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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

The Sun Sucks at Economics


The Sun clearly sucks at economics. Behavioural Economics, that is.

There's no small irony in this; the folks on the political right are hopping mad at young folk who clearly don't know how the world works.  You get out of school, you start at the bottom wage rung and slowly work your way up.   It's a waste of time teaching kids art and group therapy - they need to focus on math and the practical skills our society needs - you know, like woodworking.

And all these people with radical faiths and unusual names committing acts of terror/crime? They need to get over themselves, too - or get out.

Take this Ali Mohamed Dirie, for instance.  We don't need to know a thing about how his little personality and motivations were formed - did his parents vent frustrations with him, did he experience stigmatization at school, how he was treated in our sterling correctional system.

Dude got woodworking, for Chrissakes - what more does he want?  By acting irresponsibly overseas he embarrassed our well-respected country.

That's a bit like telling someone suffering from repetitive stress injury "we changed your workspace for a day - now get over it."

There's a clear profile that leads to this kind of thinking.   It's a great one to have in certain specific contexts - just not ours.

By putting "the country" and "the economy" first, the authors of this editorial are getting mad at lead poisoning without looking upstream for the problem.  We can try to apply yesterday's social/economic model to today's reality, but that's a bit like fighting a modern war with horses and bayonets.

Fewer Baby Boomers got post-secondary education than Millennials do today.  At the time, the social contract looked like this - if you get a job at, say, a manufacturing plant right after school, you'd expect to start at basic wage and work your 8.5 hours a day.  The harder you worked and the more value you added, the greater your chance at slowly working your way up the ladder until The Peter Principle kicked in.  On the otherhand, if you spent the coin and time on post-secondary education, that would pay off with better-paying jobs and more meaningful work.  The hours would probably be longer, but the work would be satisfying so that'd be okay.

Now we're telling kids they have to work as hard as and spend more than the Baby Boomers in getting post-secondary education and even harder through volunteering, internships and sales skills - but expect to start at the same place as a high school dropout would have back in the day.

Is it any wonder why youth are disillusioned?

Back to those sales skills - what are employers looking for? How do you figure that out?  Hell, how are they figuring that out?  How do you demonstrate your ability to play well with others and add value for a company?  Name the math course that teaches those skills (certainly not Algebra - that's a product of radical Islam, after all).

 The fact is, it's the anthropology courses, the Social-Emotional Learning and the value-add and design insight you get though art that instills in kids the skills that will help them land satisfying jobs in the Knowledge Economy.  They aren't trying to live out their parents' fading memories of the Manufactured Economy - they're planning for the world they see emerging now.

Which brings us back to math.  Math is about structure, about understanding how concepts fit together.   Math is engineering, math financial planning, is navigation, problem solving.  Just ask Jacob Barnett - he knows a thing or two about math, despite his failure to play by the rules.

But we don't sell it as such.  Instead, we sell it as tough medicine, something you need to do for your own good whether you see it or not - like eating veggies, or voting, or wearing seatbelts or not talking on the cell phone while driving.  Life isn't supposed to be enjoyable - you're supposed to suffer through for the good of the economy, which will in turn provide wealth (not satisfaction) for everyone.

There are just oodles of great role models at the top tier of society who demonstrate this in practice, aren't there?

Back to what math is - playing pool, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies.  Math is making things work - like building a bridge out of paper, or determining the angles required to make a flat drawing look three-dimensional.

See the connection, here?  Let's take it even further.

If I take two trains and have them leave opposing stations at different speeds, where and when would they intersect?

If I take the child of disenfranchised, under-employed parents who suffer from discrimination in forms both subtle and gross, expressing these frustrations at home; if that child expresses the same discrimination at school, sees the same marginalization and stigmatization of people like him across society, what are the odds that this kid will see the existing social order as a problem he needs to solve with the tools available to him?

Root numbers = root causes.
Committing sociology = problem identification

The Sun's right on one thing - we do need to start using every tool at our disposal, and to their maximum potential.  We need to develop new tools, too.

Just like you use calculus to solve different problems than you would with algebra, there are only so many social problems you can successfully address with a hammer.
PostScript - I wrote this on the subway, couresty of smartphone tech.  Wireless allowed me to add the hyperlinks, post to the blog and upload to the world.  The other tools I used were all cognitive.  :o)

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