Which came first the economy or society?

I listen to Freakonomics Radio Podcast most weeks. It covers interesting topics around the economy in interesting ways. The host Stephen Dubner chats to really smart people who’s ideas and thinking is backed up with quality research. I’m a fan.

This month I wasn’t a fan. I was listen to an episode 447 on ‘How much we care about our children’ exploring the thought that as a society the policies we create for our children don’t really help them, because they can’t vote and they don’t lobby, so government largely ignores them or creates nice looking policies for image an not for outcomes.

What caused me to get cross was a statistic that mentioned the birth rate was dropping in the US, quite significantly (for a number of reasons that you can hear if you listen to the episode).

It wasn’t the statistic that frustrated me, but the way this was seen as an absolute disaster for the economic future. Apparently, we need a high birth rate to keep our system running, and that idea really pushed my buttons.

It seems that we are building a society to serve the economy. We have decided what sort of economy we want and are now structuring society to serve, grow and maintain the capitalist economy.

Isn’t our thinking the wrong way round? Shouldn’t we be deciding the sort of society we want to be and then designing and creating the sort of economy we need to support that economy.

The economy should serve society not society the economy. It seems we have built a system and we are all now slaves to capitalism, never to escape the hamster wheel of perpetual growth.

Perhaps we should take this opportunity of falling birth rate to look at new ways to structure our economy for a future. Perhaps an economy where every person has a minimum standard of living by right and universal healthcare and clean water.

If the current economic system is not set up to cope with reduced birth rates, then let’s look for a way to change it for the better.