Dog Economics

Originally published in Utah Business.

I share my life with a beautiful yellow Labrador Retriever named Marley. Marley has the personality of a service dog—gentle, kind, content and loving. She lives for food, walks to the park and family play time. She loves sunspots and scratches on her ears.

In the morning, she visits my side of the bed first, just to make sure I’m still there and her life is complete. When I come home from work, I can see her looking out the window watching for my return. In the evening, when I sit in my comfy chair, her tail thumps the ground when I talk to her. She makes me feel like a million bucks.

Marley lounging on the kitchen floor.

Marley lounging on the kitchen floor.

Marley sheds too much, whimpers at times, snores and makes our yard a bit more difficult to walk in. But make no mistake—my life is better because of her loving companionship.

I’ve never used the term “dog economics” before, but I think it’s useful to use my dog to make a point. As business people, we spend much of our days talking about things we can quantify—profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cost allocations—and too little time considering the things we struggle to quantify—a positive work environment, professional friendships, a listening ear to a coworker in need.

The same is true of our non-work life. Too often we obsess about our bank account, debt levels or home remodeling projects. We forget about the very real value of an unforgettable sunset, a family that loves to be together or the comfort of a loving companion.

Economics is often defined as the study of how society manages scarce resources. I agree with that definition, but also like to define it a bit more broadly. I view economics as the study of the provision and protection of the items we value. Economics is all about maximizing value—both the commodities we can quantify and those we can’t.

The way I value my dog is not unlike the way I value clean rivers and streams, unpolluted air, scenic wonders, historic buildings, and stable and secure communities. We struggle to estimate the number of jobs and wages associated with each, and yet we completely value each one.

There’s an adage taught in law school that goes like this: a remedy will not want because the calculation is difficult. In legal proceedings, we don’t hesitate to award damages. I like to think we can do the opposite with things that we value, but are difficult to quantify. A benefit still exists even though it is difficult to calculate.

Let’s go back to my dog, Marley. I’m fond of several “dog quotes” that speak to the importance of our furry friends.

One of my favorites is an old saying about Washington, D.C. It says: If you need a friend in Washington, get a dog. When I lived in our nation’s capital, I loved observing how Capitol Hill workers treasured their evening walks with their dog. It helped them stay real and grounded.

Another dog quote comes from Charles de Gaulle, the former president of France. He made a memorable comparison about dogs and people when he said, “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” I don’t go that far, but he makes a point.

And then there is Will Rogers who said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

I can just imagine dog heaven—lots of sofas, beautiful parks, ponds to swim in, sun spots, shade spots, beautiful trees, play toys and tons of content people looking after their canine friends. This simple paradise is a far piece from the world we currently live in.

I can say the same thing about other things I value. When I die, I want to go to a place that has abundant animal life, crisp sunrises, a successful NBA franchise, tons of well-kept soccer pitches, river parkways, ski areas with great views and fall lines, and, of course, my loving family. I won’t care too much about my business’ strategic plan or P&L statement.

Next time you hear an economist talk about gross domestic product, price levels, unemployment and job creation, think about dogs and the many other difficult-to-quantify amenities you love in life.

Economics need not be the dismal science. Our furry friends have much to teach us about what is truly valuable.