Honey, it’s time to talk about the economy

Title picture for “Honey, it’s time to talk about the economy” by Cameron Readman
Title picture for “Honey, it’s time to talk about the economy” by Cameron Readman

I want to take a break from my usual stuff and write this piece with the goal of getting us all talking about the economy more proactively and perhaps even with less partisanship. Whether you be the tight-laced conservative or a flag waving socialist, it should concern you, as it has concerned me, the way it’s currently spoken of and I believe it is damaging to our national conversation and to politics as a whole. When it comes to us, the people, I get it and it’s hard to really blame anyone (I mean, some of the memes are extra spicy). There is no common ground, or foundation, where there ought to be and when that happens any discussion simply breaks down. It’s hardly surprising given the way the media, special interest groups and politicians talk about it, but what is the economy anyway?

In some ways it’s become this big unmentionable monster. I think it’s time to pause for a second, bring it back to basics and form a common understanding so that we can start asking the right questions and get to where we need to be as a people who share resources with one another.

There’s a good chance I am wrong in my writings below, or there’s something that really resonates with you. I encourage you to comment below or get in touch. I want to open a dialogue.

What is the Economy?

An economy is simply a network of interactions. That’s it. You might think of a pond as an economy, with all the different forms of pond life using resources, breathing oxygen, eating algae or one another. Though, it’s more likely you may have heard of that referred to as an ecosystem. Both words stem from the same prefix, eco- which literally translated means house, but is perhaps more usefully; ‘environment’. The economy is the environment within which the production and consumption of resources happens.

The Economy is a Network, by Cameron Readman
The Economy is a Network, by Cameron Readman
The Economy is a Network

The economy is all the ways we interact with one another. Every piece of food you eat, the Insta likes you give Kim K, the clean water that comes from your tap, your job and how you get there. It is nigh on impossible to be a person and not be a part of the economy because we all share resources and interact with one another. Even if we all lived in a communist utopia, the communes and shared resources would still be part of an economy. It’d just be a communist economy rather than a capitalist one.

It is important to be aware of this network and how it impacts all of us in our daily lives when it comes to informing our decisions.

What happens when an economy goes bad?

Thus, when we talk about damage to an economy, that usually results in damage to nearly everything you do. Because everyone is a part of the economy and the economy is everything, when it goes south every — single — person is affected. The current rhetoric has established ‘the economy’ as some plaything for the rich that makes them richer and oppresses us mere mortals. When basally understood as a network of interactions this view becomes somewhat absurd (though we can shape economies).

Many perceive the economy as synonymous with the stock market, or at least present it as such, this is also not accurate. The stock market can, however, provide a gauge on what the economy looks like, what people value and how healthy the economy might be, particularly if read with skill. That’s what makes it useful to analysists trying to make sense of the economy, it is a (very imperfect) window into what’s going on with all those trillions of interactions. Still, it is certainly not the be all and end all of the economy and frequently it does not reflect the true status of things at all!

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The stock market does not equal the economy. Source: Pixabay

The economy is part of our ecosystem as human beings, as imperfect as it may be. When the economy crumbles, everyone crumbles. When there’s less money in the economy, everyone has less money (well, mostly everyone). It has been proven throughout history that during recessions masses of people lose their jobs, their homes, their families and their health. It is damaging to suggest economic downturns only affect the rich. If history is anything to go by, it nearly always affects the poor more and leaves a long-lasting scar. As an overly simplistic example, 10% less money can be absorbed by wealthy person but to someone already living on the edge it can mean starvation so their kids eat. Even for middle classes it may mean missed mortgage payments, accruement of debt and financial ruin for the remainder of their lifetime. With the middle classes already being poorer than usual at the moment, this is also a group that may need some protections. When this happens on a mass scale though, it ripples through the rest of the economy (or the ‘resource network’) to devastating effect.

For every interaction you have with the economy, or don’t have, there is a job and a person behind that resource. Often many more hands have gone into that glass of milk than you can possibly imagine, from the cow, to the farmer, to the distributor to the logistics partners to the warehouse to the shop. When one link in the chain becomes damaged, the chain breaks and we’re left to pick up the pieces. Oh, and if you were hoping the government would float the bills? Guess what happens to tax revenues when nobody has any money? The government ends up poor too, so much so it creates the kind of conditions that, historically, led to the rise of despots. Just another thing to keep you awake at night…

All-in-all, I’m sure if you were to ask someone in the ‘Hooverville’ homeless camps in central park during the 1929 financial crash, whether the economy matters, they’d tell you “heck yes!”

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Hooverville Camp in Seattle, 1937. Source: James Patrick Lee Collection, University of Washington

Quality of Life Matters

Doctors make quality of life decisions on a daily basis. If an elderly patient can be saved but they’d spend the remainder of their time hooked up to invasive apparatus, away from family, it’s usually recommended that treatment not go ahead and that person spend what time they have with family instead of getting the treatment. On a similar level, politicians must make these kinds of decisions too when it comes to policy making. Car accidents kill people, what should the speed limit be? Pools are a big killer in the US, should we ban them? Allowing people the freedom to smoke a cigarette, despite their deadly effects, is another big one. There is a certain degree to which quality of life is a factor in all of these decisions, I mean, who wants to live in a world without unicorn pool floaties?

We must acknowledge that quality of life, including where death is involved, is a factor in these decisions. The up-to-date unemployment figures are not currently available in the U.K., however in the US they’ve risen to 20.5 million or 14.7% percent. That’s massive and this is just the initial shock too, as time goes on and economies continue to shrink, you’d expect this figure to rise. These figures have not been seen since 1929, and even worse are perhaps underestimated (hence my bringing it up earlier). The resulting levels of hardship back then should horrify you. Both the previously ‘well-to-do’ and poor ended up in the Hooverville camps, and all suffered. You have to assume the U.K. is in a similar boat figure wise, and that mass poverty and hardship is very near, just over the horizon. When, then, is the right time to consider quality of life?

It’s about asking the right questions

Of course, when it comes to the exact policy decisions we currently face, we start to get into dicey ethical territory and I’m not going to take a stance on that today. This article isn’t about playing the head of an ethics committee and it seems an especially foolish activity when none of us have the full picture. All of us should thank our lucky stars we are never in such a position. However, the entire point here is we shouldn’t purposefully close a door on our leaders because of inaccurate slogans and the shit stirring media. Contrary to common belief, public perception does influence policy, why do you think we’re all polled so much? If we make the idea of discussing economic affairs uncouth and an activity reserved for snotty nosed Etonians, then our leaders won’t do it, not in the open anyway. Especially not our leaders on the left.

It also means we’re not asking the right questions and thus, neither are we getting the right information or actions from leaders. If the poor are going to be affected by a brewing recession what steps are we taking to protect them or at least soften the blow? Are furlough cheques the right thing to do, or should we be (freely) redeployed where possible to ‘at risk’ industries? Should we be treating populations differently based on risk so some can go back to work? What mitigations or compromises are available to us?

We shouldn’t be scared of big business either, they should be a big part of the conversation. They’re our biggest employers and heck, they know if everyone’s poor, nobody has money to buy their products. They have a vested interest, just as much as small businesses, in keeping things afloat.

Thus far I have seen virtually no discussion, or an estimation of our economic outlook because the figureheads we look to in politics or the media know it is taboo. As it’s going to affect every person in some way or another, it really shouldn’t be. It is already a problem and it’s going to be a bigger one soon.

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Let’s not close doors that should be left open. Source: Pixabay

It’s up to us to reverse that narrative and be the change we want to see, however small our voice. The most vital function of the left is to look out for the little guy. It’s hard to do that if you’re shutting off an important part of the conversation. Frankly, I think by refusing to talk about economy at all and taking a high-hatted and impossibly moral standpoint, they are failing in their role. They are ceding that ground to the right who will talk about it and shape it in a way they see fit, without opposition. That is not a good precedent to set for our government (nor is it for others).

We ignore the economy at our ultimate peril.

Did this article resonate with you? Or perhaps I should stop writing immediately and go to hell! Either way, let me know! Be sure to give this article plenty of claps if you enjoyed it or get in touch with me via the contact form on my website.

This article was written by Cameron Readman. If you’d like to know more or receive notifications for future articles, please head over to the Website and subscribe at the bottom of the page!

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