from Jonathan Field
Economics. Does the word make your eyes glaze over? Personally, I nearly failed my first college course in economics. But coming to know Los Angeles-based media economist Titus Levi, he made it clear to me that economics is simply the study of how people and communities share and trade things of value. Then why is it a subject only policy wonks seem to understand, even though it impacts all of our lives?
I take it personally. Here’s why. We live in a world full of products and marketing. I'm part of that marketing, helping businesses brand themselves. In my mind, smart marketing can create feedback loops between all these parties, feeding knowledge that, in turn, generates tangible value. At the same time, there's also a lot of seemingly useless products and advertising polluting the landscape.
I can imagine a world without so much marketing. I’ve visited such worlds. Twice. First, for a summer as a teen, living with a family of blacksmiths down in a town south of Oaxaca, Mexico. The next time was 12 years ago, when I spent four months on a sparsely populated Greek island. The nights were as magical, with nothing to do but talk, drink and dance into morning. The days were languid, with air sweet with the scent of the nearbye sea. The foliage was rich in color, texture and taste, the ocean clear as gin. But at times, the sun would pound the earth relentlessly. Boredom could be endemic. Your meals consisted of the same foods, day after day. People gossiped. About everything. Life could feel very confining.
I came home. I was happy to have warm showers. Even television. But today, whether you're in a city or suburb or just online, every inch of space seems open to selling something, whether it's on billboards, clothing or even people's bodies.
But the reason there are so many messages telling us to buy are there are so many businesses competing with each other. Those businesses employ us. If they disappeared, what would most of us do to earn a living? Farm? Fish? Hunt? Maybe, but it would be far from an idyllic existence. And if ads suck frequently, there are some great ones that compel attention because they reflect something accurate about life, as well as about what they're selling.
The larger question is given how many brilliant products our markets generate, why can't we also produce cars that burn less fuel, medical care that doesn't bankrupt families and businesses, or fund an educational system that will generate the broad base of graduates who form the core of any powerful economy?
Capitalism has a wonderful essential spirit that taps directly into human imagination. The desire to make "things," enjoy "things," share "things." To be part of a community and, by extension, a market. But it's far from perfect. Thinking about all that led me to wonder what are the alternative economies we can form? Can our markets and the institutions that surround them create something more sustainable? And how do we come to create what we do have?
Hence the roots of developing That’s Capital. Together with Titus Levi, we wanted to define a space to host an ongoing conversation about such questions and issues.
When Titus and I talked to a few people about the idea, most gave one thematic response. “Too intellectual.” Our response was, “to who?” Because while most of us leave formal discussions of the economy to policy wonks, the American lexicon is rich with economic jargon, whether in terminology about "branding one's self" career-wise or uses of terminology like "that's pimp" among the MTV generation.
For Titus and myself, as information science was to the early 1990s (the future backbone of businesses like Google), economics is to our era. We think it is an arena rich for public discourse. "Economics is too important to be left to economists," Titus told me. Both being radio junkies, we decided to create audio media around this subject under the rubric of That's Capital, the name play on Karl Marx famous book of similar name.
To help us structure and turn our ideas into salient media content, we sought the help of veteran money-issue journalist and editor, Marion Asnes. Marion helped guide us and host our first few shows, giving us the hands-on experience of someone who has spent two decades writing about related issues for trade magazines ranging from Money Magazine to Vogue. Together, we are evolving this program... attempting to further the general discussion about the way our choices and desires are the DNA for our economy.
At this point we are streaming and podcasting content, but we hope to actually start to air on an actual radio platform, whether traditional, public or satellite. In the meantime, we welcome your comments and input. Keep listening. We will continually be adding content to existing subjects, as well as exploring subjects like the economy of neighborhood, design, and many other basic areas of life.