Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Economics of Whimsy

The question was laid out by the professor at the start of class:
Is a country without whimsy worth worrying about?
It was perplexing, for this was in the realm of philosophy
Was I really in the right class: the economics of whimsy?

In previous meetings, the central discussion
   was around whimsy trade deficits
With this provocation,
   it seemed that she was now bringing up matters of ethics
Oh well, everyone perked up, we all started to pay close attention
Her socratic method had, very quickly, exposed a new dimension:

The first article of impeachment against the rogue authoritarian
Is the damning charge: must everything be utilitarian?
Far more egregious than their murders, and garden variety deceit,
Is the scoundrel's plundering of society's strategic reserves of wit

Market failure occurs when the supply of whimsy is artificially constrained
This can lead to dramatic episodes of hyperinflation, alienation and pain
A few speculators may prosper,
   but the overall market sentiment is of blood in the water
As only minimal soul support can be provided,
   even with the most activist central banker

No, a run on the human marketplace of invention
   is to be avoided at all costs
Regulators have historically placed limits on derivative trading
   to enforce stop-loss
Most countries consequently have their equivalent
   of the Plunge Protection Team
It is rather naive to speak of a free market
   in light of this severe market discipline

The quants had devised new hedging strategies
   but their struggle was uphill
They were never satisfactory,
   those cheap laughs and bargain basement thrills
Some made a killing with subprime whimsy
   - but never marked to market their beliefs
And when the adjustable rates would kick in,
   the balloon payments would lead to grief

I started to see her purpose, that she favored classroom anarchy
That her pedagogy was engaged, she liked to get her hands dirty
Quintessential abstractions were the very opposite
   of her teaching strategy
By this point, I was very minded to enroll with her
   and change my course of study

She wanted to expose her students
   to all of the world's chaos and disorder
And so we learned that whimsy is not national,
   it is no respecter of borders
Protectionism had been tried by autocratic regimes to no avail,
The professor added, "For whimsy denied can lead to forced sales"

Those who have lived under dictators know this truth:
Everything starts with the irrepressible youth
That, even when the regime is cruel, ruthless, and beyond the pale
The pricing pressure the young bring to bear
   affects the economies of scale

And when the bond traders sense a weakness, there's a flight to safety
The informal sector responds to all this volatility
Albeit, we all start trading whimsy on the black market
Belly laughs are most exhilarating when it is darkest

Tyrants have been lampooned and mortally wounded, even high fliers
With a well targeted strike of suitably barbed satire
All it took was a few pointed words
   about the Emperor's sartorial choices
To give leverage to sanity; the nude hubris of rogues is never advised

We ended class by reconsidering her initial subversive question
Namely whether safeguarding the quaint must be seen as a real obligation
I remarked that I was starting to see the outline of an answer
That there is moral power to be held in the resulting laughter

I added, a country without play or fancy is merely absurd
And that the last refuge of rogues was their weasel words
A simple proof by contradiction of the invisible hand theory
The scarcity of resources is central to the economics of whimsy

The necessity of permanent outrage had long been my mainstay
But it appeared I was too single minded and had been led astray
The seminar had taught me larger lessons and rude awakenings
I left with a renewed appreciation of the joy of small things

It's your day by Glen

The notion that so few in my country can bury their heads in books on weekday afternoons or on a lazy Saturday morning at the library is cause for much distress. And don't get me started about what's happened to the Legon University bookstore. Must everything be utilitarian? Is a country without whimsy worth worrying about?

— extract from The Books of Nima
Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: The Laws of Grief

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Writing log: February 26, 2021

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