What does it look like when the economy is doing well?

by Ashley Bean Thornton

What am I really talking about when I talk about “the economy?”  If the economy were going well, what would that look like to me?

For me personally,

  1. I can get and keep a job I like that pays enough that I can live a lifestyle that satisfies me.
  2. The prices on the things I want are reasonable enough that I can afford them with the money I have.
  3. I am not in danger of some expensive, unexpected problem devastating me financially.
  4. I can retire from working while I still have some years to enjoy good health and energy and have enough resources to live comfortably until I die.
  5. The rest of the people in my community have a fair chance at 1 through 4 above.
  6. Future generations have a fair chance at 1 through 4 above.

So how is it going?

1. Job/Pay/Lifestyle – Across the span of my career I have always been able to find jobs that I like. Combined with my husband’s pay, we have had enough money so far to live comfortably and to have some fun. So, #1, check!

2. Prices – I’ve noticed prices are higher, but not so high that I have cut back on anything I really care about yet. So, #2, check!

3. Protection against Disaster – I have insurance and savings that I think/hope would cover just about anything that might devastate us financially. You never know what terrible thing might happen, and I have heard horror stories about people who thought they had the right insurance until it came time to use it, but best as I can tell right now, we are Ok on this one.

4. Security in old age – I’m closing in on retirement age now and if all goes according to plan, we should be OK. Our house is paid for. We have some investments — mostly 401K, etc. My husband should have some money coming in from teacher retirement and we should have a little income from Social Security.  So, I’m a little nervous about things like the stock market, the state of social security and the teacher retirement system   – but so far it looks OK.

5. Fair chance for everyone – The picture is bleaker to me here. It is obvious to me that I am much better off than many, probably most people even here in the “land of plenty.” Why have I been so lucky, while others have been so unlucky? Is it fair? Why should I care when I’ve got mine? What do I mean by “my community?” – My city? My state? My country? The whole world? I could write for a long time about any of these questions – but I’ll save it for another time.  For now, I don’t feel confident that everyone has a chance at all, much less a fair chance.

6. Fair chance for future generations – At the very least I want future generations to have air to breathe and water to drink. I don’t want our economy to devastate the world’s resources. Beyond that it gets murkier.  Will “work” mean the same thing in the future as it does today? Will “work” become so scarce for people that we need to do something else for people to have money? What will “community” be to them?  I want them to have a chance at a lifestyle that satisfies them, but I have no idea what that might be.  How are we doing?  I fear we have not been good stewards of the world we are leaving for them, on the other hand I feel like we have made good strides in the respect and consideration we have for each other.

My point in writing this is not to say that these are the six things you should care about when you talk about the economy.  It’s mainly to clarify for myself what I care about.

In all the political ranting and wailing about the economy – I needed to figure out my touchstones.  What do I really care about when it comes to the economy?  What does income inequality, or the wealth gap, or trade with China, or pride in the USA, or the actions of the Federal Reserve, or baby bonuses have to do with what I care about?  How can I find information that helps me understand how a butterfly wing flapping at the Silicon Valley Bank affects what I care about when it comes to the economy? How do we manage the balance of personal responsibility vs. systemic opportunity and the role of the government when it comes to these touchstones I care about?

These are my touchstones for now. Are they the “right” touchstones?  I don’t know – when I know better, I’ll do better.  They might change.  What are your touchstones?  You might have better ones.  I’d love to hear them.

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