Practically everything we need and do is in some way connected to the economy. We buy goods and services provided by others, and we earn the money to pay for them by serving others in turn. All economic activity is the result of human decisions and actions, and all that activity should surely serve a purpose – it should benefit us all.
The dominant factor in today’s economy, and the foundation of our material wealth, is of course technology. Many of the things we take for granted today, things we wouldn’t want to do without, only exist as the result of scientific progress and the technology it spawned. By any economic measure we’ve never had it so good. But economic indices don’t tell the whole story.
Statistics like the Gross Domestic Product simply measure economic activity, whether that activity is beneficial or not. A high level of economic activity does not automatically indicate a high living standard. The GDP cares nothing about our very skewed wealth distribution, or about the quality of the goods and services offered. It doesn’t take into account pollution or the depletion of our natural resources. It doesn’t care if our current level of consumption is even sustainable.
The technology that has given us our modern conveniences has also led to the creation of huge corporations. The people in control of those corporations are enormously wealthy and powerful, and that power buys political influence. These are the new “elite”, and like the “elites” of old they are in it for themselves, damn the rest of society.
Politics and economics cannot be separated. Whatever we may think of politicians, only governments can rein in large corporations. It is up to us in turn to choose our elected representatives wisely and to hold them accountable. If we want to live in a functioning democratic society we need to be informed and engaged voters, and that includes thinking about economic matters. The mythical “free market” isn’t going optimize the common good – it got us to where we are today.