Haikus Make Econ Less Dismal

Matsuo Basho, great haiku poet

Matsuo Basho, great haiku poet

I’ve written in the past about Steve Ziliak at Chicago’s Roosevelt University who practices what he calls “haiku economics.” Recently Ziliak sent me a link to a fascinating article (you can download it here) on how he has his students engage in haiku competitions—or what in medieval Japan were known as “rengas.”

At Ziliak describes it,

A renga is in general a spontaneous, collaboratively written linked haiku poem with stanzas and links conventionally arranged in 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic order. In medieval Japan renga gatherings were social, political, and economic exchanges – from small to elaborate parties – with a literary end: a collectively written poem to provoke and entertain the assembled audience about a theme, mood, and season.

Ziliak requires his students to stick to economic themes but otherwise allows them freedom in what they do with them. Renga, he notes,

 can be sarcastic and provocative. Renga parties can get downright raucous, with and without the sake. Just stick to the economy, and to the 5-7-5-7-7 uta form, those were our main rules. After 12 years of teaching haiku economics I find that students are typically stimulated by this combination of rules and freedom, and especially in an economic class, where they do not normally expect to have so much freedom to express ideas and feelings.

You can go to the article to check out the renga that won the competition. As a bonus to the reader, Ziliak throws in a set of haikus that I particularly like about key figures and moments in the history of economics. One of Ziliak’s former students, Samuel Barbour, wrote them after encountering haiku economics .

Fashions of Economics: Haiku

By Samuel Barbour

Finance and fashion
Go well together putting
models on catwalks.

We are eminent
respectable men in suits
you’ve never heard of.

What pure, white as snow
Bristled monument adorned-
Alfred Marshall’s face.

In Eighty-Three we
shook off inflation like ash
from Volker’s cigar

Far more numerous
than the quantity supplied
soldiers marching feet.

Bring silver and gold!
They say the hangman’s price is
quite inelastic.

J. P. Morgan’s nose;
That slant snarling purple bulb
Secret of his charm.

The eloquent Smith
wore a wig, lived with his Mom
like Andy Warhol

Oh starry eyed Reich
his hobbit beard is dancing
‘mongst the Berkeley groves.

Turns out, Valhalla
for moral scientists is
Sweden’s Central Bank

Who knows what might lurk
underneath in the shadows
of Krugman’s grey beard

A marvel of style
sophistication and wit
frames Bernanke’s lips.

Money illusion—
adjusting for inflation,
savings disappear.

They say a crisis
Is not truly a crisis
‘til the banks panic.

Check out as well Ziliak’s website and his article “Haiku Economics: Little Teaching Aids for Big Economic Pluralists.” In addition to explaining haiku economics, the article offers some of Ziliak’s own contributions to the genre, including my favorite:

Invisible hand;
mother of inflated hope,
mistress of despair!

In Ziliak’s hands, what Thomas Carlyle described as “the dismal science” seems less dismal.


Previous posts on Ziliak linking literature and economics

Poems that Help Us See the Economy

Steinbeck Makes Microeconomics Real 

Haikus for Economic Crisis

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