Thursday, May 28, 2009

We need better stories

This lunchtime I went to hear Dan Ikenson of Cato Institute. Sadly, it was not in Washington DC (though, actually, I find that city rather tiring) but in London, the Adam Smith Institute, to be precise. His talk and the subsequent discussion was on the merits of free trade, the demerits of protectionism in a world of rapid transport and long production chains and the need for policy makers to understand these simple facts.

Among other points he mentioned that "we need better stories". In other words we, on our side of the political spectrum, must learn to produce good sound-bites and heart-rending stories. This can seem a problem only to economists and that is, of course, what has happened to much of the right - it has been captured by economists, who produce wonderful theories and spectacular graphs but find it hard to cope with the human side of the issues.

Mr Ikenson told of how his well-prepared presentations would be trumped by somebody referring to a clothes factory in, say, North Carolina being closed and what about the workers there. To which one should reply, said Mr Ikenson, well, what about the single mother with two children who cannot easily get a good job (or a full-time job at all) and who would have to pay far higher proportion of her income for her children's clothes if there were no cheap imports.

One could develop that story: people can get out of poverty by education and training. If that single mother with two children spends less on clothes and shoes for her children, she can spend more money on educational and training matters, such as books, visits to exhibitions, adult education classes and so on.

Let's have more and better stories. We need to collect them.

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