Friday, February 6, 2009

Economist's Notebook: An Economist Faces an Economic Crisis

Excuse me for engaging in a wee bit of navel gazing.  But as a development economist I think about the effects of economic turmoil on people a lot, and most of my research has to do with populations that are severely impoverished.  I like to think that the research I do will have a tiny but real impact on policy in the future and that this will help people.  Self-serving, I know, but it is part of what motivates me.  

So how does an economist react to economic turmoil at home?  Well, partly I think I have a role to play to both educate people about economics and promote good economically sound policy.  But on a personal level, it is hard to sit and watch the economy crash so severely and not be affected by it in a very human way, rather than in an academically disinterested way.  I cringe sometimes when I hear myself say what a great teaching moment this is.  Though this is true to an economic professor, it sounds a bit callous to the many families that are already starting to feel the pinch. 

This economic crisis has already shown itself to be devastating (especially in Oregon) and as an academic economist I feel particularly impotent.  On the radio this week I was asked to give the listeners some good news and the best I could do is "this shall pass...eventually."  So perhaps just as a way to make myself feel better I have volunteered as a driver at the Oregon Food Bank.  In the past I have been content to give charitably and have made excuses about my volunteerism being devoted to my children's school and activities.  But I don't feel I can be as self-interested anymore when the economy is collapsing - it is time to refocus. Since I feel that there is nothing that diminishes us as a society more than having hunger in our midst I have decided that if I can be some small part of the solution, I must act.

I hope you will too in whatever way you see fit.  This crisis is going to affect us all and it is going to be long and deep.  I hope this will be a moment when we all give a little bit more.  That's all I am trying to do. 


Gregory said...

"So perhaps just as a way to make myself feel better I have volunteered as a driver at the Oregon Food Bank"

When unemployment rises, is volunteerism the best way to contribute to society? It seems we already have a surplus of labor, and we need to address the other constraints. Among the constraints, I suspect money is the greatest.

This is a theoretical perspective, but my theories may be wrong. I wonder what real organizations are experiencing.

Is there any form of volunteerism that can actually put people back to work, to reduce this deflationary spiral?

LisaMona said...

Try this: Get your kids and their circle of friends involved and do a lemonade stand. 10 years ago my daughter was 4 and wanted a lemonade stand. I thought the idea of me buying the lemons, sugar and cups and her pocketing the money made for a poor lesson in economics. I suggested she donate the proceeds to charity. That first year she made $20. It was enough for a flock of chickens for an impoverished family through Heiffer project. My daughter is 14 now and hard at work with her middle school getting ready for this years "LemonAid". The last few years we raised over $1000 each time. You can watch a short video on our blog about it. It is fun. It feels good. The kids work hard and they really get it- we have so much, we can share, sharing feels good. And how about a brownie and a few raffle tickets with that lemonade? (You would'nt believe how good they are at sales!)
Last few years we donated to Doctors without Borders. Each lemon the kids squeeze makes three cups of lemonade. At $3 in proceeds it provides food for 18 children for one day. Thats some economics!! We wrote a "manual" on how to do this. I'd be happy to email it to you. Lis Monahan

Patrick Emerson said...

I suppose that if there were many like me the OFB could decide not to hire someone (though they have a crew of regular drivers), but that just represents fewer resources that get to the needy.

Jobs need to be created, but jobs that promote growth, not ones at a place like the OFB which represent a society in need.

Patrick Emerson said...


My kids and I participated in a neighborhood food drive whcih was donated to eht OFB, which is what made me think about doing more personally. I think it is good for the kids to understand and become involved, so your idea is a good one.