Sunday, October 30, 2005

Needs vs wants

The C-J last Sunday had an article titled Gotta have it? They asked: "High heating costs have people vowing they may have to cut back to the necessities this winter. But what, exactly, constitutes a "necessity" these days?"

What a great question, so I was surprised to find out that "...many of us feel we need the Internet to stay informed, need cell phones to stay in touch with loved ones and need e-mail and faxes to transfer information. People talked about how eating out, getting their nails done were all necessities, and not luxuries.

But then, on reflection, I wasn't that surprised, for I realized that the reporter was interviewing mainly middle class people, and not the working poor, and/or those who have to choose between toilet paper and cereal (take a look at Barbara Einrich's Nickel and Dimed).

I read this statement next: "The basic aspect of economics is that we have to make choices," said Jack Morgan, recently retired director of the Center for Economic Education, which is affiliated with the Kentucky and national Councils on Economic Education. "The reason we have to make choices is because we can't have everything we want."

I first ran across statements like this while in one of my many years of graduate school, and I was puzzled by it then, and am still so now. I had thought, and still do, that economics helps producers and marketers sell goods and services. Most of us know very little about economics, and think of it as a very complex science, filled with arcane words and concepts.

I wish that economics truly were a scientific tool that would help us make good choices, (in the same way that the New Testament of Christian Scripture can help us make choices based on moral principles). This would mean that we would be better able to make clearer choices between that latte and retirement, or that weekly magazine and giving money to hurricane relief or programs that help lift the poor out of poverty.

Just some thoughts. Happy Halloween. Any ideas on how to choose the optimal candy?


Dan Trabue said...

No need to ponder the optimal candy. Just go with candy corn (brach's, not the fake stuff). It's right every time.

And I agree with you, I think. I have always found economics closer to a theology than a science.

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