Facing economic reality, ignorance is bliss

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April 18, 2008

3:59 AM

While the so-called “real world” beckons ever nearer, I’ve been keeping my ear to the pavement as of late, trying to hear the goings-on beyond our campus walls. I read some newspapers and the occasional blog; I subscribe to a periodical or two.

And friends, I’ve got some sad news: Our economy, she’s not looking so hot.

As any major media outlet can tell you, the old dollar bill isn’t going as far as it once did. We’re spending less, even at — brace yourselves — Starbucks, which reported negative traffic last year compared to the year before.

Google the word “recession” and you’ll get a series of alarming reports from CNN and the like. Whether this recession is de facto or de jure hardly seems to matter. Bad things are happening.
A leisurely stroll around the Sunken Garden, however, tells another story. Students are carefree, wallets hanging open, dollar bills fluttering wantonly in the breeze. Tell these kids about the bailout of Bear Stearns and they wonder what he did to land in jail and how he got such a cool nickname.

There are only a few nervous econ majors and seniors who, like myself, decided to peer into the financial abyss and got more (or less) than they bargained for.
Our economy is in a recession or damn close to one, and students don’t care.

This campus sometimes smacks pleasantly of some socialist utopian community. The College is a self-contained world. All necessities are within walking distance. If we try, whole weeks can pass unburdened by commercial transactions, free of buying and selling.

The line between bucolic bastion and ivory tower runs thin indeed. If the majority of students believe that immunity from economic realities render them irrelevant, then we’ve become too detached from the world at large.

Can that trend reverse?

Max Fisher had similar concerns in Tuesday’s Flat Hat, and I think the outlook is grim. Here’s another reality: Most of the College does not read my column. Most College alumni do not read my column. Whether I write tirades or encomiums, I’m preaching to the choir.

Bearing that in mind, let’s ruminate for a minute. If you’re reading this, odds are you care.

You care about the implications of a declining economy, not just personally but nationally and globally. You want to ensure that controversial speakers and ideas are always welcome on this campus. You care about politics, and have probably picked your horse in the ’08 presidential race. You likely read the news somewhat regularly and do your best to stay informed. Well, in all sincerity, good for you. Pat yourself on the back. Really, go ahead.

The fact is, your willingness to keep up with news puts you at a far remove from the College’s mainstream. You’re not a better person than someone who chooses to remain, shall we say, ignorant of current affairs. A more accurate statement might be that you believe in the agency of individuals and groups.

It’s impossible to say whether such a belief is valid. The insularity of this campus is a luxury that many embrace, and they won’t soon be cajoled out of hiding. Why should they?

Sifting through the plots of information is exhausting; I don’t know who to trust for news, particularly when it comes to controversial issues like the recession, of which I have no firsthand knowledge.
On many days, I have neither the time nor the energy to comb through three newspapers in their entirety. Even if I do read the news daily, my knowledge in many areas is embarrassingly scant.

The “real world,” in short, is even more an entropic mess than anticipated. No number of credit hours or op-ed pieces can prepare us for it.

This doesn’t give us an excuse to stop trying, though. Supposedly, we’re attending this institution to do some form of good.
If some of the nation’s brightest and best opt to remain ignorant of our economy’s backslide, I see little chance of fixing it.

“Put down this paper,” advised Max Fisher at the end of his column, “and go tell someone you love them.” Sound advice, to be sure. Nevertheless, once you’re finished, pick up a different paper and start reading it. There’s some crazy shit going on out there, and it’s coming your way.

Dan Piepenbring is a senior at the College.

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