Monday, October 26, 2009

The Lemonade Shortage

I’m an economist and I am as passionate about economics today as I was when I took my first undergraduate course.  In that course, in fact in the first lesson, a very basic but still fundamental definition of economics was presented and discussed.  That definition focuses on the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends.  Because of scarcity, it is impossible for our society or any society on our planet to meet everyone’s needs and wants.   And because of that scarcity, choices need to be made and hopefully these will be the best possible choices.  Scarcity and choice become even more of a challenge if you are working within the constraints of a severe economic recession, an unemployment rate that is at 10%, and at least some uncertainty as to whether a recovery is in fact underway.  More scarcity, more uncertainty, more difficult choices, more needs not met.

In this context, I am beginning to notice an increasing trend toward the promotion of lemonade.  Let me explain.   I have attended a number of meetings lately where the focus at all levels of education has been doing more with less.  As government, especially on the state and local level, is constrained with declining resources and revenues, budgets have been adjusted downward.  Funding for K through 12 education and higher education has declined or is in the process of declining in more and more states; funding for programs that provide additional support for economically disadvantaged students have also been declining or are in the process of declining. 

What is the answer?  Doing more with less; turning lemons into lemonade.  But wait, I know we can all agree that, even in the best managed organizations, a periodic review of what we do and how we do it will likely result in beneficial changes.  It pays to provide that fresh look and see what the positive possibilities are and that in fact is what we are doing at Hofstra.  But it is naive to think that it is possible to compensate for every reduction in support for education by doing more with less.  And if we are willing to acknowledge that much of our educational sector is well managed, providing fewer resources will result in compromises that many of us will find troublesome.  Less curriculum enrichment on the K-12 level, less educational support for economically disadvantaged students; higher  class sizees, more adjunct faculty, all are detrimental.  I’m in favor of turning lemons into lemonade but I’m also in favor of candor and an acknowledgement that there is a real price we pay for all these cutbacks.  In reality, we are often able to do less with less. Recessions hurt individuals and they hurt societies. Doing more with less is not a real long term answer.  The long term answer needs to be a robust economic recovery and a national commitment not to waiver in pursuing that goal.


  1. How does turning lemonds into lemonade, the ultimate trick of the bureaucratic alchemist, compare to making chicken salad from, well, you know? I'd suggest that the latter is more the work of politicians who see their job as that of getting elected (and believe telling people what they want to hear is the way), and the former reserved for all us lemon squeezers whose job it is make things happen or keep bang things from happening because of their elected bosses. Make any sense?

  2. In the 1960's when I attended public school in Queens we had an average of 34 kids per class to one teacher. I learned proper English and had French in 5th and 6th grades. The curriculum made up to some extent for the size of the class. Resources were not great at that time.
    Today we have huge resources even with current cutbacks to our public school systems. However we have lost our way in fundementals. My children, attending a prestigious North Shore of LI public school system, are not being taught as well in classes of 20 with an assistant than I 30 years prior. It is not the lack of funds that have created this problem.

    While I agree with your premise fundamentally we need to reexamine the entire process to get it back in line,let alone within the financial parameters disctated by today's recession.