Richard Bronk

 

On his book The Romantic Economist: Imagination in Economics

Cover Interview of May 22, 2009

In a nutshell

My starting point for The Romantic Economist was an observation made during seventeen years working in the world of finance.  I was struck by an important mismatch between the way economists usually model economies and the way markets often work in practice.  Economists normally rely on essentially static equilibrium models to make predictions about markets, and they assume that economic actors optimise their trading possibilities on the basis of rational expectations.  Yet, as we are daily reminded, markets are dynamic and creative processes characterized by relentless innovation, self-reinforcing emotional spasms and massive uncertainty.  And, in this uncertain world, individuals are driven as much by emotion, sentiment, intuition and imagination as by rational calculation and probability forecasts of future utility.

The solution proposed in the book is that economics should complement its standard models and assumptions (which work well enough in many areas) with new ones derived from the poetry and philosophy of the Romantics which can make better sense of the creative and emotional aspects of markets.

Indeed, Romanticism is a surprisingly fruitful source of new assumptions, models and metaphors for helping us understand the role of imagination, moral sentiments and brute emotions in economic behaviour.  The Romantics analysed the imaginative and emotional aspects of human nature in unsurpassed depth and, by building on their insights, economists can enrich the microfoundations of their discipline.  The Romantics also championed the use of organic metaphors of growth and interdependence (borrowed from biology) rather than the mechanical metaphors of Newtonian physics.  An updated version of their organic metaphors can go a long way in helping economists model complex social interaction and dynamic feedback effects.

At a more general level, The Romantic Economist argues that both sides of the divide between literature and science have much to gain from intellectual engagement with each other.  To this end, the book aims to make the foundations of economic theory accessible to humanities-based readers and Romantic thought approachable for apostles of the dismal science.  This is an interdisciplinary book for a complex age.