Mistress of Despair!
I’m an economist. Yet poetry is my first stop on the way to invention—discovery of metaphors. No matter the audience, a model is a metaphor. Not every economist understands that. Poetry can fill the gap between reason and emotion, adding feelings to economics. For example, Horace helps me relate to abstract mathematical theorists—colleagues I openly criticize—with “Gourmet a la Mode”:
It’s not quite enough . . . to sweep up the fish
From the most expensive fish stalls if you don’t know which
Go better with sauce and which, when served up broiled,
Will make your jaded guest sit up and take notice.
I was teaching economics at the Georgia Institute of Technology when I made the haiku-economics connection. I needed to connect with 225 economics, science, and engineering majors—college kids who were being trained to believe that poetry and feelings are not important to, say, the World Bank. At the same time I was reading The Essential Etheridge Knight and falling in love with haiku. I thought about the inability of standard economic models to explain bubbles, crashes, and global inequality—and how market fundamentalists refuse to discuss them. I saw the bridge I needed in this poem:
Mother of inflated hope,
Mistress of despair!
Adam Smith, indeed. Perhaps it’s the economists who can learn the most from poets about precision and efficiency, about objectivity and maximization—the virtues, in other words, of value-free science.