Crash course in personal, civic economics

Crash course in personal, civic economics


What kids in high school really need to learn is personal and civic economics. You can’t help but notice how so many people don’t understand even the basics of finance related to bother their personal lives and to the public matters that affect them.

For example, there’s a local story about the governor wanting to replace off-duty detail cops with civilian flaggers, partly because of the cost of the detail cops compared to civilians. One of the arguments in favor of keeping the cops is that the cost doesn’t come from taxpayer funds but from the utilities using them. Well, who do you think ends up paying the utilities? Those costs get passed along to the consumer. Or when legislators respond to the economic crisis and declining tax revenues by raising taxes, like meal taxes and sales taxes! All that will do is keep people out of stores and restaurants, decreasing revenues even further. When my costs increase and recession hits, most people don’t have the luxury of demanding a raise from their boss even as the company struggles. Yet, I hardly see anyone raising a stink over these inanities. Even more, I see my fellow voters putting the same economically clueless jokers back into power every election.

But even in personal matters, many people seem to not understand basic economics. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen one of those lifehacking, productivity blogs tout a tutorial on keeping a checking book or on building a nest egg as if they were imparting secret knowledge. But the sad reality is that many people, young and old, don’t know the basics.

This is why I think every senior in high school should be required to take two courses: personal economics and civic economics. While home economics has come to be known for teaching you how to bake a cake and sew throw pillows, a personal economics course would teach some important life skills: maintaining a checkbook, saving for retirement, getting and keeping credit including credit cards, buying a car, finding a house, choosing a mortgage (and making sure you understand the paperwork), and so on. These are skills that almost everyone will need and so few people have, unless they learn through hard-earned experience. Or they have particularly prescient and conscientious parents.

I certainly wish I’d been more discerning with credit card debt and student loans in my early twenties. Those two areas alone have set me up for a lifetime of financial ostacles to overcome.

Then there’s what I call civic economics. It’s not just about public policy and government, but more about finances that go beyond me and my family. How does the stock market work? What is the banking system? What is the consumer’s place in the grand scheme of things between industry and government? Where does money come from? How do taxes affect the economy? Of course, it’s readily apparent that this course wold be greatly affected by the instructor’s political bent, liberal or conservative. But maybe here, some good textbooks would be able to offset some of that.

In any case, I think schools would do well to offer some practical education in areas that will affect every single student for the rest of his life. You can’t say that for trigonometry.

Photo credit: user Betsssssy. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli