Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Garden Economy

I thought this NYT op-ed the other day was interesting. Metaphors have an insidious effect on the way we think about the economy, the authors argue.

What we require now is a new framework for thinking and talking about the economy, grounded in modern understandings of how things actually work. Economies, as social scientists now understand, aren’t simple, linear and predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden. It can be fruitful if well tended, but will be overrun by noxious weeds if not. ..

Seeing the economy this way does not make you anti-capitalist. In fact, nothing could be more pro-business and pro-growth than a Gardenbrain approach — because by focusing our attention on the long term over the short, on the power of markets to create wealth through evolutionary adaptations and on the health of the whole rather than a part, it gives us prosperity that is widely shared, sustained and self-reinforcing.

It's possible to exaggerate the effect of metaphors and 'framing'. I think George Lakoff's work generally falls in that excessive category.

But it's also important to be sensitive to the kind of stories we tell, and the assumptions embedded in those stories. I've always thought the constrained optimization models of mainstream economics are just another kind of metaphor, not inherently better than comparing economic activity to a football game or a movie or a machine or war. Not rigorous; just an "as if" story.


No comments:

Post a Comment