Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dollars and sense

"The best thing we ca
n do is educate our way to a better economy."

"Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of all demand in the U.S. economy."

Our last economic boom was fueled by greed and ignorance, as our next one will be, but should we truly educate our children to focus on what matters, on what makes a good life, to critically analyze their choices, well, there's going to be a lot less "consuming" going on.

A deep understanding of "the economy" requires knowing some biology and a lot of agriculture. You can only get so many turnips out of an acre of ground, and we can live the way we have lived, borrowing and borrowing, for only so long. Biologists recognize limiting factors to growth.

If by the economy, Duncan means a grasp of how we obtain and allocate the things we need to live, recognizing our limits, factoring in the cost of our wastes, then yes, he is right--we can educate our way to a better economy.

If, however, Duncan means The Economy, the abstract world of huge numbers flickering in the CPU for milliseconds, wheat futures based on an unpredictable climate, and the myth that the new economy keeps us immune from Malthusian catastrophe, well, then our Secretary Education shows that even a Harvard education can go terribly wrong.


Kathryn J said...

Sometimes your blog convinces me that I should never publish another keystroke. I don't spend much - due to necessity as much as desire. I wonder often about what would happen to our economy if people lived simply so that others could simply live - old and trite but essential.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

I suspect that "our economy" may ultimately be unsustainable, and the current version, dependent on seeing Americans as "consumers", is not healthy for our land base.

When Americans started saving again this year, some professional economists expressed concern that this might stall the "recovery."

At any rate, the adage may come off trite, but I agree it's essential. (That I spend any time on here, though, only proves I do not practice it.)

Joel said...

Totally agree. There's no question that our economy is unsustainable. It worries me when I hear people advocating the wasting of resources to boost the economy. When it comes down to it, our economic growth is based on natural resources. Economics is taught too often in the abstract. Students see the dollars but not the real resources they represent. Economic education should be about those real resources, not dollars and cents.

doyle said...

Dear Joel,

Thanks for the words.

We discuss natural limits in biology class, but I am not sure the students get the connection to the economy, and when I was 14 years old, I doubt I'd have cared about the connection anyway.

To be fair, many (most?) of the adults raising our children either don't get the connection, or believe some deus ex machina is going to come down and save the day, or maybe just don't think about these things at all. I can hardly blame children for failing to pick up what their elders refuse to see.