Thursday, August 28, 2014



This challenge involves an unwieldy economic theory!  It's a challenge from my friend Harry David, who is not to be confused with Harry & David, a gourmet fruit basket company. 
Harry has studied economics extensively and written much on the subject (he blogs at, and he also does an excellent job of making writing publish-able, as you can see here:  
He also recently accepted a challenge from me to write from an economic perspective about the 613 mitzvoth in Jewish law, and the result was informative and deep: His challenge to me was to write about rent-seeking.  As he explained to me briefly and quickly:
"Rent-seeking is the pursuit of income in excess of that which is necessary to induce a factor of production to put itself on the market (a "rent" in the technical meaning), where the means by which this income is created destroys social value. It erodes the rule of law, it wastes resources as producers compete to gain the rents, it contributes to the ossification of the political economy." I Wikipediaed it of course, but even Wikipedia failed to explain the concept simply to me, and in short, the poem was in fact a good challenge for me.  I thought about a variety of potential (surreal) situations involving using resources to eliminate barriers to profit (such as spending money to lobby for tariffs or restrictions on your competitors).  But of course, I brought it around to the mythic and didn't deal with the concept as it exists in the world of fact and logic it was invented in.  Is this cheating?  I don't know!  Probably!  Let's find out.

Honey Baron

Let's conspire, buy armies to depose the king,
and impose a leader who is friendly to monopolies
so I can be a honey baron.

I’ll sell zebra-flavored honey to lions,
seed-flavored honey to birds.
For women, amber and orange,
for men, sour and smoke,
for the heartbroken, honey with hints
of persimmon, meringue, tulip.

I’d sell everything
to have one kingdom.

To succeed, I only need tariffs
on sweets, and on invisible forests
that house wild bees
whose honey in this world is fire.

When all the bees know my heartbeat
and their bodies move like waves to my words,
they’ll make honey from anything—
past and future, the tree of knowledge
and the tree of life.

Protection for my business
will mean profit for everyone.
When I’m queen of my own kingdom,
the honey will be free.    

Harry's review:

This is beautiful, Ivy. Magical. 

First, the criticism: I don't see why a self-interested honey baron would want to provide honey for free. After all, the point of the tariff was to increase her profits. 

And I don't see how in her new kingdom there would be profit for everyone -- not, again, why she might want that. In a sense, though, it makes sense. Tariffs are usually dressed up as being in the public interest, even as they in fact only benefit the lobbying special interest. So that line may reflect a statement for public consumption. 

The rest of the poem captures the concept nicely. You are right about the effect of a tariff, for instance. And your point about hiring an army to depose the king is quite astute. Spending resources to supplant the king is indeed a form of rent-seeking, and one that is not often written about.

Beautiful, imaginative, astute. You beat the challenge. Good job!

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