For the best part of three years now I have anonymously written my ponderings on the economic conundrums we face on a day to day basis. However, as all of this comes to an end, I have begun to wonder about destiny. It is sad to finish this column, but I was always destined to do so. But as ever, I must ask the question: what can economics tell us about destiny?
In development, the idea of structural poverty has been popular since 1950s. The gist is that if you are born into extreme poverty it is unlikely you will ever leave it. It is, for want of a better word, an entrenched poverty you are bound to live through. Exploitation from the North is evident as companies dodge in their responsibilities to pay their employees a progressive wage or avoid taxes, stripping the state of the opportunity to invest in vital public services. If economics assesses facts and patterns, it would not be an exaggeration to say your average Burkinabé will live and die in poverty.
But economics is not only prognostic. If economic destiny does exist, it is also something that can be manipulated to produce more pleasing results. Since the year 2000, the aforementioned inevitability of poverty has been curtailed through a series of revolutionary poverty reduction schemes. The number of people living under $1.25 has more than halved to that of 1990 levels, whilst the percentage of those living in ‘inhospitable’ slums has plummeted by 40%. Critics claim that the Millennium Development Goals have not gone far enough, yet it has demonstrated that the inevitability of poverty is a myth.
Statistics can also help us calculate the chances of finding the ‘one’; the most passionate form of destiny. Mathematician Joe Hanson tries to answer the ultimate question; in a world of seven billion humans, is it really reasonable to expect to find your soul mate? Hanson adopts Fermi and Drake’s paradox, a sum originally used to assess whether we are alone in this universe. By making the assumption that a sum used to find company in an expansive universe can similarly be used to find the very same here on Earth, he gets a little bit closer to solving the idea of destiny in love.
Hanson explores our ‘target population’, desired gender, the ratio of single people and the average rate of mutual attraction. In doing so, he narrows down roughly how many people you are compatible with. Then you substitute in the ‘x’ factors; humour, beliefs, interests etc. The more ‘x’ factors you have, the fewer ‘ones’ you have.
I never believed in destiny, but I have always believed in facts. And the facts add up to this: we do have a destiny, one which we blindly follow down whichever path it takes us. But it is a destiny which is malleable. One which if we actively attempt to alter can change us for the better or for worse.
Economics is ultimately all about destiny. We can leave things as they are or step in to fix. Whether we like it or not, society is dictated by economics and we can chose to let it help us or break us. I hope that over the past three years through my mumblings of supply and demand, consumption and productivity, I have helped to prove this. Good luck with your destiny.
Signed, the Economist.