Some conversations have a decidedly philosophical turn, while others may be somewhat financially oriented in their outlook. Perhaps others see things in a somewhat behavioral perspective. Or discussions may take a monetary turn, and that's where it could be a bit "dry" to the layperson. What to do about that?

It would be interesting indeed if people really spoke from the core of why they believe money should be capable of one thing or the other. In fact, if those core positions were used as starter material, things might get really interesting in a hurry - perhaps too interesting for polite company. I remember a few online conversations after holiday meals where it seemed commenters were particularly grouchy. Maybe those face to face encounters earlier in the day - with people seen once or twice a year - were too exciting all around, for all concerned.

In that case, keeping things a bit abstract may not be such a bad idea after all. If  money serves as a cloak of logic to obscure one's underlying beliefs, civilization may be the better for it at least until the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put away. While arguments have been won and lost on lesser merits, chances are a few skirmishes have to take place first. And just think, the holidays will be here before we know it, for those who haven't had the chance to socialize in a while. There's still time to work on ideas for civil discourse that hopefully won't clear the room out. When the time comes, good luck everyone, and try not to eat too much pie this year.

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