The structure of something, be it a system or a social interaction, requires a lifeblood to keep it going. In those distant school days, the little me kept himself chained to the “humanities” and sheltered himself from subjects related to business or economics. The same principle applied to my first two years at university. It was only when I took up an elective module out of convenience that I became fascinated with one of the oldest of lifebloods - money.
I played it safe and went with one of the courses taught in English for the first semester of the Erasmus year; Economic History. This was a basic first-year course packed with Spanish teenagers who, in Ireland, would have been some months away from sitting their Leaving Cert. I had resigned myself to the idea that it would be rather boring, but by the end of the first lecture terms like “speculation”, “incentive” and “loss” took on a mystic significance in my wired mind.
I couldn’t help but feel that there was an invisible thread tying the world together, continent to continent, in the form of trade, value and currency. It was like I could see a liquid flowing through the veins of a monetary beast, keeping it from dying. I’m no economist, but I certainly became engrossed in the metaphorical side of economics. I juggled basic terms mentioned throughout that basic course to make sense of the traumatic and the fantastic.
How can a family be shaken by a catastrophe so violent that it takes months to recover? How can there be such fear, such sadness, without there also being a Devil behind the curtain? How can normality collapse into chaos with such unnerving promptness? Let’s speculate on that for a while.
How do you react when the destitute speculate about why they’re unhappy? If you’re decent, you sympathise with them. But you also stifle a laugh when they start investing like mad in half-baked endeavours and self-loathing. For the real economists out there, you’ll have a whale of a time analysing why this can keep going on for years- and why the crumbling shanty town still hasn’t grown into a suburb.
How does a system relying on mass appeal keep breathing when all things point towards its implosion? Immature as ever, I’d draw a comparison to natural resources - the multinationals know there’s plenty of frustration within us, so they excavate us a thousand times over while the song plays on. Picture a scene where a hiker chances upon a piece of diamond on some mountain trail. His legs give way and he slumps to the ground, because he saw one just like that being drilled by Waterford Crystal.
So much to speculate on, so little space. If you’ve experienced a devastating shock recently, I would not say that economics is the remedy for your ailment. I would, however, say that it opens your eyes to the comparisons that can be drawn between finance and family, culture and emotion.
I’m no mathematician either. I can’t even begin to calculate how many words would be needed to elaborate on the points raised in this column. I may have to speculate on that for a while, but for the most part I’ll be preparing the product. That’s if it even turns out to be one, given my youthful inexperience in wordplay, profit and pandering. Vamos a ver, as the students in that Economic History class would say. They’re a clever bunch, and it’s amazing what you can learn from a module selected out of linguistic poverty.