One does not have to search hard to find examples where basic economic ignorance is doing great damage to society. As long as we've had the Republic we have had political disagreements, but often it seems we are not debating about a difference of opinion in policy, as much as debating without a foundation of economic truth.
Even with greater economic education there will continue to be political divide. Our nation can withstand disagreement and division, and in fact, it existed even in the very time that our founding fathers were creating a system of government to best account for such divisions.
But what we may not survive is worse than mere disagreement; it is the willful decision to stay ignorant or uninformed. Economic mastery may not be needed within the population, but perhaps economic literacy is?
When I refer to “economics” I do not mean the same thing as financial literacy. I am a big proponent of that, too, but financial literacy is a practical application in a specific category of life. Balancing a checkbook and avoiding credit card debt matter, a lot, but they are actions we take to be responsible adults. Economics, on the other hand, is a social science that looks at the reality of the world, the reality of human nature, and studies how humans act to allocate scarce resources. If everything in the world was abundant we would not need economics, but the reality of scarcity puts a burden on us from the creation of the world. In recent decades many elites in the faculty lounges and commanding heights of society have proposed that a “central planning” of economic decisions can work just fine. You can imagine that for one who believes a select, limited group of anointed people can handle the planning of human affairs, there is not a big need to see the rest of the masses educated about economics. Why should one who isn’t best-suited to be an active agent in their economic affairs bother to study what any of this means?
But we need a more economically-educated citizenry because we need a more economically-active society! Central planners have failed to deliver, and their failure was entirely predictable for those who knew economics – those who knew that no central authority has the knowledge necessary to steward the affairs of society. Basic laws of economics teach us about incentives, risk-taking, and the rational process humans engage in when they stand to bear both the risk and reward of a given decision. In all our attempts to numb people from the reality of bad economic decisions we have facilitated an environment of worse economic decision-making.
The solution to our woes that no one is discussing in the need of the hour is not political indoctrination, and not social justice virtue-signaling, but rather an agenda of economic education that starts with the reality of human nature.
Human beings were created by God with purpose, with dignity, and with destiny. The advance of civilization has come as mankind has applied his or her creative, innovative, and productive faculties to nature. Ideas added to the material world advance the quality of human life, and those ideas come from uniquely created human beings. Human beings are not only consumers, made with natural appetites, longings, and desires, but they are producers – capable of producing the goods and services that meet the needs of humanity. When we produce it enables us to then consume (as our production gives us the means to enjoy consumption), and when others produce it gives us something to consume (our consumption would be pretty limited if we could only enjoy that which we made ourselves from start-to-finish).
Out of these basic realities we have discovered laws and theories that have substantially changed human history. The division of labor, free exchange, supply & demand, marginal utility, comparative advantage, and a slew of other economic realities have changed the world, and ushered in unprecedented prosperity. We do not suffer right now for a lack of economic opportunity; we suffer from a lack of economic awareness.
I would propose that a conscious effort to learn the foundational truths of economics will not only solve much of what plagues us politically (silly policy debates that could easily be resolved with an appeal to timeless principles), but would also solve much of what plagues us emotionally. We are alienated, isolated, and craving purpose as a society. Maybe, just maybe, a refresher in economics will not only bring back the law of supply and demand; maybe, it will remind humanity of its greater purpose: To productively work, serve others, and marry our passions to our skills.