Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Economic Aphorisms and Ivan Denisovich, Part II

As I indicated in my previous post, a rereading of Solzhenitsyn's A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich brought things to my attention that I missed in the first reading many years ago as an undergrad--an undergrad that had yet to learn to appreciate the many fine lessons to be gained through the lens of economics, I might add.

This second aphorism comes not quite halfway through the book. Solzhenitsyn’s character is describing the work-site kitchen where the prisoners have lunch, and how the site cook got the necessaries (food, fuel, water) from the main camp to the work site without having to carry everything himself. Not so surprisingly he hired transport using the easiest "currency" at hand--food. Those workers who carried the supplies got extra--deducted from the ration of the other workers. As Denisovich puts it, "It's easy to give away things that don't belong to you."

Apply that statement to other circumstances. How much more difficult is it to apply one's own resources to a need/want, than to apply someone else's. Our children frequently ask for this or that. Younger children often do not understand the link between production and consumption, i.e. if you work and get paid, that provides resources that can be exchanged for goods and services. But older children often subconsciously (or consciously) are aware that it's not their resources that will fill the need. We ourselves ask friends and family for resources that are not ours and may not even be theirs. But do we use those resources as if they were ours? Many of us do, but I suspect more of us do not. When we use the resources of others for our own purposes, we may not always use them most effectively, or as well as we would if they were our own. Some people take this a step further and even say this applies to how tax funds are used by various levels of government. But others may counter, "if we are responsible, we use the resources of others as if they were our own. That's just good stewardship." I personally subscribe to the idea that ownership can provide a stronger motive for efficient use.

Either way, the quote above is a good discussion starter for your classroom. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Posted by TSchilling at 2:44 PM Comments (0)

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