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  • Sandra Ericson

A Letter to Monsieur Piketty

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Dear Monsieur Piketty,

Recently you spoke with Rob Johnson about your new book, A Brief History of Equality. You

give overdue acknowledgment to the persistence of equality efforts, implying that it is a human urge, core to everyone. But one wonders, equality of what? As an economist, were you mostly thinking of income, opportunity, or maybe equal social safety nets? In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the US, who decides who is entitled to equality?

In the interview, you advocated for new "processes of learning and collective engagement" and all the "multiple frameworks" to go with them, stressing capitalism's property-owner power and the growing need for the "decommodification" of basic human needs, like healthcare. It sure sounds impossible by market mechanics alone.

So, please look outside of economics for the answers and consider that economics is not the

measure of equality; economics is the symptom, not the cause of inequality. The reason is the

lack of knowledge, not money, about human life itself. The process, delivery system, and

frameworks are already in place for learning about the root of human life, or as economists label it, human capital. Schools are the delivery system — found in every country! The problem is that schools focus on economics and jobs, not human life. Time to address the cause instead of the symptoms. Since the 19th C., the basics of human life were fundamental to most women's education when they studied Home Economics, offered under various titles in different cultures. But unfortunately, it vanished from the schools in the 1980s, giving rise to poverty, the social tolls of poor health, gross corporate power gained through consumer ignorance, predatory technology, and even more entrenched misogyny since women are still the ones who must cope with family life. The invisible hand has cut us off at our real-life knees.

Inequality begins with struggling to live — daily living — in homes, schools, and communities

— it is personal, felt, and locally experienced. Poverty (one of those pesky externalities) is

intimate, and now it is final. No longer is poverty a transitory stage as one works hard and

mobilizes upward. This dam to a better life is why the education that empowers personal choice and quality of life is desperately needed. The name of that education is Human Ecology (HE), the study of human life as it relates to all the environments each person must now live in and navigate. Each is more complex, with more existential consequences for failure than ever.

Every living species, including humans, knows and feels when its existence is threatened—

securing its life is the automatic priority. With the knowledge to prevent existential threats to life, an individual can choose what kind of life, and a new horizon shows up within reach. That is freedom, actually experienced. 

Human Ecology education is the discipline you're looking for (hoping?). It delivers the skills and stability that prevent physical and psychosocial personal failure, and its core tracks adapt to different global cultures. HE know-how fortifies resilience for each person and, by extension, for society, but it is only effective if all people have access to Human Ecology education. As collective resilience is shared and built, greater equality by all measures is the natural outcome. There is no other way it happens; there has never been. The most economically prosperous times in history have occurred when the highest percentage of a population has enjoyed equal access to information about human life. The 1980s, when human life education was pulled from schools, were a turning point downward.

Check Carlos Pereira's last chapter of Limits and Beyond (2022), an update to Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome in 1972, which predicted what we are now experiencing. Pereira bluntly tells us to invest in human beings — not after the damage is done but before.

If every person in every school district and country learned how poverty perpetuates, how it does not, and the skills to prevent it as society changes over time, poverty would decline; economic equality would increase. It is the enactment in real-time, one by one, of the ounce of prevention that prevents the pound of cure. Only then will the symptoms of unequal economies change.

As urbanity, globalism, and climate change become the norm, complex social systems evolve

faster. For human beings to function within these new systems, education must teach them how. It is not professional education; it is personal. Without it, disaffected subgroups have no choice but to focus on little else than preventing further loss, often angrily, instead of building better futures. Importantly, without Human Ecology in each child's education and the understanding it brings about the commons, later in life, dominant adults have more difficulty comprehending or caring about the misuse of power.

Human Ecology education maximizes each person's potential human capital in every context,

home and family, community, national, and global. It prevents breakdowns in health and well-being reduces social costs raises the quality of life and life spans, and teaches us about fellow humans and what the natural world can or cannot support. It is what is needed when all else fails and all else has failed. Economics is now a house divided — new economics?

Monsieur Piketty, for your next book, please consider the economic benefits of Human Ecology education; help economists see the need. Use your pulpit so the world can hear that message too. 

Thank you for your work on equality,

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