The Economy in 17 Syllables, All of Them Gloomy

For the third quarter of 2011, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation leavened its otherwise morose quarterly survey of economics bloggers (PDF) with something new: a haiku contest. The 63 academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and journalists who participated in the survey, including myself, were asked to describe the state of the economy in the form of a haiku, the classical Japanese poetry form consisting of three lines in five, seven, and five syllables. More than 500 public readers voted on the compositions, which were published last week by The Economist.

I didn’t win, perhaps because my poem didn’t hew to the required number of syllables—but more likely because I just was trying too hard to be clever:

Employment down, output up 
Doing more with less 
Until everything is done by no one

The most popular poem was penned by Art Diamond, a professor of economics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Like all of the best haiku, it was both poignant and true—I voted for it myself:

jobs and Jobs are gone 
need more Jobs to get more jobs 
innovate to grow

The rest of the haiku are below, for the amusement of poetry and economics fans. And the survey itself? Well, reflecting the tone of the poems, the collective outlook of the participating bloggers was at its most pessimistic since Kauffman Foundation senior scholar Tim Kane began doing these surveys back in the first quarter of 2010. A crushing 95 percent of the respondents said they think the economy is either mixed, facing recession, or in recession. Across the board, respondents rated business conditions for entrepreneurs, venture and angel investors, bank lending to businesses and individuals as either fair, bad, or very bad. The most frequent adjective picked to describe the economy, as in past surveys, was “uncertain” (click on the word cloud below for other frequently used descriptions).

On the positive side, respondents seemed to feel that the economy has nowhere to go but up. Some 71 percent said that global output is bound to either “increase” or “increase strongly” over the next three years. But only 50 percent thought that employment would increase over the next three years, while 63 percent foresee an increase in the top marginal tax rate, 61 percent predict interest rate increases and a jump in inflation, and 48 percent expect federal budget deficits even higher than those today. The report called that last finding “a depressing surprise.”

Asked what government policies they endorsed to restart economic growth, the bloggers rallied behind three solutions—reducing regulatory burdens on new firms, enacting free-trade agreements with countries like South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, and forcing Congress to account for future liabilities such as entitlement payments in annual budget assessments. On other proposals, such as Medicare reform, capping tax deductions, and balanced-budget amendment, the respondents were more divided.

Survey participants included luminaries such as UCSD economist Jim Hamilton, UC Berkeley scholar Brad Delong, Craiglist founder Craig Newmark, author and columnist Robert X. Cringely, and Kauffman Foundation senior fellow (and Xconomist) Paul Kedrosky. “As independent thinkers who are immersed in discourse through the innovation of blogging, these economics writers have a unique voice and perspective, and potentially profound influence,” the foundation says.

Here’s the full collection of poems, reprinted by permission. They range from the uplifting to the downcast to the downright cynical. If these inspire you, feel free to leave your own economics haiku in the comments.

Tax the Rich and Now
Borrow to Invest in Stuff 
Bring Back the New Deal

– Daniel Gross

Boost U.S. Demand 
Need More Money and Tax Cuts 
Hands off the long run

-Karl Smith

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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