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Friday, July 10, 2009

Haiku Economics

Why the sudden popularity of Haiku Economics??? This is from Steve Ziliak:

Dear Mark:

The economic recession -- something -- is bringing increased attention to "haiku" and "Haiku Economics."

The first fundamental assumption of haiku economics is: Less is more and more is better. The idea seems to be catching on with financial traders as much as with poets and political speechwriters.  The unemployed, it seems, can't resist it, and more than a few economists (heedless of Bentham) have put pens to verse.

Last week (July 2nd, 2009) brought a fine introductory article on "haiku economics," by Erica Alini, at the Real Time Economics blog of The Wall Street Journal.

In May I was interviewed -- in haiku form -- by the Chronicle of Higher Education (Steve Kolowich);  there followed from the (fun to do) Chronicle interview three separate appearances on National Public Radio.  Inspired by my interview, NPR issued a "recession haiku challenge." 

The outpouring of hundreds of haiku about economics, written by NPR listeners, was rather shocking, even to NPR, the journalists said.  News of the NPR haiku-economic explosion has spread by now to many other sites related and unrelated to public radio. For example:

  • Vinca LaFleur, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who now blogs at the West Wing Writers' Podium Pundits, has picked up on it.
  • On Dec. 31, 2008 The Wall Street Journal (Mary Pilon) did a page one article on the nationwide outpouring of haiku and other short verse and again my work was featured.
  • In August or September of 2008 Freakonomics/New York Times issued a haiku-economic challenge to which hundreds of economists and others responded.

By way of introduction, I first learned haiku from a friend and adopted teacher, Etheridge Knight (1931-1991), a great American and African American poet with whom I was in close contact between 1987 and 1991.  This was in Indianapolis, back in the days before Robert Bly was a household name and well before Yusef Komunyaaka had been to Princeton or had won a Pulitzer Prize and so through Etheridge and his companion, the poet Elizabeth McKim, I got to know the underbelly of an important body of American poetry, haiku included.  (Etheridge Knight's teacher was Gwendolyn Brooks, a U.S. Poet Laureate from Chicago.  She discovered Knight while he was serving time at the Indiana State Pen, in the early 1960s.)

Etheridge used to urge me to put haiku and economics together.  I told him yes, and then I went into another world - - into a Ph.D. program not in the Writers' Workshop but in Economics!

About 10 years later, in 2001, I was teaching econ at Georgia Tech in Atlanta when I began to understand how these two arts and sciences fit together, and I've been writing and teaching "haiku economics" ever since. Now, a few years on, I see that haiku and economics converge more than they collide at the level of principles, or so I argue.

Haiku economics won't solve all our aching problems.  But, as I argue in my forthcoming article, haiku can and does serve as more than economic pain relief, 17 syllables at a time, plus or minus a small standard deviation!

    Posted by on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 08:02 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (14)


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