The Economy Is People

The following is an excerpt from my latest book, A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism and Meaningful Innovation Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World:


I’m not an economist by education—as I’ve previously mentioned, I was a linguist—so it has taken me a few years and a lot of reading to arrive at what seems like an obvious statement in retrospect: 

The economy is people.

This fuzzy concept we call “the economy” is about a system of tools that enable people to provide for themselves, that measure how well people are able to shelter and feed themselves, and how much people are able to invest back into their own well-being.

You could say that this statement is the “everything is connected” of economic ideas. It sounds simple and self-evident, but it’s the layers of its truth that give it revelatory impact.

The COVID-19 crisis has robbed the world of so much, but I do have to thank the crisis for teaching me so clearly that the economy is people—both in terms of our well-being and our productive output. Also planet, as in the state of nature and natural resources. I hate that I spent so much of my life thinking of the “economy” as merely a monetary abstraction.

Measuring a human health crisis in terms of dollars makes no sense. We should be measuring it in terms of human lives impacted, in terms of human potential cut short, in terms of human experiences thwarted. But those are more nebulous figures, and somehow less motivating in a boardroom.

If we are to be proponents of capitalism, as I’d venture many of my readers are, then capitalism must be about solving people’s problems in alignment with a focused business objective.

The economy, then, should really be a measure of how efficiently people’s problems are solved. And we can apply this to discussions of the various subeconomies: the sharing economy, the gig economy, the knowledge economy. At the end of the day, what we’re talking about in every case is people: The economy is built on people.


— taken from A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism and Meaningful Innovation Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World, available in print and audiobook format

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