Monday, March 2, 2009

Blame the crash on a science teacher

Word that the economy contracted at a faster-than-expected 6.2 percent pace in fourth quarter is only adding to investors' worries.

The Associated Press, 3 days ago

Every time I teach a child to plant her own garden, the GDP takes a hit.

Every time I show a child how to knead bread, the GDP is adversely affected.

If I convince a child to walk or bike instead of riding to school, I decrease her chances of developing diabetes, and the GDP drops (unless, of course, the child gets hit by a car).

If I make my class comfortable for children wearing hand-me-downs, or home-made clothes, or styles from last year, I admit I've dinged the GDP.

Should I teach a child how to forage for berries, for clams, for oysters, yes, the GDP drops.

If by chance my words help a child live a happy life with a life partner until death, I'm guilty of shrinking the GDP. (Divorces are so much healthier for the economy.)

If I convince a child to play outside at the edge of the bay, minimizing his exposure to television, he will likely spend less on tchotchkes, and the economy suffers.

Should the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall to nothing tomorrow, the child by the pond would still be amazed by tiny critters dancing just beneath the surface, breathing, eating, living.

Happiness is always possible. Economic wealth is not.

I teach science.
I teach children.
And I will continue to teach science to children until I am tossed out of my classroom.

The chart is by Google News.
My salary is paid for by my neighbors.


Paul said...

I'm not sure that's an accurate assessment of your GDP impact in each of those cases. There are some subtleties involved.

Just as a for instance, somebody without diabetes spends less on health care, but doesn't necessarily spend less overall, and probably contributes more to productivity growth by living a longer, healthier life. I think it's very likely that, on balance, GDP grows in that situation.

doyle said...

You could be right about that, though dialysis gets pretty expensive.

That we can even have a discussion about whether some of these things on the list might actually benefit the GDP/economy above and beyond any other considerations belies the problem of how we define the economy.

Leslie said...

"By the standard of the GDP, the worst families in America are those that actually function as families–that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner, and talk together instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture. Cooking at home, talking with kids, walking instead of driving, involve less expenditure of money than do their commercial counterparts. Solid marriages involve less expenditure for counseling and divorce. Thus they are threats to the economy as portrayed in the GDP. By that standard, the best kids are the ones who eat the most junk food and exercise the least, because they will run up the biggest medical bills for obesity and diabetes.

This assumption has been guiding our economic policies for the past sixty years at least. Is it surprising that the family structure is shaky, real community is in decline, and children have become petri dishes of market-related dysfunction and disease? The nation conceives of such things as growth and therefore good."

--Jonathan Rowe, Our Phony Economy,
Harpers Magazine

Pretty good analysis of how and why this is true.

lucychili said...


GDP is an economics of extraction and central profit with little connection to the sustainable support of the profit. The money moves.

The local economics and ecology that doyle is discussing are more related to reciprocity than to extraction. Returning the shells to the oyster beds or contributing to the growth of the berries would be examples?

imho We need a different kind of economics which values things in situ, ideally within a mesh of related species and actions over time.

The agencies which engineer industrial and glbal systems will be unlikely to engineer an economics which recognises local ecological understanding and distributed profit, so it is likely that as with microfinance we will need some forms of accounting which work to different ends.

Thankyou for interesting thoughts.

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

As always, thank you for the warm words.

These are interesting times, and no sense pretending that macroeconomics is going to get us to some idyllic place. It truly gets down to reciprocity vs. extraction.

How do we help others see this?

lucychili said...

The sknuks lived on the most beautiful planet in the Universe but they have not taken care of it and they have brought about their own extinction. ...

I wonder if it is possible to start a habit of documenting matrices of local species as a part of a student's school science education. With Google earth and GPS we are close to having the technology to embed that kind of view of our location. If that kind of data was more habitual perhaps it would not seem so strange to expect it to underpin something like a GDP and for it to include negotiated equations around:

Human purpose .v. (animal's/plant's/soil feature/water feature) sustainability, including appreciation of interdependent species = preservation while ecology value is less than X and/or human purpose is Y

Those negotiations have become ecological impact statements which imho makes them a marginal process prior to an expected human purpose. There needs to be a different kind of starting assumption, dialogue and balance in those kinds of negotiations. There should be such a thing as an ecological development if we need to hold to being pro development.

Yes locally sustainable community practice should be something which is not invisible to our methods for valuing what we do and who we are.

/end rant =)

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

I wonder if it is possible to start a habit of documenting matrices of local species as a part of a student's school science education.

Guess what? I'm going to do that next year--thanks for the idea!

Kids hardly believe that any mammals beyond mice and squirrels (and, well, OK, Norwegian rats) live in Bloomfield. They do not believe I saw wild turkeys or hawks or cedar waxwings in our town.

I have in the past attempted to get kids to think about where our water comes from and where our poop goes, but that's not that interesting to most 14 year olds. If I can get them to chart the local animals, however, I think I can hook them into the local environment as something more than the trees outside a classroom window.

The current economy based on growth without a true accounting of costs cannot, and will not, help us. I think teachers (and other community folk) need to make this more visible.

Returning my oyster shells is a start. I need to show my students why returning the shells matter, and why companies that do not know who they are will not feel obligated to return the same shells, unless, of course, it adds to the profit.

Gardner said...

Lovely to see "The Lorax" come up in this context, and I'm very glad for the link to the Harper's article.

Growth and greed can look remarkably similar if the conversation surrounding our actions becomes too polarized, rapid, or stern. Without playfulness and yearning after some definition of "meaning and value" that will expand and not diminish with sharing, it's hard to see what good will come of our species....