What do we tell the youth of today, anyway?

I picked this up on my twitter feed this morning.

If you were giving a talk to 16 yr olds about economy, would you be upbeat to inspire them or more downbeat to snap them out of complacency?

(Liam Delaney, Professor of Economics Stirling University. Research Fellow UCD Geary Institute, occasionally blogs here also.)

We’re talking about 16 year olds here. Complacency is not what 16 year olds do. They dream, and old fogeys put a lot of effort into getting them to attach to reality. Being downbeat is part of that.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an utterly stupid way to go about things. Here’s the basic truth about economies. They generally trend towards improved life but they do it in wild cycles. There is not an economist nor a business man in the world who truly understands those cycles because those cycles are the collective output of a lot of small economies acting together in non-centrally planned ways. They are not rational and what’s more, they can be changed at the microlevel without any reference to any sort of economic theory about what the right thing to do is.

In other words, what you say to teenagers is Economies go up, economies go down, you try to learn to ride the cycle, and, although I am sure Liam might not agree with me on this, you can probably ignore economists dealing in economic theory because despite its pretensions, it is barely a measurable science, dismal or otherwise. The most interesting economists I know are not really economists; they’re statisticians.

Yes,  Economies go up, and they go down and you, coming into a down cycle, difficult as it might look, have massive, massive advantages over those who come into a good cycle. You have the chance to be creative in how you deal with issues and difficulties. You learn to be resourceful. You learn to achieve an awful lot with comparatively little. And you’re in a good place when the good times come.

And you have dreams and with the resourcefulness that you can be delivering now, you can try to exploit them. Not everyone will be a pop star but I’ll bet Steve Jobs wanted to be a fireman when he was 5. Lives change. Different things, opportunities, people come along. The way you look at life now will change. So while you’ll need to plan for the future – this is where I say get a decent education – you need to look at how you’re doing now as well. Play that guitar. Do that gig. Never regret that you didn’t try something at least once.

What you do will make the economy of the future. The more you believe in what you are doing, the better that future will be. You may travel. Travel and temporary migration will be one of the best things that can happen you because the world will change, the lens you look through to see it will change. Some of the best things that have happened to Irish society happened because people left and came back. Societal change in Ireland was driven by the diaspora who came back. Look on it as an opportunity and another building block in your life and your future and not something to be negative about.

This is what I would be telling sixteen year olds if I were Liam Delaney. And I wouldn’t be thinking of being negative to kick the complacency out of them because if nothing else, that will destroy the economy and society for a further generation. We need them to build the future, not lie around wondering just how bad things are going to get before they get a job of some description.

Ireland has been poorly served by her experts and ruling class. We need to change that.

When you’re done, read this from Ronan Lyons, last August.