April 13, 2012

Letter: “Money Matters” makes an incorrect assumption

I agree with much of what Anastasia Golovashkina wrote in “Money Matters.” Economic ignorance is indefensible. In fact, for anyone who would really like to see changes in our society, concrete economic knowledge is a precondition for being able to imagine and articulate those changes. Lord knows I could brush up on my economics (what exactly is uncertainty, anyway?). I’m not sure, though, if that sort of ignorance is the biggest problem around here.

This article begins with anecdotes and an assumption. Too many students believe that “money doesn’t matter”; they need to reexamine that view. There are definitely students who would share that belief, oftentimes out of ignorance or unexamined privilege. But is it especially characteristic of our generation?

According to a 2007 Pew poll, 81 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds claimed that getting rich was either the most or the second most significant aim in their lives. Meanwhile, data collected by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program reveal that modern college students have radically reevaluated their goals. In 1966, over 80 percent of freshmen claimed that to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life” was either “essential” or “very important” to their education, while less than 45 percent thought that “to be well off financially” was similarly significant. By the late ’90s, the two had switched. Roughly 74 percent of students now believed that making bank was essential or very important, while only 42 percent were comparably enthusiastic about the “life of the mind.” In the 2011 CIRP survey, “to be able to get a better job” was the most popular reason for attending college. On our own campus, economics is a perennially popular major, chosen by roughly a quarter of each graduating class. These changes are presumably complex, but it does seem clear that plenty of people our age are itchin’ 4 da papes.

I don’t want to dismiss “Money Matters”—again, I genuinely agree with most of what it states. Unlike the author, though, I worry less about true economic naïveté and more about the sort of unswerving economic rationality that this school takes pains to nurture. I worry about that contingent of very smart, very motivated economic sophisticates for whom poverty is less an imponderable than the mildly puzzling consequence of personal failure.

Ignorance can be corrected through instruction. That may well be the mission of college, at least if you enter it for the life of the mind. For us, though, genuine ignorance is less problematic than the intellectually self-consistent curtailment of empathy.

Nathan Worcester is a third-year in the College majoring in ISHum.