Ways to Lure the Young into Critical Thinking
Like millions of other kids, I grew up in the Toronto District School Board being able to complete the square, calculate the hypotenuse and most importantly, conjugate irregular French verbs. Armed with these life-affirming skills, I ran headlong into adulthood confident that I’d be able to slice and dice anything life threw me, Fruit Ninja-style.
I was taught that what awaited me, was what awaited other creatures of a grandly designed natural order: a meritocracy that would reward hard workers and solvers of x. And hadn’t I seen it in my own family of 1980s Vietnamese boat refugees who had foregone welfare and worked their way up in Canadian society? Freedom and rights, democracy, and capitalism, I learned were the foundational pillars that made the society that I knew, great.
What took me decades to figure out was that capitalism was the one pillar most often #$%&ed with by a bunch of guys not elected by any citizenry. After the damage was done I realized that, as a population, we’re not taught about the Rube Goldberg-esque mechanisms of the global economy. We have been content to outsource that thinking to academics, regulators and government consultants — who often work in parallel for investment banks or hedge funds (i.e. institutional gamblers of our money). This conflict of interest isn’t something we’re even aware that we should question.
During the Great Moderation, the four decades of prosperity after WW2, these economists only needed to point to the developed world’s steadily upward climbing graphs of wages and productivity for us to pay them their exorbitant consulting fees and urge them to continue with their magic. It made developing countries clamour to follow suit. Year after year, the stairway-to-heaven graphs showed no sign of the Great Depression ever coming around again.
The trend lines kept up through taking the dollar off the gold standard, through the oil embargo, through the introduction of credit cards, higher bank leverages and through piece-by-piece deregulation. We believed the economists when they said, if things were good in a regulated market, they would be GREAT in an unregulated one; that we had the potential to crank that slowly upward trending line, even steeper, to be richer, faster. And isn’t that what life is all about?
Of course, naysayers weren’t invited to this big money party. The spectre of limits—of natural resources and of people’s ability to handle debt failed to spook our collective narrative that more must be better. Logicians were given the wrong address because they threatened to turn up and point out the holes in economists’ assertions. A party-favourite proclamation, which complimented everyone in the room, was that the economy is made up of rational people, who all make rational decisions, all of the time(!). Sometimes, it happened that an unwitting party person would make the mistake of suggesting that perhaps the music should be turned down a touch. That guy would promptly be shoved in the closet with the Karl Marx prop-skeleton from the McCarthy era. And then, the terrible, bass-less music would rage on.
Fast forward to now. It’s been almost seven years of hangover from the worst financial crisis in our collective lifetime. It left 30 million unemployed worldwide in its wake; wiped out $5 trillion in savings, pensions and wealth; caused record income and wealth inequality; and brought about the first generation of downward mobility.
What have we learned?
- Economists and “intellectuals” implicated in this crisis must have published and hired each other in a self-referential circle jerk to bring us to where we are today. What other explanation could there be?
- Proponents of “free-markets” cannot be trusted when they ask for/expect a bailout just for themselves. Okay, for their friends too. See #1.
- When businesses, such as investment banks, remove any consequence to their profit-driven activities, all the downside will be borne by the society that hosts them. FYI, “risky stuff” = loads of downside.
- It is impossible to shame the shameless.
- Drinking coffee makes no difference.
So … How are us regular people, in this age of trillion-dollar global trades, a 30:1 ratio of lobbyists to elected representatives in Washington, whole populations mortgaged and indebted, and voiceless in international trade agreements, ever going to turn this ship around?
Through democracy! Oh wait. That pillar also has cracks. Think of the $4 billion spent by 45 individuals in the last US midterm elections as a fat-ass messenger pigeon perched and pooping … on our heads. How about our rights? Like to education? Absolutely, those conspicuously missing subjects of Economics and Finance should be part of all school districts’ mandates, from early on!! Though realistically, that would be like demanding that the proportionally economically illiterate teachers (chicken) prepare the next generation to be economically savvy citizens (egg).
Also, that leaves no solution for the fully-grown, scrambled chickens among us, who want to learn, however late in life.
What we have left are our freedoms — kinda. Particularly of speech, expression and information (insert cynical remark here). We used to be a society of individually and independently informed people writing and disseminating our own magazines and essays; holding public debate among regular folk. But, as Noam Chomsky observed in his 1967 essay “The Responsibility of the Intellectual,” leaving it up to intellectuals and not asking why things happen or how we can do better is characteristic of the apathetic and insensible citizen.
Not naming names or anything but, for a LONG time, we’ve ignored a wide range of nuanced ideas in economics, leaving the tyranny of one idea to ripen and then decay before our eyes. We discounted natural limits, logic and the small percentage of ambitious psychopaths and asshats of humanity because the narrative they spewed was so rosy. We need to self-educate and grow the sub-sub-genre of Critical Economic Thinking into the mainstream.
Why aren’t we chatting about economics at bars and cafes, like war era nonnis? Why wait for the painfully periodic Academy Award winning film like “Wall Street” or “Inside Job” to stir up moral indignation? We can be freestylin’ this stuff errday, son! With a still-neutral Internet, what are we waiting for?!
To beef up this field of thought, I have teamed up with comic book producers 7Robots (Miguel Guerra and Suzy Dias) to impart economics in a way that doesn’t suck, to my generation. Yes, that includes you—however old you might be. I’m the writer of an economics graphic novel filled with pithy synopses, critical pokes, alternative ideas and pictures! (“Novel” label aside, we plan to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth!).
I, in Toronto and Suzy, in Spain, were simultaneously and spontaneously inspired by critical economic thinkers Steve Keen, Ha Joong Chang, Ann Pettifor and Michael Hudson to name but a few. We also sadly realized between us being a school teacher and a mom (also management consultant and financial analyst), that none of these important ideas would be picked up by a wider audience without some serious accessibility revamps. These ponderous economics books, lectures and essays were like kryptonite to the 140-character, 6-second, left-swiping generation. So, with my image-friendly phrases, Miguel’s comic book artistry and Suzy’s production skills, and our passion for economics, we set out to do something about it!
Our mentor Professor Steve Keen of Kingston University, in London, introduced us to IDEAeconomics, a Seattle-based non-profit aiming to influence economic policies, mostly by coming up with better ones! They helped us put together a crowd-funding campaign for the first book of our series, which aims to delve into six core topics of economics.
We’ve got a week left on our Kickstarter! If you are feeling the financial crunch, we’ve got a 10-page free sample and a tax-receipt for all donations. Digital copies are only $10 for an estimated 100 pages of colour! We not only aim to get you to read economics, but to be so fired up about it that you will be THAT guy or THAT gal raging at the pub (in a totally attractive way).
Support CRASH, BOOM, POP! Money & Economics Exposed on Kickstarter.
P.S. The Pythagorean Theorem isn’t completely useless. I cut across parking lots every day, chuffed that I know how.
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