The Poets of the Economy

“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.]

Published by

Joe Carter

Joe Carter founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tribune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicaton.

  • Baus

    With the poet extraordinaire, Milton Friedman, there’d be no Reagan.
    Friedman changed the world, made it a beautiful’er place.

  • Baus

    oops… I mean “without” Friedman… there’d be no Reagan, of course.

  • Mumon

    My list would include (I don’t have a good reason to separate people & individuals)
    1. The US Department of Defense: without which there’d be no Intel, no miniaturization of circuits, no advanced materials…
    2. W. Edwards Deming, American inventor of “Theory Z,” which was ignored by American manufacturing companies, but picked up with enthusiasm by Japan. The rest, as they say, is history.
    3. Toyota: They were doing to manufacturing what Wal-Mart was doing to product distribution decades before Sam Walton.
    4. Fischer Black and Myron Scholes: The two folks you probably never heard of, but if you’ve heard of Credit Default Swaps, CDOs, LTCM, etc., you’ve heard of their influence. The Black-Scholes derivative security pricing models are behind every type of security today, and misuse of their theory is in part behind the sub-prime credit crunch.
    Greenspan? As somebody in France said recently, he was as much an arsonist as a firefighter.
    Gates? Would have happened without him.
    Walton? Ephemeral. His business model depends on people acting against their communities and low energy prices. Heh.

  • tgirsch

    Did Bell Labs really invent C++? I thought it was just C, and that C++ didn’t hit the scene until after there was no such thing as Bell Labs any more. I could have my history wrong, though…
    Surprise, surprise, I’m wrong again. :) It really was Bell Labs. Never mind.

  • tgirsch

    Walton? Ephemeral. His business model depends on people acting against their communities and low energy prices.
    I’m pretty sure “screw the local economy” appears in their mission statement somewhere… :)

  • Collin Brendemuehl

    Let’s look behind the scenes for the reinforcing agents necessary to build this economy.
    HP builds the test equipment that Intel depends upon for its processors.
    Jobs & Woz created a competition to force MS to produce something respectable.
    DARPA gave us TCP/IP and later FTP & HTTP. Or we wouldn’t be here, Gates or not.
    Milton Friedman should not be forgotten.
    Democrats gave us high taxes and created the (generally) tax-free underground economy.

  • Mark Byron

    I can vouch for Mumon’s mention of Black and Scholes; I wound up using a modified version of their option-pricing model in my doctoral dissertation in Finance. However, I don’t think they’re in the top five; in the hunt for the top 10, but not top 5.
    In the personal list, I’d swap out Tom Watson for Ronald Reagan; if you include Tom Watson, why not Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods ;-)
    I’d keep Wal-Mart and Bell Labs, but I’d bring in FedEx for revolutionizing logistics, Xerox for mainstreaming copying and for developing the Graphical User Interface that Apple lifted to create the Mac operating system (Xerox’s PARC lab is an unsung hero in the development of the modern PC), and Apple for giving us the first mass-market personal computer, mass-market developing the GUI and popularizing the MP3.

  • NoOneYouKnow

    I’d have to vote for George W. Bush and the 109th Congress, for managing to bring to the brink of bankruptcy the richest nation on earth.

  • Patrick (gryphmon

    For businesses you would have to add Xerox. Besides the establishment of the first plain paper copier in 1959, in the 70’s for computers they developed the original Graphic User Interface (GUI), and the mouse, which were the basic template for both the Macintosh and Windows Operating Systems a few years later.

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