2 Recent Conversations in America, Part 2

Today is part 2 of the “Recent Conversation” posts (click here if you missed the first one).  The setting is the same as the previous post, just about 15 minutes after the initial conversation ended. This second conversation happened as a guy that I have spoken to before walked into the clubhouse with his dog (never on a leash by the way).  We had previously talked about him taking psychology classes and me taking some economics classes and what it is like taking classes again as we get older.  This time, however, he started speaking as I was working, and I knew it would be one of those days.

So, the first thing he asked me was, “who is your favorite economist?”  That question took me a little off guard as it was definitely the first time anyone had asked me that question.  The truth is, I only know like 7 economists and none of them came directly to mind as my favorite.  I told him that I am not sure that I or anyone else in the world (unless you are married to an economist) actually has a favorite economist.  Based on our conversation to this point I knew a few things…I knew that this conversation would not be a short one, I knew that I probably was not going to get anymore work done, and I knew that I needed to try and find a new place to work (not really, but this day it really seemed like it).  

Our conversation, as you probably already knew, centered around economics, specifically economics in 3rd world countries, and even more specifically economics in Haiti.  He was very complimentary of our work and of the idea that we wanted to get involved in job creation.  One of the things that I have figured out that I don’t really like about the class I am taking, “The Challenges of Global Poverty,” is that it seems like it is a bunch of academics who sit in their offices trying to come up with policy decisions for countries that they have only briefly visited.  I know that academics have their place in the discussion of poverty alleviation and that economists have come up with wonderful solutions to poverty that have helped millions if not billions of people.  But I keep hearing the poor referred to as “those people” and there is something that just irritates about that statement.  I say all of that to say we used the phrase “those people” probably 25 times in our conversation.  I’m not sure why it bothers me so much, maybe because the names and faces of so many people race through my mind and it feels wrong to call them a collective name, but whatever the reason, that part of the conversation just got to me.

The truth is, he was trying to really understand some of my thoughts on 3rd world economics and asked many questions, and it was an interesting conversation.  He was one of the few people who immediately agreed with me on this statement, “Job creation and economic development are the most important things we could do for Haiti.”  When I make that statement, it means that I believe these things are more important than education, healthcare, or housing in developing countries and many people do not feel this way.  It is such an emotional topic, and it is so easy to say that education is THE most important thing you can do for a person, or providing shelter is THE best thing you could do for a community.  Here is what I believe:  In a chicken/egg scenario, assuming the chicken came first, I believe that job creation is the chicken and education, housing, and healthcare are all eggs.  In this conversation, for one of the first times I can remember, someone agreed with me.

Anyway, the bottom line is that you just never know what a “work” day will turn into.  Especially when you do your work in an apartment clubhouse where you know many of the people who come in an out.  They were both interesting conversations and they both made me think about 2 very different topics.  The truth is, at the time, I was kind of annoyed that my work was interrupted.  But, in reality, both of these conversations helped to keep me sharp on a couple of topics that are pretty important and in the end I am glad they happened.

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