I love reading economics books! I will continue to rave about Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics because, frankly, it is the best economics book I’ve ever read. In a class entitled “Business Public Policy,” there leaves plenty of room to doubt the excitement of the content. However, a stellar professor and simply captivating reading material has propelled this class to my all-time favorite!
The book ranges from humorous to hilarious, all while covering critical economic topics relating to the Great Recession including various types and measures of GDP, exchange rates, etc. I find it fascinating that despite reading five books on the matter, that there are still polarized opinions about the causes and resolution methods for fixing our broken economy. This blog won’t touch that though…
My favorite laugh out loud moment (and inspiration for the blog title) was a very detailed passage on “happiness” and how it is measured. For some reason, the measure of U.S. citizens who were identified as “very happy” plummeted from 36% down to 29% between 1970 and 1999, despite the monstrous growth of the 1990s. The great thing about economists is that they like to quantify everything, especially when it comes to happiness and well being, which in turn drives decision making. According to a study, a lasting marriage is worth $100,000 a year to a person, meaning that married people are “as happy” as someone raking in six figures a year. I’m not implying that an increase in divorce rates is the cause of the decrease in happiness, but in economics it is very easy to see how correlation can spill into a centralized idea from an array of areas.
The concept of placing a monetary value on something like being married just tickles my funny bone. That point manages to impress upon me that being married for a “happy benefit” to be completely absurd while also making sense. A clump of neurons in my gray matter actually understood what was being discussed and the concept of utilizing things we value. We do shop, socialize, and interact because we reap some benefit, such as being fed, feeling happy, getting paid, enjoying new toys, and so on. Economic decisions are no different. It’s true that it’s nearly impossible to generalize or lump together decisions made across a diverse population, let alone an entire country, but the principles stay the same. We do things because we feel that we get some added benefit from it for less than it “costs” us.
I greatly appreciate the honesty written into this book. He’s not writing to cast blame or defend politic choices; he is simply writing to convey the economy principles that were broken in 2007 leading to the recession. Also, Wheelan does not claim to have all of the answers:
…recessions are like wars: If we could prevent them, we would. Each one is just different enough from the last to make it hard to ward off.”
The other concept that just clung to my business-driven mind was the idea that money may not even be necessary. After all, what’s a dollar really? Why has our American dollar value suddenly decreased? Why do the green bills count for anything? According to Wheelan, wealth is stored in things like houses, cars, and human capital and are what truly provide value. Money, however, is simply an exchange medium for goods or services. We could survive as a barter-based economy, however, his whimsical point that exchanging chickens for books sold from Amazon would be a logistical nightmare. I love it ;-)
I’m not presumptuous enough to assume I know the answer to any of these questions, but I am a proponent of self-education. Education (as I will always argue) holds the key to a world of knowledge and information, so I encourage you all to find resources about topics that just fascinate you and go learn something new! I don’t care that economics isn’t my area of study or something directly related to my work, but I do care that it has a direct impact on me as a citizen because I vote, because I pay taxes, and because I am an active member of my society. Pleading ignorance will only stifle your growth as a human, so why not do some extra digging and begin to glean knowledge on topics you may not have a clue about?
I hope that your weekend presents great opportunity to enjoy the things in life, because as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Think about how you choose to spend your life this weekend and what it actually costs you (not necessarily monetarily). Not everyone on the planet gets the privilege of spending their time how they want…
P.S. As a side note, I would NOT encourage you to tell your spouse that you would leave them for $100,000 a year… I’m safe because I’m not married :-) Happy Friday.