Economics is the social science that studies how families, companies and governments organize available resources, which are usually scarce, to satisfy the different needs and thus have a greater well-being.
The scarcity determines the reason for being of this discipline. Scarcity that causes poverty, inequality, conflicts (even war) and massive migrations, to name a few effects.
The resources that people have at their disposal are of diverse nature: some are public, others do not have an owner, others belong to us in an individual or family capacity; to groups or legal persons of various kinds. Resources can be tangible or intangible. Reusable or disposable. Innate or acquired. Productive or idle. Free to move or move them from one place to another, or not. Almost free of risk or subject to a growing number of them. They can be recognized and appreciated, or also belittled.
Resources have a value, a price and a cost, conditioned by the aforementioned attributes, as well as by other circumstances such as regulation, which are the rules of the game defined by the institutions that represent us and that, in addition, administer public resources, which belong to all. Value, price and cost that change over time for various reasons, and are not the same everywhere.
The most important law that a government promulgates each year is that of budgets, because it determines the destination of those resources that belong to everyone, and because it has the capacity to also condition the destiny of private ones, in practically all areas of our daily lives.
We tend to attach great importance, because it does, to people acquiring sufficient knowledge to manage their personal finances, because financial health is a necessary condition to achieve well-being. However, we do not grant any, despite the fact that it has, for people to acquire sufficient knowledge to no longer manage, but at least have criteria to have an opinion on the administration of finances that belong to everyone and, more importantly, choose between different options of administrators understanding the implications of each of the available offers, for example, in the electoral market. Market in which we are called to participate when we are 18 years old, and about it there is an interesting debate about whether we should not be able to participate before, when we are 16 years old.
Well. We have already reached where I wanted.
Searching without much success for comparative data on hours spent on training in economics in secondary education, I came across a short article by American economist Frank Haigh Dixon, entitled “The Teaching of Economics in the Secondary Schools.” Written in 1898, it describes an aspiration that I share and that I believe is fully valid today.
Frank H. Dixon was a historicist economist and after a season of academic and professional activity in Europe, he evolved into an institutionalist, a line of thought that challenged the universalist claims of much of economic theory, and that emphasized the importance of the historical, social and institutional factors that condition the so-called economic “laws”. To recall the term, economic laws are those that govern the production, distribution, exchange and consumption of resources in the different stages of development of societies. They are those that express the most essential, stable, causally conditioned relationships between the phenomena and processes of the economic life of society.
Dixon argued that a large part of economic relations were not immutable, but were conditioned by the historical moment, by the performance of institutions and by the social contract existing at each moment between citizens.
As well. In your writing “The Teaching of Economics in the Secondary Schools”, Dixon starts by remembering that “the main function of secondary education is to teach men and women to be citizens”And relegates college preparation to a secondary role. I cannot agree more with this view.
Our RAE defines a citizen as a person considered as an active member of a State, holder of political rights and subject in turn to its laws. Exercising the rights that we have needs, first of all, to know them, and to know them they have to teach us. And where is teaching exercised? In the classrooms.
But are these rights effectively taught? Is it taught how the social contract that we are part of as citizens works? Is it taught to identify pros and cons of the alternatives offered? To recognize the opportunity cost of choosing one alternative over another? To contextualize? To differentiate between the implications in the short and long term and between possible scenarios? Are all students taught?
I’m afraid not.
As long as the impression prevails that knowledge of economic principles, laws and problems arise from intuition, beliefs, opinion and not from study and learning, economics will never occupy the space it deserves and that it is needed in the classrooms. Economics as a discipline that helps to understand with impartiality, how the laws of the economy work and how they define, condition and affect our individual decisions, which in turn help to design the society in which we live and, perhaps more importantly, in the that the next generations will live,
And it is urgently needed. Because economic problems change, and they do so because conditions and circumstances change. The translation of the change from conditions to problems is not always immediate, it can take decades since the first changes in conditions are observed (read climate change, or demography, or digitalization, or inequality). These changes mean that a plan that was feasible at an earlier stage in our time (for example, the pension system, or the linear economy model, throwaway) may not be so now. Because the conditions have changed (longevity and inversion of the population pyramid, global warming and loss of biodiversity) and the associated economic problem varies (it does not cease to exist, but changes in size and duration). The plan, therefore, must change, to a better one, to one that is feasible at the current stage, with current conditions and those that are looming in the future.
Y There are several plans that are already on the table but that are completely unknown by citizens, such as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. It is not an ideology, it is a global agenda, a commitment of 192 countries to which we are all called to contribute, but which, if we do not know it, we will hardly be able to actively join, participate in it, or even respect it or judge it impartially.
Learning economics, talking about the economic problems that societies face and the existing alternatives to solve them (some still to be discovered and experimented on, others already underway but which run on frequencies not perceived by the senses of the average citizen), is a lack of our educational system that limits our present and future capacities. And we need all the capabilities, because the challenges are many and complex.