November 04, 2011

Economics for Everyone

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
Can you make Yorkshire pudding?  

No? I can’t either. My mom can. In fact, my mom can make Yorkshire pudding and police 8 kids in the midst of making dinner for twenty or thirty people. Really, she can. My mom is amazing. (She also reads this column without fail. Thanks, Mom.)

My mother often made Yorkshire pudding when we had a big roast for a special occasion. By roast, I mean a big chunk of beef, not a ribbing from colleagues. But, when you have seven siblings, every family dinner is a roast of that type as well. That’s why Moynihans can take a joke over a meal so well. (That’s a shout-out to my brother who is doing a great job not listening to the Sirens as he steers Bank of America between a rock and a hard place.)

The ingredients for Yorkshire pudding are not complicated. In fact, they are absolutely elementary: eggs, flour, milk, oil, and salt. The complicated part of the recipe is making it set-up properly in a wavy, delicious fluff. This is especially difficult with a gaggle of hooligans running about. One knock to the stove and poof! That’s it for the pudding.

It also takes a steady hand and a delicate touch to take a large pan of just-baked Yorkshire pudding out of the oven and set it on the table without it going plop! When my mom was ready to take the golden, sculpted bread out of the oven, she would clear the kitchen with one stern warning. She was a master of domestic management.

With all the financial chaos in world, why am I thinking about this nostalgic topic? Simple: it occurred to me that the management of the national economy is much like making Yorkshire pudding. Watching my mom make it over the years taught me that sometimes the complexity is not in the ingredients; it is in the handling.  

I came to this realization after reading a wonderful new book by Sylvia Nasar called “Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius.” In this delightful walk through history, the well-known author of “A Beautiful Mind” brilliantly and entertainingly covers the development of modern Economics from Malthus to Amartya Sen. For added reading pleasure, she salted the text with wonderful references to Dickens and Eliot. It is an inspiring read and I highly recommend it.  

Nasar does not mention Yorkshire pudding in her book—at least not directly. But, my takeaway from her excellent recount of the various economic “chefs” who have been given charge of the leading national economies over the last 150 years is that economists are always working with the same ingredients: capital, labor, technology and natural resources. Therefore, much like making Yorkshire pudding, the variant in the success of economic planning is not in the ingredients. It is how well the mixture is handled.

Successful handling of the modern economy requires both touch and leadership. It takes a delicate hand to properly manage the money supply, the national debt, interest rates, regulation, trade agreements, and taxation in order to achieve a stable economy with a balance of public welfare [services] and productivity. It also takes steady and stern domestic leadership.

The fact that our economy keeps going poof would suggest we are not getting the handling right. At times, our national leadership even seems to confuse handling the economy with being the economy. This not only concerns me; it leads me to believe that my mom may have better dexterity and domestic leadership skills than President Obama. Then again, my mom only had 8 children to police, not 535.
Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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