Allegorical Economics: The Storyteller's ­Journey (Part One)

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By John F. Sase, Ph.D.
Gerard J. Senick, General Editor
Julie Gale Sase, Copyeditor


“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is the magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation—initiation—return, which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.”
— Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer, and lecturer,
“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (Pantheon Books, 1949)

Last month, we considered some economic principles that all of us can use in our daily businesses. Since the original model of Land-Labor-Capital does not seem to address the needs of the Twenty-First Century for many of us, we explored the Factors of Production in the new light of Behavioral Economics.

This month, we turn to Allegorical Economics by delving into the source of all economic understanding — ourselves as human storytellers as we have developed into productive beings over many millennia. I (Dr. Sase) and my colleagues aim to write a multi-part series on this subject that we hope will enrich both the personal and professional lives of our audience.

Attorneys and economists must be storytellers in both the classroom and the courtroom. Attorneys need to condense the story of their clients to evoke understanding and empathy from jurors in order to achieve justice. This burden comes with the territory. Through our sources and approaches, we seek to unravel the mysteries of Law and Economics in universal ways that are understandable to all human beings. By unraveling this mystery that surrounds the Concept of Story, we hope that every reader will reach illumination of the role that each of us plays in the continued growth and development of stories.

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Economic Allegory

Economics as Allegory is nothing new. Discussion of it in academic journals goes back more than sixty years. In her research article “Economics as Allegory” (Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, Vol 4, Issue 2, 1992, pp. 131 – 136), Jannett K. Highfill investigates the proposition by American Economist Donald N. McCloskey that economic journals contain both metaphors and allegory. We can read the defining trait of allegory for economic purposes on two levels, the literal and the figurative--or allegory. The McCloskey proposition points out that, while we write narrative-Economic allegories (stories that use simple numbers, structure, and language to explain economic concepts), not all narratives in Economics are allegories. However, all mathematical-economic models are allegories. Both the literal and figurative levels of these models are abstract, and this fact provides important implications in using empirical data in Economic inquiry. For more information, see McCloskey’s book The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

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The Storyteller’s Journey

Let us begin by looking at the storyteller as hero(ine). By using the model introduced by American author and lecturer Joseph Campbell, the hero(ine) embarks on a journey of self-discovery. In respect to Law and Economics, the hero(ine) storyteller must have a strong knowledge of Law or Economics in its purest and most basic form in order to communicate with a wide audience.

Campbell explored the art of storytelling in depth through his specialty fields of Comparative Mythology and Comparative Religion. He discussed story form in his many publications, which include The Power of Myth (Doubleday, 1988). This book is based on Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, the television documentary series originally broadcast by PBS in 1988 as six one-hour conversations between Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. In these interviews, Campbell outlines the inner journey of the archetypal hero(ine) who has appeared in stories ranging from Gilgamesh to Star Wars and beyond. In this storytelling archetype, the hero(ine) becomes aware of a problem, overcomes a fear of it, takes a journey in which s/he encounters challenges, and finally accepts the consequences of his/her new life. Through experiences that lead to inner growth, the hero(ine) as a storyteller can help others.

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Our Raison d’Etre

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

— Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” (Doubleday, 1988)

In order to illustrate a hypothesis and observations that we put forth in our professional storytelling, we may develop our allegories as explained by Campbell. In our tales, we may ask how our societal, political-economical, and legal institutions have evolved.

As storytellers, why do we need to understand the human basics of Law and Economics? How will this knowledge benefit us? When communicating with students in a classroom or with jurors in a courtroom, we face the challenge of how to explain important fundamental concepts effectively. For example, if an attorney can prepare the judge and jury through clear and intelligible storytelling of the pertinent facts and principles of the case, then that attorney can use his/her experts to a greater advantage when they present their parts of the larger story.

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Speaking Economics

More often than not, our audiences have had little to no exposure to the technical aspects of our academic disciplines. Nevertheless, they are capable of following common-sense explanations that relate to their fundamental humanness.

Here is our first Economic Principle: The term “Economics” is derived from the Ancient Greek words oikos, meaning “house,” and nomos, meaning “custom” or “law.” In short, it has come to mean “rules of the household for good management.” In modern thought, Economics implies the management of resources. As we consider that all resources are limited in their availability, they are naturally scarce regarding time and place. As a result of this finiteness, we learn to allocate them for competing uses.

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Factors of Production

Consider this second Economic Principle: The objective of the proper allocation of resources is to produce goods and services that serve to satisfy our needs and wants. However, in order to allocate our scarce resources well, we separate them into various categories in our minds. First, we divide these resources into human and nonhuman and then separate each division into subcategories that we call Factors of Production. In last month’s column, we suggested an arrangement for modern purposes: Real Estate, Wage Labor, Profit Labor, Technology, Intellectual Property, and Capital. Our laws protect the ownership rights of these resources.

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Production Possibilities

Here is our third Economic Principle: Depending on the total amounts and relative balance of our Factors of Production, we eventually will reach an upper limit in the creation of desired goods and services. This limit of attainable production suggests optimal utilization of available resources. This limited availability marks the maximum production that we can achieve under present conditions.

There are two ways to achieve a bundle of products beyond our initial limits. First, we can equitably increase our Factors of Production in order to attain an increase in our total output. Second, we can specialize in the production of those products for which we have an advantage. This is in respect to potential partners with whom we may trade our surpluses in exchange for other products that we need.

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Specialization and Division  of Labor

Finally, here is our fourth Economic Principle: A basic way to increase productivity is to the assemble the workforce and then to divide it into groups based upon the varying talents, skills, and knowledge of the individuals in our force. This approach allows each group to focus on a more specialized process or activity. Such division of labor serves to increase both individual productivity and, as a result, the total quantities produced.

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Applying the Campbell Model  to Storytelling

The progression of the hero(ine)’s journey has been applied to numerous fields. For example, educators, consultants, and others have incorporated the teachings of Campbell to their respective fields. In order to achieve our goals in Law and Economics, we can adapt some checkpoints for reflection from his works by asking ourselves the following compound questions (Attorneys may find it beneficial to engage in this six-point exercise):

1. Do I feel inauthentic in any way within my professional life? If so, to what degree do I lack connection with the shared vision, purpose, and mission of my firm or group?

2. Do I experience professional isolation within my area of expertise? If yes, would I be willing to change? If so, how might I accomplish this change? If no, what is the source of my resistance?

3. Do I lack any necessary technical skills and knowledge for my further professional development? If so, how might I resolve these issues?

4. Do I operate at cross-purposes with my colleagues? Do we differ in our interpretations of key work initiatives in a way that leads us to act at odds?

5. Do situations exist within my specialty that would benefit from cross-operational language and procedures with other specialties? Would such cross-operational development encourage my professional growth?

6. Do I entrench myself in the known and predictable aspects of my professional life? If so, why? Am I willing to respond to innovative practices or do I resist or deny any process of change within my professional field?

Self-reflection turns our attention to the function of Mentoring. The archetype of the Mentor functions to impart wisdom, instruction, and guidance. As with Hermes and Athena, who equipped the Greek hero Perseus; the fairy godmother, who bestowed gifts and guidance upon Cinderella; and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gave a lightsaber and learned wisdom to Luke Skywalker, we also want to have a Mentor to guide us along our respective journeys.

As with the heroes and heroines above, the Mentor can serve similar functions for Attorneys and Economists. However, one needs to know something about the characteristics of the Mentor Archetype in order to find a real-life Mentor. We need to recognize that such a mentor represents the Self (especially our higher Self) through acting as a conscience, a teacher, a motivator, and the provider of some special help or gift. Furthermore, the person who receives the help or gift from the Mentor needs to earn it. This action requires learning, sacrifice, or commitment to a cause, to one’s philosophy, or to an organization. Through Mentorship, we hope to gain the enlightenment that s/he can bring to us.

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The Wrap

Next month, we will continue our exploration of Allegorical Economics as we focus on the challenges found in storytelling with numbers. We will examine the ancient history and methods for communicating the substance of complex mathematical models to those among us who relate better to visual, verbal, and behavioral stories. As we venture forth into the past, we will consider the substance of the mathematical allegories of Atlantis, Athens, and Magnesia created by Plato and follow this approach to storytelling back to Pythagoras and earlier thinkers. Numbers need not be complicated in order to tell a story. They only need to fit together in a meaningful way that can be understood widely.

We hope that our first installment of this series provides our readers with a basic understanding of both Campellesque storytelling and the fundamentals of Economics. We wish our readers a Happy Thanksgiving and are grateful for the opportunity to have written this column in the Legal News for almost twenty years.
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Dr. John F. Sase teaches Economics at Wayne State University and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics for twenty years. He earned a combined M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (www.saseassociates.com).
Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a Supervisory Editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication (www.senick-editing.com).
Julie G. Sase is a copyeditor, parent coach, and empath. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles, and copyedits (royaloakparentcoaching.com).

 

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