Monday, September 18, 2006

Economics Aphorisms and Ivan Denisovich, Part I

Earlier this year, the One Book program in Chicago chose A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for their spring selection.

While I did not read it in the spring, I did manage to get to it over the summer. I had first read the book many years ago as an undergraduate. I remembered then thinking that, while interesting, it was tedious -- I mean it really was about "one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich," a political prisoner in a Soviet labor camp. How exciting could it be?

Having reread it, I can predict "you won’t see this become a summer blockbuster at your local theater--no car chases and explosions." But with the passage of time has come an appreciation for different aspects. The book is now not just interesting, it is very interesting. It is interesting on different levels, some of them growing out of my occupation and preoccupation with economic and financial education.

I was particularly struck by a number of short ruminations by the main character that described his economic environment and choices. The first that struck me came early in the book when Denisovich describes a fellow prisoner, Shukov, who had not caught on to the value of bribes within the prison. Shukov, it seems, was honest. Solzhenitsyn writes, "Easy money doesn't weigh anything and it doesn't give you that good feeling you get when you really earn it. The old saying was true -- what you don't pay for honestly, you don't get good value for."

One thing I took away from that passage was an appreciation of how some people value things, or don't value them. Many of us have seen how little things mean to people for whom things come too easily. There's often a sense of entitlement rather than a pride of ownership; and feeling that anything is easily replaced. This may be so if it comes easily. It is less so if one has to or chooses to work hard and long for it.

I have one or two more of these short observations from the book. I hope to get them posted this week. In the interim, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated.

Posted by TSchilling at 3:55 PM Comments (0)

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