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Why we should all learn the basic language of politics, finance and economics

August 8, 2016

Social media commentary and main stream media coverage of the election just past highlighted a  concerning reality that many Aussies haven’t the foggiest understanding of economics, politics or every day financial matters.

If voters don’t understand the likely long term impact of things such as Australia’s ever increasing national debt and how it relates to them on a personal level, can they really make an informed choice on economic policy or on which political representatives offer the best plan to keep our country moving in the right direction?

The economy (both global and domestic), finance and the approach our political leaders take to manage them, impacts every one of us, at every level of society, every day. These are not just topics reserved for rich people to discuss in the first class airport lounge. They influence our capacity to gain employment, the type of work we can do, they determine whether we can afford to marry, start a family, how many children we can afford to have. They influence our ability to make a profit in business, employ staff, buy a house, where we can live, how much we can save for retirement, whether we can travel, afford to play sport, pay for healthcare and education, the amount we pay for cars, groceries and clothes. Ignorance is not bliss. This stuff IS real and relevant.

Is the every day Joe or Jane Blog really to blame for this lack of understanding? NO. Are Joe and Jane Blog responsible for choosing to remain in the dark? YES.

There was a time where the school curriculum in most Australian states included education on matters like money, economics and politics along with reading and writing, mathematics, science, health, sport, languages, art, history and music. School banking was a real thing. Aussie kids were encouraged to save and be responsible with money. It was also common place for Australian politics and economics to be taught in the early high school years so that all young people obtained a basic knowledge. They were pretty dry topics but having some knowledge was considered essential. These days for the most part they are elective subjects so only those really interested are exposed to them.

Now certainly there is a huge range of opinions as to why our education system dropped many of these curriculum areas off the list and they’ve surely been debated long before today but the point is that a serious level of ignorance has been created in our population. It doesn’t look good on our national report card.

Where are people to find this information now? If a kid isn’t raised in a financially, economically or politically literate household and the education system fails to introduce them to such topics, how can they possibly ever gain the knowledge they need to fully participate in society and as an adult leverage the benefits of living in such a great country? How can people who lack knowledge be discerning consumers of information? How are they equipped to assess the integrity, accuracy and value of bite sized messages and sound grabs rapidly fired at them through a media that can no longer be relied upon for a fully assessed, unbiased perspective? And how do they determine the truthfulness of statements made by the Trumps of this world?

Education can only bridge the divide between rich and poor and help to raise the standard of living for all if it ensures an understanding of politics, finance and economics. The trouble is that most of us feel intimidated by the language and jargon used by economists, financiers and politicians. And that makes sense because they are not writing for us and their intention is not to make the topics accessible. In some cases writers adopt a deliberate strategy to make things seem more complicated so we, the every day Joe or Jane Blog, don’t get involved and challenge policies and ideas. Asking questions and respectfully challenging authority is good for democracy.

Want to know more? Here’s a few plain language but informative resources that could serve as a starting point. Rowe Partners can’t vouch for the accuracy of what’s written or mentioned in them. Readers have to rely on their own assessment for that but they are certainly worth a look.

  • This Australian Politics for Dummies Cheat Sheet is a great little introduction for adults and kids alike.
  • The economics book – Big Ideas Simply Explained is fantastic. There’s a lot of information contained in the book but it’s got easy to understand language, diagrams and timelines. It’s the sort of book that can be kept as a reference and looked up from time to time rather than a full read lying in a hammock on a Sunday afternoon.  This online slide version is pretty handy
  • Check out this animated video by Ray Dalio of global investment company Bridgewater Associates that explains economic principles really clearly. It takes about 20 minutes though and takes a bit more concentration so make sure you grab a cuppa before sitting down to view it. Economic Principles – How the economic machine works.

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