The Literature of Economics
Economics has long held a reputation of being an inaccessible social science. We are daunted by its intricacies, technicalities and ambiguities. It is, however, one of the most practical and socially relevant areas of expertise. We live not just in homes and societies, but in economies. We may rely on experts of respective fields to deal with matters of medicine and other pure sciences; but an understanding of economics is crucial even for laymen to function properly in the modern world.
What the overabundance of jargon hides is the fact that economics is no different from literature – the dearest of arts to the human mind.
"Our lives are ceaselessly intertwined with narrative, with the story that we tell, all of which are reworked in that story of our own lives," writes Peter Brooks in his book titled Reading for the Plot. People have been drawn to stories like moths to flame from ancient times to today. Our days and daily discussions are claimed by movies, TV shows, songs, books and updates on our social media – a motley blend of storytelling channels. Empathy – an emotion most people tend to possess in different and often twisted forms – help us connect to different types of tales. Depending on our individual interests, we are fascinated and amused by history, fantasy, crime thrillers, romantic comedies, politics of Westeros and follies of past and present world leaders. Stories govern our lives.
As textbook definitions go, economics is the interaction of finite resources and infinite human wants. This basic disparity extends and multiplies into the innumerable issues tended to by economists, policymakers and governments worldwide, which in turn take over the news updates we pore over. We want to earn enough to be able to eat what we love, wear the clothes we admire, educate ourselves and travel to places that intrigue us, all in a safe and nurturing environment for our families and future generations. Our governments, in turn, want to be able to realise these wants desired collectively by a country of individuals. In its dealing of scarce resources for unlimited wants, economics is the most detailed story of human civilisation, capturing even the narrative's essence of blending into every aspect of our lives.
A good story is made up of wholesome characters, deep plots and a justifiable climax. Coherence; consistency; a functional blend of the traditional and the fresh. We expect a story to portray characters that we can either relate to or are surprised by. Shaped by their own histories and made to face forces beyond their control, the characters fight to fulfil their end goals. The knight rides the horse, climbs the castle walls, slays the dragon and rescues the princess; and equilibrium is restored, but only for a while. New episodes bring new hurdles, and later seasons bring about reappearances of previously defeated evils – be it inflation, unemployment or recessions reminiscent of darker decades.
As we know, the aforementioned forces beyond our control include a bevy of demand and supply dynamics which govern financial and commodity markets. Just as the brave knight makes use of his steed and swords, policymakers implement the various tools at their disposal to reach a (short or long-run) happy ending. These include innovation, technology and monetary and fiscal policies used to stabilise prices, interest rates, foreign exchange rates and economic output. Incentives of higher profits, higher wages and greater equality drive the economic behaviour of characters ranging from politicians and businesspersons to garments workers and rural farmers, each with their own set of wants and limitations. Together, they make up the cogs and wheels operating the overarching themes of scarcity, cost-benefit analysis and utility maximisation driving an economy.
Every story has a theme. Hamlet thrives on revenge and the Great Gatsby on ambition. For Bangladesh, the theme of freedom has long been a favourite one. We have strived since our birth to embrace liberation, and that has been reflected in the continued dominance of export goods such as jute and ready-made garments in the country's GDP. New themes and new patterns are evolving to make the story an even more fruitful one, as initiatives to promote education, equality, public safety and women empowerment are flourishing even as we speak. London's BMI prediction of Bangladesh's growth trajectory by 2025 has set the stage for imminent plot developments in the economy's narrative, highlighting its oil imports and a 10.5 crore young cast of residents as potential catalysts. One hopes that the story will not disappoint.
There are of course glaring faults. Persistent poverty, corruption, pollution and inequality still run rampant, all of which are dwarfed by the recent emergence of demonic terrorism. Comparing economics to literature will by no means solve these problems, nor will it make the subject's many depths magically decipherable. It is alas more than metaphors and models. If we were to stop thinking of it, however, as the dismal science and instead see it as the representation of every nook and cranny of our own lives, our own world – we might be able to take a more wholehearted interest in the happy endings our country could aim for.
The writer is a student of Economics, North South University.