Our Mission Statement
Our goal is to promote a national conversation about the question – “WHAT’S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY?” – that allows us to see how the United States compares with other countries when it comes to trends in quality of life, social justice, and sustainability.
Students of history know that social inequality in the United States was a serious problem by the end of the Gilded Age in the late 1800s. A combination of social and economic reforms throughout much of the 20 th Century brought about significant labor protections, consumer protections, higher incomes, and raised health measures – all while the United States became an economic powerhouse.
Since the mid-1970s, however, Americans have been working steadily longer hours, getting less sleep, taking fewer vacations (or none at all), becoming more solitary with less time for friends and family, and dropping in comparative health rankings with other countries. The gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has grown significantly. Americans are also reporting less general contentment and more anxiety overall.
Yet, in spite of these quality of life setbacks, our media and our politicians typically measure our economy’s ups and downs with a small set of other economic indicators – housing starts, durable goods sales, GDP, the Dow Jones Average, Treasury Bill rates, etc. Indeed, our Gross Domestic Product is the highest in the world, long term stock investments have produced bonanzas for a great number, and the average square footage of American houses has enlarged dramatically over the last several decades. By these measures, we seem to have much to celebrate.
It seems appropriate to promote learning and discussion about whether we are really using the right measures to gauge the success of our economy. Why are other nations surpassing the United States, often dramatically, in a great many measures that define quality of life, health, and contentment? What are they doing differently? What might we change? These are some of the questions we want to put front and center.
Put another way, the WHAT’S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY? project examines the ideology and consequences of attitudes and policies underlying what some have advocated as the “ownership society.” We offer a set of balancing perspectives aimed at understanding how and whether, our economic and political system can create the “greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time,” as proposed a century ago by Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the National Forest Service.
This broad look at competing views of how economies best serve society is offered to stimulate informed communication in classrooms, study abroad programs, and in communities across America.
We are motivated by a simple but important question that tends to be overlooked in public policy and academic circles alike:
What's the economy for, anyway?
Is it about having the biggest GDP or the highest stock market average?
Is it about producing a healthy, happy, fair and sustainable society?
Or is it about something else all together?