My 8 Year Old Economist

The other night, my eight year old daughter couldn’t sleep. “I’m worried,” she said.

“What are you worried about?” I asked.

“I’m worried about the economy.”

You know things have gotten bad when your eight year old is losing sleep over the economy.

“Don’t worry, sweetie,” I said. “Daddy’s job is fine. And Mommy is working more now, and we’ll be fine.“

“You know, Mommy,” she said disdainfully “I don’t just worry about myself. I’m worried about all the people.”

Well, make me feel a little self-referential, why don’t you?

In fairness to me, it did seem logical to assume that an eight year old who is losing sleep over the economy would be worried about how it would affect her: Would her Daddy lose his job? Would she have to move? Would she have enough to eat?

But not my little girl. She’s worried about all of the people she sees on the news who are losing their jobs, her friends at school who have both parents at home all of the sudden, and since this is New York City, about all of the homeless people that seem, suddenly, to have multiplied right outside our door.

I wish I could shield her from all of this. An eight year old shouldn’t be losing sleep over an economic meltdown that hasn’t – at least not yet – markedly changed her life. An eight year old should live in a bubble of innocent bliss, not fret over the bursting of a financial bubble. She should escape into a world of her own devising – where being a princess, a movie star, and president is possible — all at the same time.  Where worry is reserved for missing the school bus, not missing a mortgage payment, and financial woes are measured by the weight of a piggy bank – not the weight of the world.

But this economic crisis is inescapable – even for an eight year old. Stores we passed every day on our way to school are closed. Friends and relatives have lost their jobs. The giant Circuit City around the corner is going out of business. In a surreal Depression flashback, men in sandwich boards are all over the neighborhood advertising the sell-off of the store’s last stock. My kids see the noticeably longer lines each day for free breakfast at Trinity Church, and can’t help but notice that the crowds at the Park Avenue Synagogue food pantry we pass on the way home from school every Friday have grown.

People disagree about how to fix this problem. Regulate more, regulate less. Bail out the banks, don’t bail out the banks. People disagree, too, about how we ended up here. Some people see the problem as a result of years of greed. For some, it’s clearly corporate America’s fault. For others, it looks like the government holds the blame.

What I see is that my daughter, in her innocent wisdom, precisely captured how we all should be looking at this problem: It isn’t about bankers, or lawyers, or lawmakers. It isn’t about your job, or your home. It isn’t about you. It’s about all of the people.

It’s what she said to me the other night, when, with worry and compassion, my little eight year old in princess pajamas looked up at me from her bed: “It’s about the economy, Mommy.”

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