“It’s the economy, stupid” is the common explanation for which party prevails in presidential elections.
The implication is that one should measure the economy by how one fared. But as citizens our civic responsibility extends, in choosing for whom to vote, to planning the economy for the entire nation.
Usually the fiscal discussion is limited. The GNP (also known as gross domestic product), a gauge of the total national economic activity, is always broadcast.
The United States fares extremely well on that criterion. Official unemployment figures are also readily available and routinely publicized, although they reflect neither actual unemployment nor indicate fully how that unemployment is distributed.
A full analysis of our economy requires some additional questions and statistics. Apply these pre- and post-COVID.
What is the distribution of wealth, and of income? What is the rate of economic mobility, that is, people from poorer childhoods entering the middle and upper classes? Are we more an egalitarian society economically, or basically a re-creation of feudalism, with a mass of poor and a handful of aristocrats? Where does the new wealth go: to those without assets, the middle class, or to those already wealthy? Do we have de facto castes by color, national origin, religion or other factors irrelevant to talent?
Do we have any hungry families? Any families without a stable place to live? Any families unable to afford health care for ordinary illnesses? For hospitalizations? Hunger, housing insecurity and lack of proper health care in childhood are directly associated with limited progress in school, and thus with intergenerational perpetuation of poverty.
Do we have jobs for all those wanting to work? Do the jobs pay sufficiently so the families don’t live in economic insecurity and misery? Are the jobs interesting? Do they provide a sense of accomplishment? Is employment stable? Safe?
How well is talent and hard work rewarded? How easily can a person pursue a passion, either as an employee or entrepreneur? Does the economy support a vibrant arts? Are consumers protected from fraud? Is full information provided to allow a reasoned choice among products or services?
How does the economy treat the disabled, the ill, the pregnant and the elderly, people who for a time or permanently cannot be working? Do we provide for them, or just blame them for their situations?
If our job distribution and pay make it necessary for average families to have more than one working parent, how does the economy accommodate the stress that puts on families? In modern societies we cannot assume people live in multigenerational households where there are grandparents or aunts to provide child care.
How does the economy treat the environment? Is the air clean, water pure, streams, rivers, oceans and fisheries healthy, reefs thriving, forests available for viewing, natural wonders protected? Have the long-term costs of products been included in the current price, or do we save now and inflict the unpaid costs and consequences of our economy on our children?
Are neighborhoods pleasant to live in? Are there trees, recreational areas, essential stores and services readily available in each locale? Are they safe? Is transportation easily and cheaply available? Are there disparities between the neighborhoods, and if so, is this random or a reflection of caste or economic status?
Answers, in the form of statistics, are available with some effort, but that’s the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy.
Jed Somit is a resident of Kapa‘a.