Narrative economics

Narratives have been with us as long as mankind exists. They just take different forms and content nowadays. Whereby narratives have first spread orally, then much later through written words, images and movies, they are forceful ways of communicating. Robert Shiller wrote a good story about narratives related to the field of economics. Referring to the writing of the polymath David Hume (1742), main proponent with Adam Smith of the Scottish enlightenment, contagion like in pandemics is mentioned for the first time to explain that “the multitude will certainly be seized by the common affection and be governed by it in all their actions”. (Shiller 2019, p. 58). In order to understand narratives going viral Shiller mentions the importance for narratives to be embedded in “narrative constellations”. Holding truth against spreading false narratives might not be enough in itself. Strong, catching narratives seem to bypass or override even truthful information. Additionally, narratives never die, but rather offer opportunities for repetition. On content of economic narratives Shiller exemplifies stock market panic, consumerism, financial stability, automation and AI fears, speculation bubbles, evil business and labour unions. Topics like lazy unemployed persons, too early entry into retirement, too late entry into the labour market for youth, women or migrants, all have endured stigmatising narratives across time and/or across countries. With emotional and powerful economic narratives all around us, trust and authenticity become a very important meta-currency. The instantly printing camera now serves as proof. Beware of the scenery, actors and action chosen. Medieval painter Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667 Leiden-Amsterdam) had chosen the economic narrative of the “women baking pan cakes and the child as beggar”.  Ending up in a museum instead of the White House is probably the opposite of going viral. The same Photo in black and white might have more of a trustworthy documentary character than the suggestive colours.