Surely it is not a coincidence that recently I have listened to various interpretations of effects of economic growth in various areas in life. On the young adults fellowship last Saturday, the speaker warned us against overt and blind trust on economic growth, as he showed how economic growth was correlated with moral decline in the US (the father of all fallacies in social sciences: correlation implies causation). I also watched a documentary on climate change and the film hinted that the current economic system (post-Industrial Revolution) is unsustainable and might be the cause of global warming. Finally, the birth rate in Singapore reached yet another record low, as now it stands as 1.16 (to put it into perspective, a sustainable population must have at least a birth rate of 2.1), and it was immediately linked with the high and ever-increasing living cost in Singapore. Who wants to have a child if it costs so much? Indeed, as Bill Clinton put it, its the economy, stupid!
Regardless of whether these interpretations are true or not (I’m still unconvinced about the first interpretation but am less so about the other two), I think these stories illustrate the power of a controlling narrative in our life. We do look at things in our life through lenses. And that of all these lenses, one will stand out and become the dominant lens. Sometimes, we will us another lens in making a decision, but for most of the time we will use this dominant lens. For example, the third story about the birth rate. If economy becomes the dominant lens for looking at things, we will discuss the merits and demerits of having a child in economic terms. Hence the question of whether we will have enough money to raise the child. Of course, this is a legit question. But note how this originally legit question is answered in a dominantly economic term as well. We will calculate its benefit and cost, and we will estimate whether the opportunity cost of having a child is worthy enough for one. Will this kid be a good investment? Will we make a good return out of it (I’m deliberately over-emphasizing to prove the point)? Then we would compare with other options that we could do with the amount of money that we have, and perhaps in the end having a child is deemed more risky, less beneficial, and more costly. We could enjoy our lives together better without the hassle of having a child; why do we bother to have one or two? It does not mean, of course, that those who decide to have a child are necessarily better than those who don’t. If those who do so decide it on economic terms, it only means that they are more willing to take the risk than those who don’t. And willingness to take the risk can be good or bad. To shy away from unnecessary risks can be a display of prudence at times, indeed.
Thus, I hope it’s clear enough that what’s important is not what our decision is, but what our dominant lens(es) is (are). What kind of lenses that we use to come up with the decision? And how do these lenses interplay with each other?
(By the way, I would argue that economy is not and must not be the dominant lens in our life, although certainly economic considerations will come into place here and there. It’s not the economy, stupid.)