Back in July, Mark Thoma posted an e-mail from Steve Ziliak, who explains a paper he has written on haiku economics. The basic idea is to construct wonderful 17 syllable poems that capture an economic idea in a creative fashion.
I have to admit that at the time, I really wanted to buy into this idea. After all, anything artsy is edgy, and Ziliak has certainly had some important heterodox contributions to economics. So, I read the paper, and I thought about it, and even contemplated posting on it. I ultimately decided that I couldn’t say much constructive because I didn’t really believe that haikus really added another dimension of thinking to economics.
I think the problem was that I was looking for too much. Even Ziliak admits in the e-mail,
Haiku economics won’t solve all our aching problems. But, as I argue in my forthcoming article, haiku can and does serve as more than economic pain relief.
The reason I’m thinking about this topic again is that I read a blog post (h/t Ezra Klein) from The New Yorker. The post discussed Twitter, blog posts, text messaging, et al. The basic conclusion was that some new research is showing that these forms of writing are not destroying writing for the current generation of youth, but rather, are drastically increasing the amount of writing that teenagers do.
Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public
So how does this apply to the economic haikus? Well, just like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging, haikus make economics more accessible (lower the price, even, if you really want to get all jazzy about it). They get students thinking about economics who otherwise would not. In reality, most haikus will ultimately regurgitate ideas that the writers already understand. But that is ok. Simply by increasing the amount of students engaged in economics, and the degree to which they are engaged, haiku economics can stimulate the discipline.
Ziliak unpacks these ideas really well in his paper. For whatever reason, it took the framing of that other blog post for me to get it. Don’t expect me to start writing economics haikus (although perhaps I will start reading and posting them more). I also think there are plenty of other ways to make economics more accessible at an earlier stage (like this textbook, perhaps, of which Ziliak is an author, incidentally). But, my point it, it’s all good.