Monday, December 7, 2009

A Confession of Ignorance

In short: I describe the need for more education in America on the fundamentals or basics of our nation's economy and I blame the mainstream media for failing to provide even the most rudimentary understanding of economic events.

Ok, so this morning I was reading an article in the Washington Post (described by readers in the comments section as "insipid") about Neel Kashkari, the hapless guy who dreamed up the bailouts under Secretary Paulsen and now chops his own wood for his fireplace.

If Laura Blumenfeld, the author of the article, meant to anger Americans with her descriptions of how he and his wife are "coping" and "detoxing from Washington" in their little cabin in the woods with their dogs, then she accomplished her goal. But there was no education involved in the piece.

At one point, she offers defensively that the Kashkaris actually took a pay cut to move from CA to DC and that the TARP funds were not used for personal gain. But that's the only line in the 1400 word memoir that serves to educate the public. And I'm not confident that the author would know these things for sure.

Let's go back to a couple weeks ago where MSNBC was interviewing hillbillies at a Sarah Palin book signing in order to highlight their ignorance of world affairs... The reporter grilled one girl (about 25 years old) who was wearing an anti-bailout T-shirt and when the poor girl confirmed that she thought Sarah was against the bailouts too, the axe fell swiftly and Democrats cheered.

However, we are ALL like that misguided girl in the stupid T-shirt. None of us know what's going on. While I applaud MSNBC for having the brass to show us that huge crowds of people can all be wrong about something (or everything), I would also appreciate a little bit of information I can use. I had no idea whether Sarah Palin was trained to offer an opinion on the bailouts or not... So the only difference between myself and "the stupid girl" is that I don't particularly like Sarah Palin and I don't wear T-Shirts with slogans on them.

I took an Economics class in high school where I learned how to sign over a check to my mom if I wanted to. Many years later, I took a Macro-Econ class in college and I learned (roughly) what the Dow index is used for. Nobody is there to explain why TARP was necessary (if in fact, it was) and nobody is there to explain the differences and similarities between capitalism and socialism to us (unless they happen to be a capitalist or socialist themselves and wish to spread a bit of propaganda).

We have become so sharply divided in politics but at the same time we know next to nothing about the gears in the machine itself. We push flashing buttons and hope for the best. The best education we can get on economic matters are little quips we hear in the news like "congress holds the purse strings" but those are misleading in their over-simplification.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Obama's first year in office is our nations gradual understanding that nothing had really changed in the heart of America's economy and that all the same players are still doing things as they've been done all along. I think that even some Republicans were secretly hoping that Obama would shake things up and we would get to war over socialism vs. capitalism in some apocalyptic battle for America... In fact, I KNOW some Republicans were hoping and planning for this battle - they are now called teabaggers.

But alas, even Michael Moore could not reach Paulsen by phone and so Moore's documentary on capitalism fell short of being touted as "Fahrenheit 2.0". Even more to the point, Elizabeth Warren just looked pathetic in Moore's movie. A brilliant Harvard educator who had crucified the credit card industry in a better documentary has now been reduced, thanks to her Obama appointment, to some kind of hermit in a windowless office somewhere in DC with no real way to influence anything anymore. Thanks Michael Moore - we can always count on you to slay the dragon.

Let this post be read as a plea to math and history teachers everywhere to find for your students ways to understand our nation's economy which allow room for dialogue. There is really no point in understanding math or history in America without talking about the economy. I don't even think the treasury was mentioned in my high school American History book. How sad is that?

If anyone would care to offer some links in the comments section to any educational websites which can help us gain an elementary understanding of current economic issues, we're all ears and eyes!

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