Updated: Mar 5
By: Aidan Attance
Credit: Readsy Blog
Can economics be explained using poetry?
Rachel Huckle, a Pinterest poet with 3.2k followers, once said
“poetry makes pain feel productive.
That’s a dangerous silver lining.”
Economics is a type of pain that not everyone is willing to experience. It contains concepts that, while simple in nature, are often difficult for people to digest since these concepts deal with the nature of people themselves. Many individuals sometimes find it hard to understand why they do things, let alone why entire populations may choose to act in accordance with economic models. On top of this, economics contains a lot of definitions and principles necessary to be an effective reader of economic content.
My goal in this edition of the Free Speech Forum’s Economic Review is to introduce Economic ideas through poetry. Poems have an uncanny ability to break down complex ideas into succinct thoughts. Economics is crafted through observation of the human condition. Poetry is similarly created of some part of what it means to be human. Is this a cry for help? No, it’s just economics.
The Opportunity Cost of My Heart
I give my heart to A,
So less I give to B.
I run along a curve:
My heart’s efficiency.
It beats for all my hours
And labors as it bleeds.
If I gave my whole heart,
Should I choose A or B?
The Cost of A or B?
I can’t have A and B
I long for A and B
I must choose A or B!
Then what costs my heart more?
They both have the same price.
They cost each other’s willing love
And my heart hours of strife.
This poem explores the Idea of opportunity cost. An economist does not measure value in money alone, and neither does any human individual. When we choose to do an action, the time and energy spent doing that action must also be considered as a cost. Take love for example. When you commit yourself to someone else, you are preventing yourself from being with another person. The cost of loving someone becomes the energy you give to them and the time you could be spending on other people or yourself. What you gain from these costs determines the total quantity of your relationship’s value. Here, I made a chart.
As you can see, if we spend 10,000 hours on person A, we receive 8 units of heart output, but spending all our labor hours on person A means that we lose out on the four units of heart output from person B. While it would seem more efficient to spend all our time with person A, remember that the units on each axis do not represent the same value. One may want both of what person A and B has to offer, but the cost of choosing one over the other, to quote the poem, is the other’s willing love and your heart hours of strife.
The Tax on my soul
My soul is taxed
Taxed by you
Through precedence and incidence
I know this to be true
My soul is bought
The tax upon my heart
Has taxed the ones I love
The important takeaway from this poem is the effect that taxes have on the supplier and the demander in a free market system. In the frame of this poem, an unknown individual has placed a tax burden on the heart of the narrator, who for the sake of writing I will refer to as ‘he’. The tax does not just affect him; it affects all of the people that the narrator has a relationship with. His suffering changes his demeanor. It changes the way he talks, acts, and connects with those close to him. In this same way, when the government taxes a supplier or a demander, it doesn’t just affect the taxed party. The tax affects the market, burdening all individuals.
What’s important to understand is that the burden is the same no matter who is taxed. In the poem’s example, how much each person is affected by the tax is determined by their resiliency. In the case of markets, how much each party is affected by the tax is determined by their elasticity. At the end of the day, every party is affected.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy
I’ve spent so much time on you,
For you, why do,
I continue to indulge you
Because what I’ve spent is lost?
But to me it’s no fixed cost.
In the long run my love is variable
And yet you are unbearable
But I hold on
To what I’ve already lost
An economist makes many assumptions about people. For one, they assume every individual to think rationally. but what is rational thinking? This is a hard question to answer, but economists have identified specific cases of rational thought. For one, they say that rational people think at the margin. They make decisions based on the costs directly associated with any given action, be that monetary or opportunity cost. A sunk cost is a cost that can’t be returned to you. It is money you’ve already spent, or time already lost pursuing an opportunity. Sunk costs should not be factored into decision-making.
In this poem, the narrator faces the fallacy of the sunk cost. He decides that to not waste the time he’s already placed in a relationship, he will continue to hold out and not end what isn’t working for him. What he is trying to do is regain something that is already gone. But the only thing that should factor into his decision to continue the relationship is what he is willing to put into it in the current moment, not what he has already lost.
Economics Through Poetry: Conclusion
If I have been successful in my goal, you should have a better understanding of economics and now see love as nothing but a business problem, and maybe even see people as chess pieces. Of course, all poetry is up to interpretation, and economics is as well. Remember that humans are irrational. Economic models can’t be used to explain everything, especially the individual. People ignore opportunity costs, consider sunk costs, and unnecessarily burden others. In short, people should be used to understand economics, but economics should not be used to understand people.