A Quantifiable Economy, Part II

About the Author: Mr. Conrad is a retired college Economics Instructor who is hoping to remove a lot of the confusion, misunderstandings, and myths that surround contemporary economic thinking.

Some still insist that we can measure the economy, or at least they insist there is value in attempting it.  See if you agree?


We certainly know that many things are NOT quantifiable.  If I were to ask, for instance, how much LOVE there is in the United States, I doubt whether anyone could come up with a very convincing answer.  In fact, I think most people would not even venture a guess because they know it’s an impossible, if not pointless, task.  Still, I recognize that there will always be SOMEONE who thinks they can make some assumptions, hold some values constant, streamline some definitions so that each person is only capable of a fixed amount of love (not an infinite amount as most of us would contend), provide a few other parameters so that the amount would not vary from day to day or even hour to hour as our feelings for the various people in our lives swayed from DEEP feelings of love to much more MARGINAL amounts, then devise some UNIT of love (perhaps a LUV ~ love unit value), and conclude that there are 763.2 gazillion LUV in the United States.  But, I’m sure that even that estimate would not convince most of us that LOVE could be quantified.


What about quantifying hate ~ would dislike or animosity be better?  What about happiness, joy, or satisfaction?  Surely those can’t be quantified, either.  But, what about something like WEALTH?  Now, there’s something that can be quantified ~ or can it?


Let’s see…  Does that drawing posted on my refrigerator that my granddaughter drew for me count as “wealth”?  I dearly love it, although I would probably sell it if someone offered me $5.00 for it.  And, maybe they would if my granddaughter became a famous artist.  What about that collection of BASEBALL CARDS I have in a box in the attic?  I don’t really know how many cards I have, or even if some of them are valuable.  Can I count that as “wealth”?  I seem to remember an original Mickey Mantle card in there.  Maybe I should look again.


How about those stocks I own.  Of course they were worth much more a year ago than they are now, but surely they have some “wealth”.  I wonder how much wealth they have?  And, will it change tomorrow?  Or next week?  Could their value even possibly go UP instead of continuing on that uncertain path downward?  What about my home?  That certainly constitutes some wealth.  I wonder how much?  It’s probably worth more to ME than it is to someone else, so I wonder how much it’s REALLY worth?  And, how much has its value changed since last year?  Will it be worth more, or less, next year?


As we begin to think about it, it appears that it might be difficult to determine the value of a LOT of things in what we call “THE ECONOMY”.  Is it even possible, then, to determine what the economy IS, let alone what kind of numbers might actually MEASURE it?


If we can’t determine a reliable, fixed, unchanging value for businesses, homes, automobiles, stocks, or even that jade necklace that great grandma has passed on through the family but has never been appraised, how can we arrive at a value for the “wealth” in our country?  And, if we don’t count the value of goods and services exchanged in the “underground economy”, where drugs, guns, prostitution, gambling, loan sharking, counterfeit and stolen goods are exchanged, can we really speak about a meaningful value for our GDP?


Certainly we can come up with a value for the number of people EMPLOYED in our economy.  Of course, are all those WRITERS out there, who are not selling articles, really “employed”?  And, are those WRITERS who are selling cookbooks, romance novels, and pathetic screenplays or tv scripts considered “employed”, even though they are only wasting resources, just because they are paid for their services?  How about grandmas and grandpas who watch the kids for free while mom and dad work?  Are they employed?  How about those kids who get up early every day and milk the cows or feed the chickens?  Or those people who take care of ailing relatives?  How about that professional baseball player on the injured reserve list who won’t be able to play for a couple of months?  Is he employed?


My point in using some of these examples is not to see if we can DEFINE people into positions of employment or unemployment, or even to see if we can DEFINE various assets into wealth or (pardon my innovation) “wealthlessness”, but to show how amorphous these values are and how incompletely and ineffectively they describe our economy.


Do we really need to measure and quantify our economy?  What did they do BEFORE we had statisticians and census takers?  Didn’t they have economies?  And, what about all the many species of NATURE?  Do the BEES measure their economy?  The BIRDS?  What about the FISH in the ocean?  Do you suppose that ADVANCED societies in outer space ~ progressed hundreds or thousands of years AHEAD of us ~ even care about numerical values for stocks, bonds, or real estate?


Have we become so NUMERICALLY PREOCCUPIED that we’ve become VALUE DISORIENTED?  For instance, is it more important how many WIDGETS we make and how many LAWSUITS we settle than it is how many children are EDUCATED and how much SUFFERING is reduced?  Is it more important that we make lots of CARS and TELEVISION SHOWS or that we protect our ENVIRONMENT and wisely use our RESOURCES?


Perhaps the need to MEASURE inherently compels the need to SURPASS.  It creates a false measure of IMPROVEMENT while imposing an incomplete and inadequate measure of SATISFACTION.  Doesn’t this create the notion that MORE IS BETTER, even though we know that that FOURTH piece of chocolate cake we’ve eaten isn’t more satisfying than the first?


Gluttony, waste, extravagance, excess. and unnecessary are all words that should be replaced by words like quality, betterment, sufficient, safe, and satisfactory.  As I see it, NUMBERS only distract us from the beauty and abundance that is already all around us.

more recommended stories