Sunday, May 04, 2014

Even economists love literature

From The New Yorker
Krugman took Milanovic’s hand and apologized for suggesting, in The New York Review of Books, that Piketty was the only living economist who was literate. “When was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?” Krugman had written. Milanovic feigned indignation. “I used Jane Austen in my book, too—and Tolstoy! ‘Anna Karenina’!” he protested.
“But Anthony Trollope has many more,” Durlauf replied.“Why Jane Austen?” Durlauf asked. “Austen has a lot of details about income and money,” Milanovic said.
“My wife made me read Jane Austen,” Milanovic said. “And then I actually realized that I could use it for my own work. Mr. Darcy had ten thousand pounds! Also, I use Balzac. I didn’t cite it in my book, but I did all the calculations. I have it on my Excel.”
I somehow love the idea of internationally renowned economists doing the calculations for literary characters' fortunes and putting them in Excel.

Also, show of hands: who else besides me wants to see those Excel tables? Who else wants to see the fortunes of characters in Jane Austen and Balzac and Henry James and Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf all laid out so we can adjust them for standards of living at the time and make graphs of them?

*Of course, we know that nicoleandmaggie love literature, but Paul Krugman? Who knew?


What Now? said...

I totally want to see those charts!

Just yesterday I ran across a book by Michael Suk-Young Chwe called Jane Austen: Game Theorist.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Don't forget Maria Edgeworth! She managed an estate and hung out with economists socially. (And is the aunt of the person who invented the Edgeworth Box.)

RE: the Jane Austen thing... most of us wimmin-economists rolled our eyes a bit when that gentleman economist recently thought he was the first person to discover the economics in Jane Austen. I guess most gentlemen economists didn't read it in high school and certainly didn't take a class on her in college. But seriously, DUH. That's like the first-line literary analysis of Austen. Long before you get even to the significance of the muddy dress hems... (btw, My prof really liked my term paper, "Emma in the middle of an agricultural revolution", which is what happens when 3/4 of the classes you're taking that semester focus on the 19th century.)

It probably wouldn't be difficult to make those Excel tables. I'm sure there's a google calculator that will inflate for you.

pilgrim/heretic said...

Hee! I have a friend who's working on just that sort of a project: I'm not sure if she's far along enough for you to see it working yet, but the concept is just fascinating.

undine said...

What Now--I've heard of that book (both pro and con), and it sounds interesting.

nicoleandmaggie--I was wondering about why they wouldn't have known that about Mr. Darcy. By the way, if you ever have a slow blog day, here's a post idea: "Emma in the middle of an agricultural revolution." All that worry about vaguely sinister travelers and upwardly mobile farmers--I would love to see an economist's take on that.

pilgrim/heretic--ooh, that looks like a promising site! I do the cost of living conversions with an online calculator when I teach something, but it doesn't convey the whole picture.

nicoleandmaggie said...

You see it in the Georgette Heyer (and more modern historical romance novelists) books too that are set late enough-- all that discussion of land improvement, and yes, upwardly mobile farmers. The agricultural revolution is what happened right before the first industrial revolution and many believe is what made the industrial revolution possible (food for city workers, fewer workers needed in agriculture). All that crop rotation and soil improvement and better farm equipment etc.

I eat it up.

And, as I noted in the paper, the only time Harriet sounds sensible is when she’s talking about farming.

I assume someone must have published a scholarly paper on the topic at some point.

Flavia said...

Yes, me!

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--Good point about Harriet. Simon Schama's popular histories are pretty good about describing this, though not from an economist's perspective.

Flavia--Wow! Now it's off to the MLA bib to find that for summer reading.