Monday, April 9, 2007

WIRED Weighs in on iPod Controversy

Michigan to Buy iPods for Every School Child

There has been quite a fuss over this proposal to provide iPods to Michigan public school students. Once again Michigan's profile in the national media features poor judgement, even stupidity on the part of legislators. Just last month, Standard and Poor's reported that Michigan is the only state with a negative credit outlook and here we are considering toys for the children.

I'm not a professional economist, but I am a parent and head of a household. So, in a common sense way I am an economist. If my household budget is running a deficit, I have two options: increase income and/or decrease expenses, both in the short term and long term. I will try to do both simultaneously. It's not rocket science. I have overhead that cannot be eliminated (utilities, medical expenses, transportation). I have secured debt that can be serviced (mortgage). I have operating expenses that can be finessed by purchasing fewer or cheaper versions of things (clothing, food). And while I'm dealing with these concerns, I'll be cultivating clients for my business. But, I won't be buying iPods for the kids. Period. No matter how great an idea. No matter how sweetly they ask. Even if it is Christmas! Which right now it is not.

If my financial situation does become critically endangered, it forces me to consider my core values--to ask "what must we have and do to continue to live?" Food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education. These are essentials. Does an iPod in every backpack support education of Michigan's youth? Does an iPod in every backpack teach fiscal responsibility? Does it reflect the budgetary reality in the state?

At this critical moment the schools should ask every public student to give something to their communities, to teach empowerment and social engagement--to challenge the youth of Michigan to become agents of change for the future wellbeing of their state, not consumers in search of more novelty, status and distracting entertainment.