While I know that my daughter will probably not become an economist someday, I found myself teaching her some important concepts in theoretical and empirical economics recently. She sought to compare prices of goods in two different stores, and I was there to help her find products that could be honestly compared. For example, when eggs were compared, I explained that they both had to be the same size and grade of eggs, and that if one was organic, the other must be, too.
I then found myself describing the idea of a “monopoly” to my daughter, as she had only previously heard the word associated with a board game. I explained that when there is only one seller of a good, that seller can choose combinations of price and quantity for the goods that that it sells, limited only by how much people are willing to pay to buy that good. This explanation came about in response to a question of “why are those prices so high?” The prices that were so high were prices in a convenience store I drove her to as part of a school project.
Her teacher had given her a list of groceries, from chicken to apples to broccoli, and asked her class to compare prices for those groceries in a supermarket and a convenience store. The results, that the convenience store sometimes charged twice the price that was being charged in a supermarket, shocked her. I knew that she would find a difference in prices, but was surprised at how large the difference was. The concept that the teacher was trying to drive home was the idea of a “food desert,” an area where healthy, affordable food is not always readily available in some cities. Indeed, it is in response to such a situation that many people in Cleveland celebrated when a local supermarket chain opened a new supermarket in an old building in a downtown area of the city. Indeed, this is becoming an important policy issue nationwide, one that is being addressed by private and public groups, which is why her teacher gave them the assignment. Alas, the supermarket is still in an area of Cleveland that caters to a wealthy clientele, not solving the problem for everyone who lives in our city.
I hope that the teachers at school will help the students sort through some of the larger issues involved with the existence of food deserts, issues that my daughter and I discussed on the way to the next stage of the project, a visit to a supermarket. We discussed issues of inequality and poverty as well as how her life would be different if I always needed to pay these high prices just to feed our family. Indeed, I wonder if she had ever given serious thought to the fact that not everyone has a car to drive to supermarkets that may be located far from where they live. In the end, it is just such issues that brought me to study Economics years ago. Perhaps it will inspire her to do something similar. However, I admit that I am left wondering whether such a project is treating poor communities with the respect they deserve.
After she completed her project in the convenience store, I wanted to purchase something from them, so, on my way out, I bought one banana, for 50 cents.
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