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  • Sandra Ericson

Progress on the Human Ecology Odyssey

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

All human beings must be specifically taught how to navigate a country as complex and sophisticated as this one If you are an odyssey follower, here's my journey and the score so far. Beginning with the concept that it is possible for the world's leading economists to eventually come around to understanding the link between humans and numbers, and I don't just mean money, I began with Becker in the 1950s. The man had a clue and tried his best to get past that fellow, Adam Smith, who's ideas somehow managed to convince the U.S. government that markets are an "invisible hand." That is, what you buy or sell rules. What we would call morality, community interests, and concern for the environment, mind-changing factors, the Smith people would call "externalities," which have little bearing on "utility," the financial self-interest at stake.

I always thought it was ironic that self-interest would rule when it comprises all those "externalities"! It almost explains greed. But not quite. I started with the economists because they have so much power in politics and government — how justified is another thing.

So for the last four years, I combed the economics websites, speeches, papers, looking for a soul that offered hope — and feeling bad for those, like Becker, who tried hard but were eclipsed by the "invisible hand" people. And there were more; Samuelson and Hirschman, for instance, seemed like they had the correct sensibilities.

I read Piketty, and wrote to many, but even considering their publicly committed directions, and frankly, their male-centric academic environments, there was little encouragement — even from the women! Most carefully maneuvered around the concept of 'better homes equals better people.' How basic to success is that??!!

Going inside the home and dealing with women was a real stretch for most. I get it. I was raised with seven boys in the wrong era for even playing fields — but what about the future???

Then I started on Behavioral Economics, read most of them, wrote to their centers of life, and was rewarded just a bit more. They listened and commented, but only to be polite; one must remember they are user-friendly economists, so they're naturally more polite, plus more of them are still living. I worked my way up to Dan Ariely, a guy who has paid his dues and boldly calls his work "irrational" — dubiously, it fits neatly with my own. Yes, my human ecology idea is irrational. Still waiting to hear from him. Then I found Sam Bowles' recent book, The Moral Economy; he's at the Santa Fe Institute. I thought, bingo! He is receptive, which I interpret at this point as encouraging, and has pointed me toward other "well-being" economists, Branchflower and Oswald in the U.K., for instance. Read Sam's book; it debunks the way economists come up with their self-interest metrics — in their own language! Love that! It's a bit technical, but good.

Then, just the other day, I discovered that the University of Oregon has just opened the Financial Wellness Center, headed by Gilbert Rogers. Wow! What a breakthrough guy! He understands the money thing and has visions of what else the Center can do to teach young people about well-being as they enter adult life. Rogers captains a lifeboat for students! It is one university with one effort, but it can be a model — it already is — for lifting the status and value of Human Ecology -- finance is a part -- within higher education.

The United States is a capitalistic country — on steroids. It really needs to stop the steroids, or it will be done in by climate change. Period. People, its human capital, are infinitely adaptable to changing conditions until they're not. At that point, the fall is fast. As one of the most influential thought tribes in the U.S., economists will hopefully remember their own human self-interest and figure out how to measure and give value to wellbeing. Everyone else already knows what it takes to make a healthy, happy person; we tackle the task every day — especially the women. We can count the hours, the dollars, the days, and times -- there is a lot of material there for number guys. Hmmm, it must be something else that keeps them from knocking on the front door and going inside.

So, about the score, abstractly speaking, it's about two down and ten to go. Almost makes one welcome adversity, the times when human wellbeing shoots to the top of the to-do list; note the pandemic. Maybe there should be a graduation requirement for economics majors in which they all must spend two months cooking, cleaning, dealing with kids, shopping, preparing food, balancing the budget, and wondering about life itself. Maybe it should be a year.

Time to stop talking to the “hand”!

Originally posted on Next Stage Radicals.

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