Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Mo’ money, mo’ problems

In my junior year of high school, I took AP Economics. We studied both macroeconomics and microeconomics over the course of two semesters. I will be the first to admit that, prior to that class, I had no idea what was economically going on in the world. Heck, it’s almost three years later, and let’s just say I don’t quite remember all of it. However, I have managed to retain the basics of supply and demand, market structure and government spending. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for far too many Americans. This needs to change.

A CNN article from Monday looked back at the more than $800 billion stimulus package, dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law five years ago. At the end of the article, I started skimming the comments section. While this usually entertains me, the comments on this particular article were especially irritating. Most people had no clue what they were talking about (shocker)!

We live in a culture that values education, but very often people take the short cut to appear more knowledgeable (ever heard of Sparknotes?). In a country where the people decide who represents them in government, this pseudo-knowledge is only detrimental – especially in regards to economics.

While other aspects of politics, such as gay rights, abortion or even healthcare, don’t require a vast knowledge set to form an opinion, economics is a massive field of study. People spend their entire lives trying to understand economic theory fully. To boil all of that down into a comment on a political article on the Internet where there is no accountability is both stupid and incredibly frustrating.

What scares me even more is how fervently those commenting believe in what they are saying. Are they teaching their kids this stuff? Are they just trying to be inflammatory? Is this what they talk about over Christmas dinner with their impressionable families? The world may never know!

My argument here is that we need to stop being spoon-fed our economic opinions and figure out what we truly believe. A Washington Post article from Tuesday quoted a dozen or so Republican Senators and Congressmen/women. All of the remarks were inflammatory and largely inaccurate. Politicians might as well be anonymous users on CNN’s website. They have this nifty talent of only providing the information that will support their arguments. That would be fine, except people are taking these opinions and assuming they are facts.

To set the record straight, most economists believe that the stimulus package wasn’t enough. A Fox News article from Tuesday didn’t even describe the stimulus as a failure, which is the equivalent of throwing Obama a party over at the “Fair and Balanced” network. The previously cited CNN article noted that some 8.5 million jobs were created since early 2010. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a current unemployment rate of 6.6 percent, compared with 9.8 percent when Obama signed the stimulus bill. There has been some progress, despite what some are reporting

The solution to this education problem starts in… wait for it… schools. According to the 2014 Survey of the States, the Council for Economic Education’s (CEE) annual report on “the state of K-12 economic and financial education in the United States,” 22 states require economics as a high school graduation requirement. Only 24 mandate that an economics course is offered. With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that people don’t have basic economic literacy.

If you want to test your own economic literacy, the Center for Excellence in Education offers a 20-question quiz. As a nerd who likes that sort of thing, I was totally into it — but it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

State and national legislators need to reform the educational system for 1,294,352 reasons, give or take a couple, but this reason is probably one of the most important. In order to be an informed citizen and voter, a person needs to understand the basics of economics. We also need to discern when someone is telling us the truth or blowing hot air out of their you-know-what.

I don’t care whether you believe in Classic or Keynesian economics or some mixture of the two. Political ideologies aside, I just want everyone to have a solid opinion that can be supported by facts and statistics, rather than Marco Rubio’s angsty tweets.

Economics teaches students how to view the world as an exchange of goods and services. It encourages a valuable and unique perspective for problem solving. More than all of this, it’s a fundamental part of education that is sorely slacking in at least 28 states.

I’m all for freedom of speech, even for people who blatantly disagree with me, but these uninformed opinions are just unnecessary. We live in a country with great economic advantages. Maybe we should start using them.

Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at [email protected]

One Comment

  1. Sara,
    You say that the drop in the unemployment rate from 9.8 to 6.6% is evidence that the stimulus plan is working. Do you know how that figure is calculated?
    The labor force participation rate is plunging. There are now record number of people that are not in the labor force. They’ve given up looking, which makes the rate go down. This is not indicative of an improving economy.