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Think like an economist?

Over the summer, NPR’s Planet Money podcast piqued my interest when it ran an economics 101 summer school series. Exciting, right?! Okay, maybe not the best name for a series but when I think about all the stressors in our lives, money infiltrates everything. WuTang Clan was right, “cash rules everything about me (C.R.E.A.M.)”—from calls to defund the police to recovery stimulus bills to shore up unemployment.

Planet Money hosted University of Michigan professors, authors, and life partners, Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson to guide the eight-part series. As they introduced the subject matter at hand, they focused on the decisions that people make. "Every year, my first sentence [to my students] is, economics is not about money," said Wolfers; I was hooked. Using relatable everyday situations, the series' approach to the central components of microeconomics (opportunity costs, sunk costs, utility costs) is a useful way to think about the decisions that we make—personally and collectively. If that isn’t enough to grab you, the title of class one is, "Decisions and Dating," (sounds like the title of a new Netflix show).

As the fall months march ahead in 2020, so does the continued financial strain on our personal lives and those of the artists and cultural workers that rely on support from performances, festivals, exhibitions, fundraising, and ticket sales. Perhaps a few economic fundamentals could provide direction moving forward. Do we try thinking like an economist?

As a postscript, ever heard the phrase "Keynesian economics" casually used in dinner party conversation and wondered (i.e. Googled) what it meant (again)? Well, there is a new biography out called, The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter. Chris Hayes, in his podcast Why Is This Happening?, interviews the author, revealing some fascinating insights on Keynes' personal life within the Bloomsbury Group with Virginia Wolf and how his theory and practice of economics shaped the macroeconomics that we've come to know. Fun fact from the interview, Keynes took one economics course in school. Honestly, this interview made me put a biography about a British economist on my reading list.

(photo: mural in Portland, Oregon)

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