The Poets of the Economy

Economics & Law — By on May 16, 2006 at 12:43 am

“Money,” said Wallace Stevens, “is a kind of poetry.” As a Pulitizer Prize-winning poet and president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, Stevens was familiar with both free verse and the free market. So if Stevens is correct, and money is a kind of poetry, then who are our epic monetary poets, the “poets of the economy?”
As the mid-term elections draw near we will hear countless debates over who is responsible for the flourishing (if a Republican politician) or stangating economiy. But while the President and Congress play a significant role in shaping our material fortunes, we often give politicians too much credit. The true leaders, the poets, of the economy are often found far from Washington, D.C.
I’ve made a list of the five individuals and the five organizations that I think have had the greatest impact on the economy since World War II. The completely arbitrary criteria I’ve laid out for the “poets” is that they must have been born after 1900 and cannot be a politician or elected official; for the companies/organizations that they must have been created after 1900 and that they are still in operation today.
My list includes the following:
1. Alan Greenspan (b. 1926) – Former chairman of the Federal Reserve
2. Bill Gates (b. 1955) – Founder of Microsoft
3. Sam Walton (b. 1918) – Founder of Wal-Mart
4. Tom Watson, Jr. – Leader of IBM
5. Ray Kroc (b. 1902) – Founder of McDonald’s Restaurants
1. Microsoft – developed software that had a significant impact on office productivity.
2. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc (1962) – transformed both retailing and corporate logistics
3. IBM (1924) – revolutionized mainframe computers and invented the personal computer
4. Bell Labs (1925) – invented the transistor, UNIX, C++ software, etc.
5. The American Legion (1919) — pushed for the introduction of the G.I. Bill
What names would you include and why?
[Note: I reserve the right to update my list if I find an answer that I like better.]



  • http://www.anon.com anon

    how many of these five gentlemen happen to be Jewish, I wonder?

  • Terry

    Joe I thinink you’ve done a disservice by not including any of Steven’s poetry. The guy new his metrical verse as well as his free verse. Here’s a stanza from his paean to paganism, “Sunday Morning”:

    Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
    No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
    Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
    He moved among us, as a muttering king,
    Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
    Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
    With heaven, brought such requital to desire
    The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
    Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
    The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
    Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
    The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
    A part of labor and a part of pain,
    And next in glory to enduring love,
    Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

  • http://johncoleman.typepad.com John

    You might include one of the financial behemoths of the late 20th century / early 21st century economy like Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, or one of the private equity firms (like KKR) that has revolutionized the way business in the United States is conducted. Right now some of these firms (Merrill) have more assets under management than the entire U.S. GDP. Along the same lines, you might enshrine Danny DeVito for his portrayal of a corporate raider in the movie “Other People’s Money”:)

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    “No politicians or elected officials” shouldn’t preclude the inclusion of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which eventually had far more impact over the world economy than Wal-Mart.

  • http://brain-waves.blogspot.com Jim

    Why stop with “economy”? I’ve long said that it doesn’t matter who sits in the White House; the strings are really being pulled by about seven men somewhere with the wealth of the world in their hip-pockets…..

  • http://jimgilbertatlarge.blogspot.com Jim G.

    Joe, IBM did not invent the personal computer. Jobs and Wozniak could make the claim more easily, although they really didn’t “invent” it either, but instead brought the first one to market (almost five years earlier than IBM).
    I find it humorous that you regularly include Yak Shaving Razor tips on how to make your pc perform certain tasks that have been built into my Mac for years.
    You’ve got a life. Now get a Mac.

  • http://decorabilia.blogspot.com Jim Anderson

    Rosie the Riveter, since I can’t narrow it down to just one influential feminist.
    It would be interesting to know what our economy would be like if women were still largely excluded from the workforce.

  • http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/ jhudson

    I would include the little recognized Xerox Palo Alto Research Center; they were responsible for the the mouse, the graphical user interface on your computer, WYSIWYG text editors, the laser printer, and ethernet, which allowed enhanced connectivity for modern networks and the internet.

  • kwbr

    Actually many of the players at the Palo Alto Research Center cut their teeth at the project for the Augmentation of Human Intelligence under Douglas Engelbart, who patented the mouse in 1961 and demonstrated the GUI along with live remote audio and video conferencing and collaboration at a computer users show in 1967. His vision of what a computer could do and how it could extend human capabillities through a more human interface has had at least as profound an effect on how we live and work as the more famous names on your list.
    Which humbles us as we reflect on suggesting lists such as this, as useful as they might be. Sometimes the more obscure individuals have had the greatest impact.
    Imagine a toga clad scribe putting such a list in ink to vellum in first century Rome. Would he have included among tyhe movers and shakers of his world a boy born to Jewish parents in Bethlehem? I think not.

  • ucfengr

    Joe–Ray Kroc was not the founder of McDonald’s, the McDonald Brothers were. He did set up the franchising concept for McDonald’s and actually bought out the brothers in the early 1960’s.

  • stan

    Hewlett & Packard

  • ex-preacher

    Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, credited with bringing inflation under control (from 13.5% in 1981 to 3.2% in 1987).

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    How about Total Quality Management and Drucker? Greenspan is important but hardly #1 if your span is the last 100 years or even the post WWII era.
    Economists that should be included are Keynes for his fiscal theory and Friedman for monatism.
    Gates, Walton and McDonalds are important as far as business history goes but they really aren’t anything new. In an earlier age it was Ford, Sears and Coke that showed the power of a huge brand name combined with large economies of scale…even earlier than that you had Standard Oil and J.P. Morgan.

  • http://spudv.bravejournal.com Marc V

    I read about this the other week, but I don’t remember the gentleman’s name who founded and drove American Express. While Diner’s Club was the “first” credit card, AE grew that sector of “eh, pay me later” financing, which spawned Visa and MasterCard and now has become a way of life.
    I know you did not want to open the politician’s can of worms, but I would have to vote for FDR (Fed. gov’t. overtaking economy), Nixon (getting US off of gold standard) and Reagan (tax less, spend more, deficits are FUN). With our digital economy, the government does not have to worry about printing all those dollars, it’s just a press of the keyboard button now.

  • jd

    I would have to agree that Greenspan should not be included. I think the fact that he sits in front of the Congress like the Dalai Lama, and says things that nobody understands gives the impression that he is some kind of oracle. It’s the people who listen to him and know what he’s hinting at with all his cryptic gibberish who are the true poets of the economy. Paul Volcker presided over a much more volatile economy. I would argue that Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer maybe even Larry Kudlow had a more profound effect on our economy.
    Ray Kroc didn’t “found” McDonald’s, but I doubt anyone would be “supersized” without Kroc.

  • jd

    anon:
    Let me explain something to you. Shut up!

  • http://www.JeffBlogworthy.com Jeff Blogworthy
  • Crusader

    This is an Evangelical blog? I’ve read the entire bible more than once and I can’t really picture Jesus equating monetary success with personal virtue. I can only assume that, had they not been so publicly disgraced, you’d be lauding companies like Enron and WorldCom, or to use more a more dated reference, ZZZ Best. Sam Walton, seriously? He didn’t even provide basic health care for his workers. Just because he beats a bible doesn’t make him a Christian. Am I to applaud Kathy Lee Gifford for her efficient use of sweatshops? Here are a few serious suggestion for you “christians”: Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse. There economic model of Hunting and gathering, and not outstripping the land on which we live was the only truly sustainable way of life the planet has ever known.

  • ucfengr

    There economic model of Hunting and gathering, and not outstripping the land on which we live was the only truly sustainable way of life the planet has ever known.
    Did the hunter/gatherer economic model provide the resources for the computer you type your inane ramblings on? Or the vaccinations you got as a child so you wouldn’t die from small pox, polio, or any number of illnesses that kept life expectancies in the low-middle 30’s? What about refrigeration so you wouldn’t starve to death if hunting was bad for a season?

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    ucfengr:
    You’re in the wrong direction (hunter-gatherers did tend to live longer than civilized folks); but there’s a better criticism: hunder gatherers had and have absolutely no tradition of conservation.
    It’s why big game animals disappeared from North America, so the idea that hunter-gathering was as originally practiced “economically sustainable” or sustainable in any other sense is a myth.
    ___________________________________________
    After my comment on MITI it occurred to me that the American-centrism of this post probably revealed itself in other ways:
    And sure enough Carrefour , a better store all around than Wal-Mart, predates it.
    The addition of McDonald’s is interesting. Somewhere else Joe Carter posted about the badness of gluttony; I wonder if Joe Carter would put up the guys who invented the marketting of crack cocaine as “poets of the economy.”

  • ucfengr

    You’re in the wrong direction (hunter-gatherers did tend to live longer than civilized folks)
    But I don’t their life expectancies even came close to those approached by citizens of a modern Western nations.
    It’s why big game animals disappeared from North America, so the idea that hunter-gathering was as originally practiced “economically sustainable” or sustainable in any other sense is a myth.
    Wow, an area where we agree.

  • tom

    I agree that the exclusion of Jobs & Wozniak as well as the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center are serious oversight. Bill Gates hasn’t had an original idea in his life; he’s just good at capitalizing on others’ good ideas.
    Others have noted that the list is too recent. True, also. Why Henry Ford (perfector of the assembly line) isn’t on here is a mystery, and surely some early leader of the union movement (Walter Reuther, perhaps) should also be on here.
    Mumon, I happen to have covered Carrefour during my days as a business reporter. It’s a good company, but the comparison is apples and oranges because of the protectionist environment that Carrefour gets to operate in makes it hard to make direct comparisons to, say, Wal-Mart.

  • Crusader

    Just to correct some misconceptions, Native Americans didn’t force the buffalo to near extinction as you have claimed. That was a result of a concerted effort by whites to starve the tribes to death. If you doubt this it shouldn’t take you long to find pictures on the internet of white “settlers” (conquerers) standing next to mountains of buffalo corpses that the never intended to eat. What other large game animals could you be referring to? Wolly Mammoths? I think an ice age is more likely the cause there. Research is necessary before you call an argument inane.

  • Crusader

    Also, I never said that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle afforded me a computer, vaccinations, or a long life span. I merely said it was sustainable. I also do not claim that it could have supported current population levels.

  • ucfengr

    Native Americans didn’t force the buffalo to near extinction as you have claimed.
    Who claimed this?
    What other large game animals could you be referring to?
    According to John Alroy at the University of California, Native Americans hunted more than 30 mammals (including Wooly Mammoths, Columbian Mammoths, American Mastadons, and surprisingly 3 species of camels) to extinction 12-13,000 years ago (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/06/010608081621.htm).
    I merely said it was sustainable.
    Do you know anybody who would volunteer to return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle? Me neither. How can you assert with any seriousness that an economic system that nobody wants to live in is sustainable?

  • Crusader

    In the interest of keeping this thread on topic I’ll be brief. I appologize for not specifically listing the type of mammoth I was referring to. No, your reference to a professor doesn’t impress nor persuade me. Finally, I would gladly revert to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. In response to your next post no I’m not smoking anything, but I’d be smoking a peace pipe over Custer’s ashes if I had my choice.

  • http://www.JeffBlogworthy.com Jeff Blogworthy

    …a concerted effort by whites to starve the tribes to death. If you doubt this it shouldn’t take you long to find pictures on the internet of white “settlers” (conquerers) standing next to mountains of buffalo corpses that the never intended to eat.
    Wow. It couldn’t possibly be for the value of their pelts. No – it must be a nefarious plan to starve the tribes. Crusader, it might also interest you to know that the mostly white CIA invented AIDS to extinguish the black population. I look forward to your thesis.

  • http://www.JeffBlogworthy.com Jeff Blogworthy

    A little interesting buffalo trivia:
    Thousands of buffalo were drowned each spring, when the thawing ice of streams and lakes crackled under the rush of the migrating herd. The upper waters of the Missouri were each year clogged with drowned buffaloes. One of the small rivers emptying into the Republican is called (to the grief of the Wyoming legislature) the Stinking Water, a name conferred by Indians, who had several times been forced to abandon a camp site on this stream because of the numbers of buffalo that had been fast mired in the mud. John McDonnell, descending the Qu’Appelle River in the spring of 1795, put in a whole May day in counting the drowned and mired buffaloes; when his party camped for the evening he had counted seven thousand, three hundred and sixty. “It is true, in one or two places I went on shore and walked from one carcass to the other, where they lay from three to five files deep.” E. Douglas Branch, J. Frank Dobie, and Andrew C. Isenberg, The Hunting of the Buffalo (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1997)

  • Crusader

    Jeff Blogworthy,
    Do you really not believe that the U.S. Government ever had a policy of exterminating the Native Americans? That sounds far-fetched to you? Maybe you should read books that aren’t published by the University of Nebraska press. Also, stop referring to your own posts as interesting. I think I’m incredibly good looking but I don’t preface all my comments with that.

  • Crusader

    Also,
    Your assertion, even mockingly, that the “CIA invented AIDS to extinguish the black population” betrays you as a racist. African Americans are too stupid to use contraception? To promiscuous to remain faithful? I truly hope that a woman in your family falls in love with a black man.

  • http://www.JeffBlogworthy.com Jeff Blogworthy

    Crusader,
    Your are obviously a confused person looking in a mirror. It is apparent that you have some need to attribite everything in your life to racism. Like many leftists, it serves as your ideological filter. Forgive me if I do not loose any sleep over your accusation.
    Do you really not believe that the U.S. Government ever had a policy of exterminating the Native Americans?
    Let me lay it out for you: The U.S. Government has killed Indians, “white men” have killed Indians of their own accord; Indians have killed Indians; Indians have killed white men. However, it is a historical fact that the U.S. Government has never had a “policy of exterminating” all Native Americans.