These have been extracted by Dr. Kay Strong from her students' work and are provided as an appendix to her case study, "Use of Portfolios for Assessment in Introductory Economics".
In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, few people take enough time out of their crazy schedule to smell the roses, let alone to notice just how much economics plays such a major role in their ultimate satisfaction, happiness and overall well-being. For example, just the other day I decide that it was finally time to donate blood again during a drive the Red Cross was having at work. Deciding that I wanted to give blood was the easy part. It seems that over the last seven years, since I was able to donate blood, new rules and limitations are constantly being set for donor acceptability. As I laid in the chair, arm fully extended, awaiting the needle’s sharp poke, I began to think like an economist.
Supply and demand play a huge role in blood production, and many times you will hear about blood shortages. It seems that these cries of scarcity are louder and louder every year. Why is it that there isn’t enough donors to keep the blood banks full like we would like to? After spending an hour just answering questions, talking to a nurse, getting my blood pressure taken, checking the iron content in my blood and having my temperature taken, I began to realize just how many people are deferred from giving blood even though they my want to. New regulations are being set all of the time in order to keep the blood supply healthy and safe.
Let’s assume that when blood donation started they allowed anyone who was willing to give blood to donate. (A-0) Then they realized that people under the age of eighteen, along with those who have certain diseases, should not give blood because of the potential risks of such a substantial loss of blood or disease transmission. This causes the pool of available donors to shrink considerably! (A-1) As the trends of body piercing and tattooing became popular, the risk for disease transmission through shared needles created a need to put the restriction of a year-long waiting period after the embellishment. (A-2) Finally, another contraction in producers, or donors, occurred recently when Mad Cow disease appeared. Because there is no test yet available to detect Mad Cow disease in blood, time limits have been put in place for the maximum time spent abroad. If you have spent a combination of three months or more in, or near England, you are now ineligible to donate blood ever again. Likewise, if you have spent over six months in Europe you are no longer able to give blood. (A-3)
Every time a new restriction is put in place to protect our blood supply, less blood is able to be provided, causing a shortage in blood needed for surgeries and emergencies. This in turn affects the price of blood making it higher. However, with all the restrictions in place how will we ever be able to produce more blood and make it a less expensive item? There are two answers. Either we can lift some of the restrictions and make it easier to give blood, or we can try to enhance our technology and produce a synthetic blood to sell on the market. (A-4)
Economics is a matter of life and death in this matter. Eventually, if we can’t create synthetic blood, people my begin losing their life because the blood supply was too low for them to receive the transfusion that they desperately needed. The Red Cross may have to begin lifting some of their regulations, in order to save lives. They will have to find a medium ground, an equilibrium, as to the good it will do for people who need the blood, and the possibility of tainting the blood supply.
Eons and eons ago, when I was young, my sadistic parents contrived the perfect deterrence method to keep myself and two siblings away from the TV and out of trouble over summer vacation: The Vegetable Garden. On the last day of school, while other children were preparing for swim lessons, beach outings, and trips to the Grand Canyon, we were sharpening hoes and counting seed packets. Corn, tomatoes, carrots, peas, squash, strawberries and green beans enveloped our very lives over summer breaks, and each new season brought louder groans and grumbles than the previous.
The Child’s Perspective
However, in my youthful naivety, I did not see the true purpose behind The Vegetable Garden. What I saw was a wasted space, nearly a quarter acre which could be better served with lawn, or better yet, a big playground. Columns of vegetable types were spread so far apart, one could drive a tractor through them, as too were the spaces between plants. We kids were required to keep these huge dirt columns and rows weed-free. The vegetables themselves were of little value: tomatoes dripped with bugs so none of us would touch them; strawberries were eaten as fast as they were picked; carrot heads met their fate by the sharp end of a hoe, so no one knew were the carrots were buried; green beans—well, who eats green beans anyways! In addition, our personal cost to this endeavor was indeed extremely high, perhaps to the point of a selfless sacrifice: Three hours a day per child, which equates to nine hours daily in The Vegetable Garden, hours that could clearly be spent on important activities like swimming and playing.
At a labor cost of nine hours a day, five days a week, for the nine week period of summer break, and one quarter acre allotted for the production of vegetables, we were commanded to produce enough for one vegetable dish per night for one year; that is, 365 dishes. The formula: 365 units / 405 hours = 0.9 units per hour; 0 .9 units * 6 hours a day = 8.1 units (vegetable dishes) produced a day as our goal. Unfortunately, as was suggested previously, we came no-where close to meeting this objective; instead, we produced roughly two units(dishes) of food a day: we had corn on the cob every night, and tons of strawberries, which may not count because we ate them right away. The inability to achieve a maximum productivity of resources was, I believe, a direct result of three factors: a.) quality of labor, b.) inefficient use of capital resources, and c.) little demand for the goods being produced.
Quality of Labor
One reason our economy was operating inside its possible production was the quality of its labor force: three elementary school kids with little supervision, no motivation, and a severe problem with workplace conflicts (fighting) do not fare well when attempting to meet a productive goal. The solution was simple: A Monetary Incentive.
Use of Capital Resource
The capital resources for production were available, they were simply not being used efficiently. Hoeing a quarter acre garden, with the majority of its contents dirt rows and columns took far too long. A tractor was available to keep these areas weed free, but our employer preferred outdated methods.
Meeting a Demand
Another major problem with our garden was the lack of demand for the goods it was supposed to provide: no one wanted this stuff (except the strawberries), so why bother producing it! Had our garden been full of watermelon—instead of yucky green beans and peas—perhaps the benefits from it would have been greater than, or at least equal, to the cost.
These factors, in and of themselves, are sufficient reasons why our economy failed so miserably. But the largest and most damning element keeping us from increasing the productivity of the available resources was the management style used in our workplace: our suggestions on how to facilitate efficiency fell on the deaf ears of our parents. Never was there such tyranny in the workplace as there was in The Vegetable Garden.
The Father’s Perspective
The story does not end with a note on the principles of maximizing productivity of resources, for there is another side to my tale. To my parents, the purpose of The Vegetable Garden was not necessarily to create an optimal output of a material good, but to maximize the social well-being of our family. In this perspective, our garden was a complete success, as its output was measured in subjective terms: increased understanding of a work ethic, increased ability of its members to work as a team, and a decrease in the likelihood of falling under the trap of morning cartons and afternoon soaps.
Does this mean that economic success lies—like so much of life—within the eye of the beholder?