Jonathan Swift proposed that Irish babies be eaten in a satirical attempt to convince an indifferent England of Ireland’s economic development interests.
The poetic efforts of Samuel Taylor Coleridge eclipsed his marvelously titled book, Vulgar Errors Respecting Taxes and Taxation. Published during the Napoleonic Wars, it argues for public debt to be used as a source of credit to support business activity.
Ezra Pound, the modernist poet, is also the author of The ABCs of Economics. He tried to explain why capitalist economies do not generate enough demand to absorb what they produce. Pound asked: “There are enough goods, there is superabundant capacity to produce superabundance goods. Why should anyone starve? “.
These are just a few examples of the economic theories in the delightful Poets’ Guide to Economics. John Ramsden, in the introduction to this collection of essays, argues that the Industrial Revolution brought about such seismic change that poets “began to engage more seriously with the world of money and to offer their own reflections on political economy.
The author also acknowledges the onset of the Great Depression and the resulting reinvention of the economic role of the state as another moment of creative engagement. The poets “knew that economics was philosophically flawed. It was based on a narrow and transactional view of human behavior, at odds with real life”.
It is a fine analysis of literary efforts to influence economic thought. A common theme is the role of money and the functioning of banking systems. Shelley was critical of paper money and argued for the abolition of the national debt. Walter Scott argued for banks to be better able to serve the Scottish economy.
The essays would benefit from a little more analysis and a little less citations. The economic context is mainly focused on the events and theories of the last century. There is little recognition of the change in economies and economic theory that began later, let alone in the time of Covid.
Such observations are minor in a work that is a labor of love and learning. Each essay is a mixture of elegance, a hint of eccentricity and often premonitory ideas. There’s a lot in this book that would enrich any budget day speech!
Paschal Donohoe is Minister of Finance and President of the Eurogroup