What Results When a Poet Tackles Economics
Listener: 28 October, 1995.
Keywords: Literature and Culture;
It is hard to provide concrete images of the economy, as is evident from the boring covers on most economics books. The title and author may be in large letters, or perhaps there are graphs and diagrams, but a compelling image is rare.
A copy of “Flemish Fair” by Peter Breugel (the younger), used for the cover of one of my books, hangs above my desk. (An original is in the Auckland Art Gallery.) It shows a medieval market, one of the few visual representations I know of a real market. One often hears journalists say “the markets”, when they mean anonymous financial markets as if they were the only sort. “Flemish Fair” reminds us that markets can be jolly affairs on a human scale with lively socially engaging activity (as can my local supermarket on a good day).
Literature is not much better. Typically the plot would be limited by the individual having to earn a living, so any spending power comes from some miraculous but unspecified source. Edward Said’s “Culture and Imperialism” insists many Victorian novels have a colonial dimension, but the heros’ (or villains’) income coming from colonies is a means of making them rich and leisured. Disappearing for a crucial period to see to the plantations is a better plot machinery than “anyone for tennis?”. Admittedly there are some splendid nineteenth century novels which are driven by economic conditions – those of Charles Dickens and Emile Zola for instance. But most modern novels are economically vacant. Maurice Gee’s much undervalued “Crime Story” is an outstanding exception, even if the criminals/economic activists come from the highest and lowest strata of society.
Among poets, Rex Fairburn was scathing about economists lumping us in with “beaurisites” and “sorners” (free loaders), describing us as “masters of a dead language”. (He was no more kind about journalists.) But Fairburn’s “One Race, One Flag” is a gem, describing how Smith escapes from the England to New Zealand but finds himself exploited by capital, generated by exploiting Smith in the Black Country, which also migrated here. Fairburn is usually described as a social crediter but the thrust of the poem is marxian imperialism. Whichever, and without necessarily agreeing with its analysis, the poem would be splendid topic for an economics seminar before the students had fully mastered their dead language.
Given the limited range of texts which tackle economic topics, it is with some pleasure the column reproduces the following poem by Otago poet David Eggleton. It is from a collection Empty Orchestra published by Auckland University Press. Like most poetry it is best read aloud.
Reasons To Get Political
Monetarism lives in Tax Dodge City, where it’s business as usual, by all means necessary
Monetarism is the King Kong gorilla on top of the Beehive
Monetarism takes neglect and turns it into abuse
Monetarism says tax avoidance good, tax evasion bad
Monetarism is being economical with the truth
Monetarism is Treasury policy-wonks coming on like Jargonauts from Planet Psychobabble
Monetarism is Treasury gurus with Friedmanite prayer-wheels and astrological flow-charts
Monetarism is stockbrokers skyrocketing to Nirvana
Monetarism is yuppies bonking bank accounts
Monetarism is the economic theory that ate New Zealand
Monetarism is a country colonised by the ecology of “efficiencies”
Monetarism is the venture capitalist as the predator at the top of the food chain
Monetarism is rip, snort and bust business “operators”
Monetarism is the Triumph of Capitalism as it Massacres the Public Sector
Monetarism is an outbreak of yuppie affluenza, whenever the stockmarket sneezes
Monetarism is the one-solution-fits-all argument of Unfinished Business
Monetarism turns Government into a Darth Vader voicebox, speaking psychological double-talk
Monetarism is Treasury as a crack house of forecast addiction
Monetarism is hothouse mandarins captured by Treasury
Monetarism is the headbutting and mad scientists who have run amok in New Zealand‘s social laboratory
Monetarism is the sinister nightmare of cost recovery
Monetarism is the country’s nepotistic nomenklatura selling assets on the streets
Monetarism is the calculated excesses of morally bankrupt battalions of consultants
Monetarism is a Treasury paper shredder
Monetarism is total control freaks in the House of Pain
Monetarism is rah-rahed by cheerleaders in sales philosophy seminars and through corporate literature handouts
Monetarism is the climax of economic growth in high percentage points
Monetarism is market uncertainty and fiscal mirages
Monetarism is a Treasury fatwah on public health
Monetarism is corporate ecobabble delivered as gospel
Monetarism is chronic fatigue for Healthcare, expressed in the Health Minister’s best bedside manner
Monetarism is hospitals being gangbanged on the Business Roundtable
Monetarism is public health consumers fed downmarket cut price surgery and generic drugs from multi-national dumps
Monetarism is the Zen of the Empty Suit, salarymen in business suits, women warriors power-dressing in iconographic body armour, dittoheads in lockstep, drip-dry suits
twisting, twisting by the pool of the Economic Miracle<> <>David Eggleton <>
Iam grateful to David for permission to reproduce this poem.<>