“The case for economic literacy is obvious. High school graduates will be making economic choices all their lives, as breadwinners and consumers, and as citizens and voters. A wide range of people will be bombarded with economic information and misinformation for their entire lives. They will need some capacity for critical judgment. They will need it whether or not they go to college.”
-James Tobin, Nobel laureate and Yale economist
In Oakland, home of the Black Panthers and the ‘90s Black Gay Movement, our African American communities need a new movement—one for economic literacy.
Economic literacy is an investment. Since money speaks louder than words, economic literacy will lead to more civic involvement and more social activism. Community members will have better informed discussions and debates about the economic issues impacting their lives. Knowing that economically literate voters are watching them, city officials will make more sensibly fiscal decisions. Individuals will be better prepared to capitalize and create economic opportunities. Economic literacy can be used to re-evaluate past fiscal mismanagement.
Yet Oakland has invested more in gentrification and its image than in economic literacy. Many were misinformed that Oakland’s gentrification would economically benefit the African American communities. However, most new businesses seemed to cater to privileged hipsters—marginalizing African Americans. Realtors erase African Americans from their neighborhoods and “rebrand” the neighborhoods to attract hipsters (they argue that African Americans did nothing with their homes but lived in them). Several hipsters argued that their dogs were entitled to a City-built “doggy play park” in the middle of the city. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate of African American youth remained unacceptably high. Oakland now has a volatile mix of hipsters and disenfranchised youth. In this uneasy state of Haves v. Have Nots, simplistic clichés like “celebrate our diversity” ring hollow. Does this explain how the city ranked as “America’s Most Exciting City” for hipsters could also have the highest robbery rate in the country?
Thus, requiring economic education in high school and community college could be the best investment for Oakland. Economic literacy, not more police or tougher gun laws, could empower “disenfranchised” youth. Knowledge is power. Money runs the world. Knowledge of money, or economic literacy would be the power to bridge the racial wealth gap highlighted by the “New Oakland.” Many youth have to learn the rules of the “money game,” if they want to play to win.
Since many cities across the country are going through gentrification, Oakland could become a model for economics education in African American neighborhoods. Economic literacy is practical and relevant. Oakland students should be required to study economics in school. Economics is used in our everyday lives. Economic literacy can help prepare our students compete for their places in the “New Oakland.” We can use it to manage the resources we have as well as our future. Economics is not just some abstract theory for wealthy old white men.
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.