Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19 & Better Metrics for "The Economy"

Two notes on "The Economy" and COVID-19:

Note (1)

I distinctly remember a particular section of Wendell Berry's novel, Jayber Crow that I read a few years back.  While everything by Berry causes readers to rethink community and social life in many ways, there was one section of the book that stuck with me - and that is when Berry narrates how his books American characters began to realize in the 20th century that "the Economy" is a "thing" and more than a thing, a kind of "person" a kind of "being" that has to be cared for and maintained. 

As a single example, from page 275,
The Economy no longer wanted the people of Port William to produce, for instance,
eggs. It wanted them to eat eggs without producing them. Or, more properly speaking, it
wanted them to buy eggs. It didn’t care whether the eggs were eaten or not, so long as
they were bought. It didn’t care how fresh they were or how good they were, so long as
they were bought. Perhaps, so long as they were paid for, The Economy was not much
interested in even delivering the eggs.
The Economy is a curious "thing" - and Berry helped me discern "it" as a force/thing/being - that has only recently become a *certain kind* of reality in our Global/National/Market Economy.


 Note (2)

I won't parse out the details here - though I learned years ago that the etymological roots of the word "economy" derive from ancient Greek "household management" - as the term literally combines "house" and "manage" in its root.  And, an economy *used* to be about the careful stewardship of one's home/business life - as one rooted in a community of care for one's family and one's workers within one's sphere of influence, within the household.  And, this economy required an ethic of care, since workers/servants were literally in one's home - and - also impacted how a household was viewed within the social contexts (city/urban life.) 

In other words, where "we" in the 21st Century associate the term "the economy" with large government systems and global banking and cash-based-apps or credit-card swipes - the word derives from family home management! Home! Management! And care of those in one's family and directly related to one's family.


COVID-19 and "The Economy"

In recent days many headlines have reported on various aspects of the DOW Jones Industrial stock decline, the reality of the Bear market, a potential recession, the FED dropping interest rates to zero, and "losing" "all the gains" that had previously been "won" or "made" during the current U.S. President's tenure.

These things are curious to me as many persons have experienced great financial loss and this is becoming "the metric" by which people are assessing the impact of COVID-19. 

What is curious to me is the *fact* that we could judge our lives differently - and we could work for a different world. 

I won't detail all the many ways I have been thinking about this here - though - as a single example:  If, in the past decade (or two or three), if instead of building stock markets,  we had instead fostered ways to care for others in social contexts, including care for medical needs, and insuring wealth distribution was more equitable and opportunities for education and social care were more expansive - we *might* have been able to see a *different* kind of "economy" - a house management - that could have *grown* during a pandemic and which would NOT have "experienced a loss" during any kind of pandemic. 

That is, if we measured our economy - our house management - by how we cared for our families and our neighbors, a global pandemic would impact our lives, no doubt! and yet we would have built an economy to help us better move forward as humans and neighbors and caretakers and stewards - instead of having built "The Economy" of dollars on spreadsheets that lose value.

I hope to work for and partner to work with others in building economies in our future that don't care about Berry's "The Economy" where it only matters that "eggs . . . were bought." 

I hope to work for and parter to work with others so that the land that feeds the chickens, the care of the chickens, and the human flourishing that comes from open table fellowship and shared meal emerge with our families, with our co-workers, and with all our global neighbors.

Toward eupan ~

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

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