Economic Multipliers (20)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Fannie Merritt Farmer (a cookbook writer and nutritionist) and the women and men like her were economic multipliers.


A mere 150 years ago (approximately 7 generations), most of the people in the world couldn’t read. Even if they did, people who learned to cook via recipes had no standardized measurements. A man or woman who ended up with a culinarily-inclined spouse was VERY lucky.

Today, if you can read a recipe, you need very little skill to prepare a half-way decent meal. Via standardized measurements (courtesy of Fannie Farmer and many others), your chicken soup will taste pretty much like your neighbors if it’s prepared with the same recipe. The mere USE of recipes which listed specific quantities using standardized measuring cups and spoons changed our world.

In economics, there’s a concept called ‘the law of diminishing returns.’ Once knowledge is gained AND put into use to create value, it’s hard to continue to get the same amount of ‘value’ or ‘gain’ from it. You end up with a wealthier ‘base’ but if you want to gain more wealth societally, you must continue to extract the value from the old knowledge (so you don’t lose the existing base) AND find other things that create economic multipliers.

Today in economics I believe we’re missing a term: ‘the law of receding returns.’ If you have an economic base that is derived from knowledge gained throughout the generations … AND you let that knowledge and the economic base that was derived from it slip away, you have ‘receding returns.’ Even if you find other things which create economic multipliers, you need a lot more ‘other things’ to make up for any base of wealth that is ‘allowed’ to recede.

We also have ‘another’ problem. Economics has helped us understand the advantages of creating social systems where people don’t ‘drop through the cracks’ as easily but we are failing to think about what cost containment means. I’ve told more than one person that ONLY the person who has the ability to create an infinite amount of wealth has the right to design a system which has infinite costs – because they can afford it.

Ironically, in an age and environment where we are surrounded by knowledge, you’d think it would be EASIER to create wealth AND retain and use knowledge. Unfortunately, in the quest to create the new, we sometimes throw away the value of the old.

I put up a piece on downsizing problems related to the diabetes epidemic in the United States (OPEN) so I won’t cover that here but know that in the early 1900’s (Fannie Farmer’s ‘The Boston Cooking School Cookbook’), cookies (OPEN) were approximately ½ the size they are today and were considered a ‘luxury’ – not the norm.

When the original recipes were written, almost everyone walked (A LOT) daily. They needed to so they could get places. Men who worked on loading docks or farms handled 100 pound sacks. By the time I did warehouse work when I was a kid (working part-time in a family business), salt came in 80 pound bags and 50 pound blocks. It didn’t seem odd (to me) to be able to lift and stack 80 pound bags: that’s how work got done. Very few people NEED to do this heavy lifting today. Very few people get a LOT of exercise in their jobs (there are clear exceptions).

I think I was the only ‘girl/woman’ who ever worked in those warehouses but small family businesses are ‘unique.’ When hired employees who ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ go home, if work (be it paperwork or other) still needs to get done so everything is set for workers on Monday morning, it usually gets done.

I didn’t know how lucky I was that I did that work until I found out (as I was reviewing a book) that if you get a fair amount of exercise BEFORE you are 25 years old, you significantly reduce your risk of getting osteoporosis (brittle bones) when you are 50+ years old. The exercise has more economic value (to you) than getting a long-term health insurance plan.

The information in the book: ‘The Body Scoop for Girls’ by Jennifer Ashton, M.D. (2009) is, I’m sure, available through a lot of other sources but after reading it, I’d want this book (or something like it) to be required reading for every young woman in high school EVERY year:

  1. The first year, they could discuss content and whether things should be added or removed.

  2. The second year they could discuss the quality of writing and whether stylistically or practically it would be easier to convey the information in other ways.

  3. The third year they could discuss the societal implications and costs of people’s personal choices.

  4. The fourth year they could discuss what a healthy body and a healthy life will ‘look like’ for all these young women as they exit high school.

I don’t have a complimentary recommendation for the young men: I hope one is out there (See P.S.(4) - I found some). But if they wanted to be a good boyfriend or good spouse someday, they’d learn a lot from this book.

The Fannie Farmer cookbook of the early 1900’s listed chemical compositions for many things and in less than 2 pages, noted 12 different ways to preserve food (with examples of their application): (1) freezing, (2) refrigeration, (3) canning, (4) sugar, (5) exclusion of air, (6) drying, (7) evaporation, (8) salting, (9) smoking, (10) pickling, (11) oil and (12) antiseptics (not recommended as being ‘wholesome’). Further on, I can read detailed instructions.

I’d certainly want people in countries where food shortages are still common to have access to all this 100 year old knowledge … and a base of resources to do something with it.

Newer editions contain additional things but some of the ‘science’ is gone. We have been giving up this part of our economic base.

Adding chocolate chips (see P.S.) to a recipe that only contained nuts may give us a different and great tasting cookie or cake, but it doesn’t help us create added wealth. And, if we lose the ‘balance’ that goes along with preparing foods that correspond with our actual bodily needs, we lose even more.

This year as part of a gift I’ll be giving someone meditation balls. I don’t think they read my ‘stuff’ but in their note, I noted that the meditation balls MIGHT protect their hands from repetitive motion injuries if they use them for 30 seconds between gaming rounds. I noted that, to my knowledge, it is not yet possible to fix repetitive motion injuries acquired from small electronics and they should try to avoid them. I want this young person to have an enjoyable, pain-free life … particularly when they are young … but I cannot make their choices for them. I added a ‘healthy eating’ waffle recipe to another gift … ingredients do matter (OPEN).

I doubt that Fannie Farmer knew she was an economic multiplier but her choices made her one. She trained at one of the finest culinary schools worldwide and could have focused the bulk of her time and efforts on the easiest and most elegant ways to decorate cakes and cookies (and she did include those things in her books) but she thought that the bulk of her time would be better spent learning how nutrition could be used to help keep and get people well: The concept of a cookbook with standardized measurements made consistently well-prepared, well-balanced meals available to all.

If we throw away her or other’s legacies (their gift (of the science) to all of us) – even just because we don’t THINK – as individuals, in communities and as a nation, we ALL become poorer.

CORE human needs are:

  • clean water and air

  • nutritious and adequate food, and

  • adequate and safe shelter

What we add to societies should always in some way support the existing bases for these and help build upon them (see P.S. (3)). Then we can know for sure that our historical bases of wealth (our past economic multiplication) are not lost. Then we can know for sure that WE do not have ‘receding returns.'


P.S. Note: I love chocolate chips and just baked 1000+ Christmas cookies (easy-to-make ones and not for me): I’m a carbohydrate addict and believe that every time someone eats a cookie, they should eat an apple … (I don’t always practice what I preach but do pretty well).

P.S.(2) I love beautiful cookies and elegantly prepared meals: I’m just realistic. Years ago I would have eaten anise cookies: today I drink anise tea. The cookies get prepared for a generation who would do it for themselves (and for many of them – others) if they still could. I don’t actually recommend that they eat them. I believe they’d benefit more from holiday coleslaw or veggies with pizza sauce and a bit of cheese on top (particularly since the inability to make their own cookies also means they don’t get much exercise).

I don’t specifically bake cookies for my generation or the generations below me but believe everyone benefits by having core cooking skills (baking cookies can teach you a lot about heat transfer if you have different kinds of pans for observation).

P.S.(3) Many individuals home school their children because they believe everyday home-based activities provide the base for an outstanding education and a lot of this education is ‘missing’ in schools. The ‘trick’ in education (in any field) is to get the depth (which gives you the expertise) without losing the breadth (which gives you the connections).

I’d hate to think that any child who would be a Fannie Farmer or a Buckminster Fuller (the kinds of people whose ways of looking at the world changed things for the better … and helped build our existing economic ‘base’) would miss out on the best education we could possibly give them … no matter where they go to school … and, in the world of the Internet, we can give them A LOT.

P.S.(4) Librarians are always helping me out and I ran across: 100 things guys need to know by Bill Zimmerman on the youth bookshelf. For guys who NEED to feel manly and macho all the time, this book might seem too 'touchy, feely' BUT it has a LOT of great book and website references like:

    • My Body, My Self for Boys (and I'll add ... young men) by Lynda and Area Madaras

    • and

    • (I couldn't find this site but go to instead because you can ask a doctor if you have any questions (girls too)).

Zimmerman's book also tells you why the references might be helpful so you can pick and choose based on your own 'concerns.'

IF you see yourself getting married someday and want to be a great husband and a 'cool' father ... the kind your kids listen to until they are 12 and then come back to at 25 and say ... WOW, you really did know a LOT ... these books and sites will help you make sure you get there.

And, if any of you young ladies want a better idea as to what all those young men have to cope with, these references are a great starting place for your review as well (assuming that on the day that you get married, you want to know that you've helped your 'young man' turn into that really cool guy).