National FORUM of Applied Education Research Journal (AERJ) 22 (3) 2009 Economics and the Six Realms of Meaning Nasrin Nazemzadeh PhD Student in Educational Leadership The Whitlowe R. Green College of Education Prairie View A&M University Prairie View, Texas Professor Tomball College William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Professor and Faculty Mentor PhD Program in Educational Leadership The Whitlowe R. Green College of Education Prairie View A&M University Member of the Texas A&M University System Visiting Lecturer (2005) Oxford Round Table University of Oxford, Oxford, England Distinguished Alumnus (2004) College of Education and Professional Studies Central Washington University ______________________________________________________ ABSTRACT A comprehensive philosophy of education should encompass the six realms of meaning. The permanency and durability of acquired knowledge depends to a large extent on how that knowledge was acquired in relation to the six fundamental patterns of meaning. This brief essay relates the acquisition of knowledge in the discipline of economics to the realms of meaning. ________________________________________________________________________ Introduction All humans endeavor to find meaning in life. One way to find meaning in life is through knowledge. The richness of our existence, even our ability to survive adversity, relates to our finding meaning in life. Viktor Frankl (2001) in Man’s Search for Meaning relates how he, and others, survived abysmal conditions in Nazi concentration camps only because life had a special meaning that allowed them to transcend and endure the wretched conditions of forced labor camps. Others lacking the same purpose lost the will to live and perished. Frankl founded an alternative school of thought in psychology (logotherapy) that challenges the Freudian paradigm. Purpose of the Article The purpose of this article is to relate the six realms of meaning (Kritsonis, 2007) to economics. Recently, Professor William Kritsonis challenged me to consider how the six realms of meaning relate to the practice of teaching and learning economics. Initially, I was uncomfortable with the idea; the distance between economics and philosophy seemed unbridgeable. Yet, as I contemplated the assignment, the possibilities fell into sharper focus, and frustration gave way to anticipation. I will try to answer the following question: How does an understanding of economics enhance the six realms of meaning? Symbolics: Skilled in the Use of Speech, Symbol and Gesture For the most part, economists use ordinary English language words such as demand, supply, cost, etc. However, these words acquire specific meanings in economics, as a result a person who lacks training in economics will be unable to understand economics and will be limited in his ability to communicate with others. Empirics: Being Factually Well-Informed One benefit of learning economics is that we become factually better informed about economic forces that shape our lives; therefore, we are able to make better decisions. Consider that the suicide rate rose sharply during the Great Depression. Lacking an understanding of the powerful economic forces at work, many men blamed themselves for their inability to provide for their families. Some committed suicide; others abandoned their families and became hobos. A more recent example concerns the stock market crash of 2000-01. Many, who had invested their retirement funds conservatively for many years, shifted all of their funds to the NASDAQ as the bull market was beginning to run out of steam. They did not bother to consider that stock prices could not continue to increase irrespective of the behavior of earnings per share. The error proved costly, as countless lost 70% of their wealth. Lacking an understanding of economics, unfortunately many people are better able to program their VCR’s than to manage their retirement accounts. Finally, consider the students instead of studying dissipate their talents; the train of life is not going to wait for them. They are throwing away the opportunities that the present brings, are falling behind others, and eventually may have to take the back seat in the metaphorical train of life. Esthetics: Capable of Creating and Appreciating Objects of Esthetic Significance Esthetic significance is not limited to the arts (poetry, music, sculpture, and other forms of visual arts). Consider the mathematician who parsimoniously solves a mathematical problem that has flummoxed previous generations. Other mathematicians will find the elegant proof endowed with aesthetic beauty. Economics journals publish thousands of papers each year, some possess esthetic beauty that people lacking training in economics cannot appreciate. Likewise, the person who is trained in economics will be able to grasp the significance and appreciate the beauty of literary and historical works in which powerful economic forces sweep humans like flotsam drifting in the current. For example, the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, and World War II have explanations in terms of economics, yet people who lack an understanding of economics view these events much the same way that a half-blind person does. Synnoetics: Endowed with a Rich and Disciplined Life in Relation to Self and Others An understanding of how the economy works, of our role in economic activity, and of how economic policies affect us, allows us to have a fuller, richer life. To the extent that we understand the world in which we function, life becomes less of a lottery, less of a game of chance, and less determined by a deity be it Lady Fortuna, Jesus, Moses, or Allah. We accept responsibility for our actions and live a richer and more disciplined life. People tend to vote according to their pocketbooks. Motivated by self-interest, they vote for those candidates whose policies will most likely improve their standard of living. But, what about the millions of people who lack even the most basic understanding of economics? Whom will they elect? Clearly, the possibility arises that they will vote in a way inconsistent with their perceived self-interest. This is not a problem in dictatorships, but it is a major problem in democracies. An educated citizenry that is capable of rational decision-making with respect to candidates’ proposed policies can make the difference between good and terrible governance. Consider the following example. Candidate “X” says that in order to protect domestic jobs from unfair foreign competition, if elected, he will impose a 30% tariff on imported steel. This resonates with American workers most of whom have no understanding that they are more likely to lose their jobs if such a tariff is implemented, than if not. Accordingly, candidate “X” is elected, and he keeps his campaign promise. Now imported steel is 30% more expensive, and domestic steel producers are able to increase their prices as well. Americans now are paying more for all products that utilize steel as an input. Moreover, American manufacturers of goods that require steel inputs are now at a competitive disadvantage relative to foreign producers of similar goods who are able to buy steel at world market prices. Therefore, U.S. exports of those goods to the rest of the world will decrease due to the reduction in U.S. manufacturers’ competitiveness. As, a results, hundreds of thousands of American workers will lose their jobs. But, this is only the beginning. U.S. manufacturers of goods that require steel inputs, such as washers and dryers and a plethora of other durable goods, will relocate their plants abroad where they may buy steel at world market prices in order to more effectively compete with foreign producers. As these manufacturers leave the U.S., perhaps millions of U.S. workers will lose their jobs. If all of this sounds far-fetched, please remember that George W. Bush did levy a 30% tariff on imported steel shortly after being elected for the first time. Ethics: Able to Make Wise Decisions and to Judge Between Right and Wrong Economics is both a positive and normative social science. Positive, because it arrives at judgments of the nature of what is. Normative, because the well-informed person is better able of making judgments of the nature of what ought to be. These judgments are based on reason and knowledge instead of superstition. Being able to formulate well-reasoned analyses of the consequences of certain economic policies or actions, the economist is able to weigh on the ethical scale, the pros and cons of those policies. Synoptics: Possessed of an Integral Outlook Some cultures provide a great deal of economic freedom, in effect allowing people the freedom to pursue their dreams. Others, lacking a synoptic outlook, restrict economic freedom in myriad ways, i.e., imposing barriers to trade that prevent people from transacting voluntarily inside and outside a nation’s borders; violating property rights, i.e., the arbitrary seizure of property; wage and price controls; imposing restrictions on financial activities; high tax rates; regulatory burdens on business; and corruption in the judiciary, customs service, and government. Economists know that it is difficult to find a more effective way to sabotage economic progress than to limit peoples’ ability to use their talents and skills to pursue their dreams, invent, innovate, think and act freely, dissent, inquire, and decide how much to spend and in what form, and how much to save and in what form. Unfortunately, we pay income taxes so that our government may provide foreign aid to countries that sabotage their own economic progress, because enslaved by superstition they lack a synoptic view. Concluding Remarks In American universities, all students are required to take certain subjects irrespective of majors, i.e., American history, and English. However, only business students are required to take economics. Consequently, the most Americans have a poor understanding of how the economy works, how financial markets work, and consequently may make decisions regarding their own welfare without having a sound understanding of how their own actions affect their economic well-being. References Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Beacon Press. Kritsonis, W. A. (2007). Ways of knowing through the realms of meaning: A philosophy for selecting the curriculum for general education. Houston, TX: National Forum Journals.