Awesome Epic Fail: An Epic Poem about Economics and its Intergenerational Effects
19 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2013 Last revised: 3 Sep 2013
Date Written: November 1, 2012
A poem may seem an unusual response to the problematique that David Westbrook set out for this World Economics Association Conference ‘Rethinking Financial Markets’ but it seemed to me an epic failure and the epic task of renewal needed an epic-ish interdisciplinary response. In June 2012 I met David at a conference in London. I had given a paper on the bank failure in the UK and its consequences. David had been struck by how different the cultural expectations of Europeans were from Americans in terms of the European expectation that corporations and banks particularly, should behave responsibly. He invited me to consider the problematique for this Conference and respond if I wished. Problem was, I had lots to say about most of it and I was also puzzling out what has formed my European perspective on the crisis. This poem was the result of that puzzling and thinking about the problematique. Careful what you wish for as they say.
The recurring theme of the poem is Keynes’s 1930 work ‘The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.’ Keynes wife Lydia became pregnant and miscarried in 1927 and the event had a profound effect on Keynes’s work in terms of his consideration of the intergenerational future. The outcome was ‘The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’ a hopeful text projecting a technological and social revolution for generations to come. Leisure was to be the future and it carried with it responsibility and danger. The danger being civil dissention and consumerism.
This was the dominant paradigm of my early education. We were being prepared to be the modest and civically responsible leisure generation. Somehow it didn’t work out that way. In terms of what it means for the Conference the poem has a conceptual starting point drawn from the problematique that ‘the emergence of fresh thinking tends to be hampered by more or less subtle anachronisms, patterns of thought that hardly describe the world and so obstruct the achievement of collective intentions.’
The poem is about how Keynes’s and other paradigms didn’t work out. In essence it’s a story of market and intellectual failure combined with civic and consumerist environmental degradation. Keynes hope for his imagined grandchildren did not come to fruition but he was right in identifying the dangers. They still lie at the heart of the issue in my view. Rethinking financial markets lies deeply in the shadow of our dysfunctional relationship with the State and Consumerism. If the Occupy movement teaches us anything it teaches us that the financial crisis is strongly connected to degraded civic institutions and rampant consumerism. Where else can you go now to effectively dissent but the streets? Rethinking financial markets hinges in my view on collective and individual civic renewal as does turning around our damaging consumer culture. Unless we get that right we will remain in a doom loop repeating our mistakes again and again.
The poem itself is in the classical oral, particularly Gaelic, tradition so it’s meant to be said aloud. It contains what I think are predominantly Western and Irish (like Popeye ‘I yam what I yam’) but generally accessible references to economics, law, history, literature, TV and sports. The only genuinely obscure reference is to the Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretsky and for that you will have to find a Canadian and ask them. Otherwise respond as you feel appropriate.
Keywords: Financial Crisis, Jensen, Merton, Nozick, Capitalism, Consumerism, Keynes, Markets, Occupy, neo-classical economics, Markets, Collapse of Communism, Thatcher, Reagan, Europe, Bush, Blair, Clinton, Microsoft, Apple, Millenium Bug, Twin Towers, New Paradigm, Enron, Globalization, Economics, poetry
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