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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|May 28, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 37
Making use of liberal arts
Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer
Yesterday in this space we discussed taxes and national debt, issues that even experts find difficult to understand. The rest of us have to struggle along as best we can. Of course, some of us are better equipped than others. I, for one, am among the ill equipped.
I am just old enough that when I was in school, the point of being in school was to get educated. Nobody told me I should use school to prepare myself for the workplace. So I didn't. I spent most of high school reading. After high school, I enrolled in Rockhurst College, a Jesuit, liberal arts college, and got myself a bachelor's degree in English, with minors in philosophy and theology, which are not particularly useful in today's job market. The only useful course I took in four years of college was Journalism 101. You might say it sealed my fate; you can see where it led.
(An aside: On occasions when I feel moved to sing — in the shower, on long drives, while doing the dishes — I occasionally belt out an old county and western song with a refrain that goes something like this: "Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Let them be doctors and lawyers and such." When I launch into this ditty, my wife usually echoes the refrain: "Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be editors, journalists and such." Cruel, but perhaps true.)
I can parse a sentence, quote Milton and discuss existential phenomenology, but my education left me ill-prepared to balance check books or calculate interest or comprehend things financial and economic. One thing my liberal arts education did give me was good working knowledge of libraries, where long after graduation I taught myself about things financial and economic.
The Internet has made searching for that information more convenient. A Web site that I find particularly useful is the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The center makes economic issues accessible to the general public so ordinary Joe's and Josephine's can better participate in our democracy.
For example, here's the CEPR's take on Social Security. The article, "A Phony Crisis Fed by Deception," begins: "Mention Social Security to anyone under 50 and the most likely response will be something like 'I'm never going to see any of that money.' Yet there is no evidence to support this belief." The paper explains that if Washington politicians leave their hands off the trust fund, 1) Social Security is well funded until at least 2043, 2) problems after 2043 should be relatively small and 3) 40 years is enough time to figure out how to tweak the system so it outlasts the baby boomer generation.
The CEPR Web site also issues "The Economic Reporting Review" a weekly critique of the business and economics articles appearing in The New York Times and the Washington Post. You can view this on the Web site or have them sent directly to your email box every week.
For example, a recent review looked at articles about Rep. Richard Gephardt's proposal for universal health care insurance. The review noted that articles described it as "costly" and that the cost of the plan would "grow rapidly" after the first year. The articles did not include any evidence or provide any basis for its negative characterization of the Gephardt plan, the review noted.
The review regularly points out fuzzy logic or misconceptions in media coverage of public policy issues. Such guidance is considerably helpful and much appreciated on important, but sometimes confusing issues — especially for English majors.
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