Animals and Economics

Why are we so obsessed with animal imagery to explain economic phenomenon?  Bulls and bears are the most prominent example, but there are also Asian Tigers, the Chinese Dragon, and more recent (and irritating) Indian elephant and African Cheetah Generation.  My guess is that these symbols are much easier to process than the complex realities that actually characterize economies.  Like hero narratives dominate popular understandings of history (“Gandhi led India to freedom”, “Lincoln freed the slaves”), current situations are also more digestible when presented in simple terms.

Interestingly, animal metaphors seem to be preferred over industrial or mechanical ones (Chinese Rocket Economy?).  Does this represent an acknowledgement that, these change processes are organic and unpredictable, not mechanized and standardizable?  Probably not, but I still like the thought.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kizito
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 21:00:28

    Another nice post! It looks like the obsession has turned into a needed reference. You hit this one spot on. Good eye observing this. Although I’m not sure with a cheetah being the right animal to describe the African social media revolution.


  2. Jayant
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 23:02:25

    Kabs, I would argue that the choice to use images from nature as opposed to something mechanical and standardizable (to use your language) stems from something primal. It has to do with viewing the progress or growth of an economy as a reflection of the people/ the human capital that drives it. The more aggressive the growth, the more it is like a tiger or a bull – the important point here is the aggressiveness of the growth, the ferocity of the drive. Frankly, rockets don’t have spirit, they do not have drive and they sure as hell do not have a primal side.


  3. rambam
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:39:17

    Yes, “the ferocity of the drive”! Metaphor is always useful for encapsulating complex processes into digestible morsels.

    There is, of course, the old habit of identifying nation-states with the charismatic fauna we traditionally associate with them (, and, of course, it has become a trope in economics-talk to use mammalian shorthand to various phenomena (bulls, bears, etc.).

    Of course, the Celtic Tiger was an odd choice for Eire; then again, I can’t think of any emblematic Irish animals that actually inhabit the place.


  4. rambam
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:46:18

    Too many “of courses” dispersed throughout those last two sentences (3!). I apologize.


  5. Kabs
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 20:15:31

    Poorly constructed sentences on the internet!!! You definitely needed to apologize for that rambam.


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