Sunday, April 6, 2008

What About Food?

I've always been a bit mystified by how economists measure "the economy." Rates of joblessness: these make sense, as do the other categories, such as GDP, "housing-starts," the Dow Jones (which I think of as the Tao Jones because it's essentially mystical), "consumer-spending," etc. What's left out, though?
Why don't we hear regularly (daily) about the following: is everyone getting enough food? Is everyone able to get medicine? Does everybody have access to a good school? I guess what I'm asking is: Who decides what the measurement-categories are, who appointed these people, and why doesn't measuring "the economy" involve really basic things? If the stock market goes up and a bunch of people still aren't eating, in what sense is the economy okay? I'm just going hard-headedly practical hear, nothing Marxist about it. If a disinterested observer arrived from outer space, and we told the entity that the economy was okay except for the the 3 trillion dollar deficit, poverty, famine, and a sooty atmosphere that's cooking where we live, the entity would say, "Who in the hell is in charge of measuring things down here? Fire that person."

Poets, rightly, have a reputation for having their heads in the clouds, but I think because we often think about common objects quite concretely, we occasionally can display useful "bullshit detectors"--I think Hemingway (not a poet) may have invented this term. I mean, I see Wall Street guys (never women) , wearing those goofy pin-striped suits from Guys and Dolls, yammering on MSNBC about whether "the market has found its bottom," and I want to allude to a phrase from my father's generation: "You couldn't find your ass [or the market's bottom] with both hands and a flashlight." If a nation's "economy" isn't working for huge segments of the population with regard to basic needs, then it's either not working, or it's not an economy in any practical way. Same for the global economy. I hate to use the household analogy again, but I will: What if person came home and said to his or her significant other, "You know, our household economy is in great shape, except there's nothing to eat, we can't afford to get sick, and our kid's school sucks. But our mutual funds look good."

Economists, add to categories, get more basic, become more practical, and pull your heads out of your NASDAQ.

I think this may have been a rant.
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