Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A playwright's take on economics

I love the letters section of The Deseret News.  They just published a letter to the editor from me, which led to a brisk, and disappointingly positive response.  Stirring up a hornets' nest isn't as much fun when the hornets, instead of swarming, stop to applaud.  But it's also encouraging--more people than you think actually do understand economics.

And that's actually a hilarious line, that last one, about understanding economics.  It makes it sound like I do.  This, from a guy who can't balance a checkbook--Annette runs our family finances.

But this world wide financial crisis thing is huge, and (here's where I come in) a fascinating subject for a playwright.  So I've been doing what I do: reading.  That's always the first step for me, research.  I started with Michael Lewis--three books of his, plus books about Lehman Brothers and Deutches Bank and Goldman Sachs, plus maybe thirty articles, plus a lot of other stuff.  I wanted to get my head around it, and it needed to be in words, not numbers--I don't handle math. 

That led to economics, and so I read The Worldly Philosophers and Wealth of Nations, and Mill and Malthus and Mises and Keynes and Hayek and Friedman.  So far, I've written two plays on the subject, both of them inadequate, but still in progress. 

When I read economists, I'm attracted to the prose stylists--I like guys who wrote well, and don't care for guys who wrote poorly.  So I love Keynes.  But I'm also drawn to his ideas, which seem to me persuasive.

I'm informed.  I know what I'm talking about. Sort of.  In my own completely idiosyncratic way.

So I wrote a play, about Keynes, and in that play he has this line:

"When you vote, Mr. Bowles, bear this in mind.  You believe you’re voting for a chap, a good bloke.  You like his message, not considering that all elections hinge on experts carefully crafting messages of optimism or fear-mongering, or of both simultaneously.  And that’s all right—Mr. Churchill is a master manipulator of opinion, but he’s also right and Hitler must be defeated; we both support him.  Don’t we Hayek? (Hayek nods solemnly.)  But none of that ultimately matters, not the person, not the literature or platforms or slogans.  You are voting for a set of economic principles.  You are voting for one of several competing economic theories, each with its own policies and programme.  And if you vote wrongly, if you vote for a theory that is wrong, that inadequately describes the world, that foolishly ascribes to human beings behaviors they do not in fact engage in, or inadequately accounts for behaviors we do in fact engage in, if you vote the wrong way, for the agreeable chap you could imagine sharing a pint with, but who, as it happens, believes in a bad theory, an unworkable theory, a chap who will, if elected, attempt to implement an foolish economic programme based on an untenable theory, you could, in very short order, drive your nation off a cliff into disaster.  (BOWLES stares at him.)  Catastrophe.  It has happened many times in the past.  It has destroyed entire empires.  It absolutely can happen again."

And, you know, we're sort of doing it now. 

Right now, both parties are contemplating massive cuts in federal spending.  The argument seems to be that the best way to increase employment is to increase unemployment.  If the Paul Ryan budget plan is enacted--and Mitt Romney is on record as supporting it--it will be a mistake, and potentially, a catastrophic one.    

I think.  The guy who can't balance his checkbook.  

Anyway, that's why I can't support Mitt Romney, and the reason I'm not wildly happy with President Obama. The deficit is scary.  Cutting it radically right now is scarier.  


  1. Very well said, Eric. I do not understand how placing more people in the unemployment pool (eliminating federal jobs), collecting even less income taxes and hence available funds, can start an upward spiral.

  2. Title suggestions:
    The Invisible Handshake
    Agregate Demands