Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening this business, I had little practical knowledge about the business side of running a business.
And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary or high school course ever taught me “financial literacy.”
Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.
And I know I am hardly alone.
As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.
We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.
Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.
I’m bringing this up now because we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups a few years ago on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (More on that here.)
What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.
Some non-profits, like, are trying to address this problem by holding sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.
But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.
It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.