Tag Archives: economics

The Economics of Friendship II


“We have to go now,” our host, Professor Alexander, calls up the broad, Victorian staircase of his home. I am hastily collecting the last of our belongings from the guestroom to finish packing our car.

The Alexanders, myself, my husband and infant child are all leaving to meet the Alexanders’ adult son and daughter-in-law for a quick breakfast. The Alexanders’ son and his wife are new hires at a local secondary school, after having spent eight years studying and working toward their undergraduate degrees. They need to be to work on time.

With the car fully repacked from our overnight stay, we pull out of our hosts’ driveway to follow their vehicle to the pancake house two miles from their home. We are planning to depart New York state from the restaurant to spend another eight-hour day driving cross-country.

Upon entering the restaurant, apologies are made for our tardiness at the same time that hasty introductions go around.  A small amount of light banter starts the conversational ball moving about the large table. From this, we learn that the Alexanders’ son and daughter-in-law have recently returned from a three-day weekend in Montreal, having travelled to Canada to spend time with three other couples—old college friends from their early undergraduate-school days. Most of the members from among the other couples went on to complete some type of professional schooling, becoming doctors or lawyers.

Before the conversation can continue, Professor Alexander breaks in abruptly, “You can’t keep spending money like this. You are on a very different budget than these people. Three days in a hotel, a professional sporting event and how many dinners out? You can’t afford these weekends with your old friends. May I remind you that you are public-school teachers with a significant amount of student-loan debt to repay?”

The table grows momentarily quiet, then Mrs. Alexander picks up the conversational ball with a more conventional breakfast topic. I retreat into the realm of my own thoughts to consider Professor Alexander’s paternal plea for fiscal prudence. It is one of those instances where an entire group of relevant questions surfaces at once.  I understand Professor Alexander’s genuine economic concerns for his son and daughter-in-law.

Professor Alexander is right, where budgeting is concerned. Yet, his impassioned plea for fiscal prudence has ripped a hole in my heart.

What happened to enjoying each other’s company over a shared, potluck dinner at a person’s home? Must we relinquish cherished friendships when we can no longer afford the same recreational adventures?

Hanging back from the general conversation, I recall my grandmother’s stories about how she and my grandfather made things work while going through the Depression as a young couple–by taking turns with other young couples on the issue of hosting dinners and taking turns with covering fuel or travel expenses.  What these stories from my grandmother taught me is that where the heart is concerned, there are always solutions.

An Economy of Trust I

Driving across a new four-lane bridge, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude for the solid safety and engineering of the structure.  Forty feet below and off to the side, I see the old retired bridge, a narrow, two-lane affair, which has stood for about fifty years.  The new bridge is one of many structures being upgraded and expanded on this stretch of highway.  The entire road is being upgraded through a general widening, heightening, as well as the systematic replacement of older bridges which are being improved as a public safety measure in order to better handle additional traffic and potential flood waters.


Generally, when driving across new bridges, I do not experience purple mountains of gratitude or amber waves of awe.  These emotions are conjured because of my experiences of living in foreign cultures with alternate economies.  Academics and theorists might have us believe that economies are cold-blooded constructs devised for the discussion of resource acquisition, distribution, manufacture and the consumption of goods.  Yet, economies are created, shaped, upheld, corrupted or sustained by people and their behaviors.  Economies are in fact warm-blooded.

In countries where there are dual systems of economic distribution—both the official and the black markets, the black market often pulls its resources or goods from the official system.  There was a running joke in one of the countries, where I was a student that addressed this very issue:  Do you know why there are no stray animals around a sausage factory?  They have to get the meat from somewhere.

The “official cuts of meat” slated to make it from farm to factory to table were frequently commandeered through petty theft by workers along the official chain of production, transportation and manufacture.  Thus, the “sausage” making its way to the official supermarkets apparently had substantial portions of unofficial fillers—stray animals, paper and who-knows-what.  One close friend, living in this economy full-time and preferring to purchase imported sausage when it was available, noted that even her dog would not eat the domestic sausage from the grocery store.

Issues of petty theft and corruption, inherent in economies where the black market is strong, do not stop with sausage production.  Where there is an active, dual-system economy in operation, construction sites also might see a few bags of cement disappear or several lengths of steel go missing.  These materials then show up in personal building projects or on the black market to be traded or sold for other goods or services that the average person might not otherwise be able to access (e.g. tickets to a cultural or sporting event).  And, the bridge or high-rise building being constructed goes without the structural benefit of these materials.  The appearance of the bridge or high-rise might match the proposed completed structure on a set of blueprints, but the reality is that these projects are not necessarily complete or structurally sound.

To be continued.