Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's the Economy for Anyway?

Due to a nearly two-week spring break trip, I'm slightly behind on my book-a-week reading challenge, but I anticipate being back on track soon.

My vacation book was the next selection in the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project, What's the Economy for, Anyway? by John de Graaf and David K. Batker. While the book was a clearly-written and interesting way for this former C economics student to re-engage intentionally with the discipline, as well as economic policy issues, I suppose I wasn't quite as ignorant as I assumed because most of the information was familiar territory. I guess I can credit a decade of involvement with Bay Bucks, our local currency project, for keeping me up to speed with economic theories and alternative money structures.

The first premise presented in the book is that the Gross National Product (GNP) and its stepchild, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are poor measures of the nation's economic health. For example, the spending required to clean up after disasters will raise both measures, but no rational economist would claim the country would be better off with more disasters.

The authors propose evaluations that focus on a goal of the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run. Equality and sustainability should be considered when we judge the merit of economic policies. This was not a newsflash for me.

Perhaps because I'm poorly traveled, the primary eye-openers in the book for me were the economic comparisons of the United States to other nations. Being a big newspaper reader, I've seen plenty of charts showing the U.S. lagging in education, health care, wages, vacation time and numerous other measures, but this book brought so much of that together that I now feel like I'm living in a bad banana republic and wonder if immigration to Norway is possible for a middle-aged couple.

I'm content with my personal economic situation. I'm not rich, but I have enough and I don't yearn for more. I don't care to trade more time for money. I wish as a people we would stop measuring success with dollar signs. However, considering the inequity of current economic policies makes me want to grab the torches and pitchforks and storm the castle. We desperately need a fairer distribution of wealth.

For those who would like to learn more about this topic but don't want to read a book, I highly recommend the documentary Inequality for All featuring former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. It's available for streaming on Netflix and would be an excellent use of 88 minutes of your time.

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