The annual Jackson Hole Symposium has been anticipated, followed and commented on with much attention in the financial services industry, where many had been waiting and wondering about the Federal Reserve Chairman’s introductory speech at the conference, as a point of reference for future monetary policy stance that the Federal Reserve could embark on. It could be something unusual for a Conference of Monetarists, based on empirical data, hyperrationality of numbers, and econometrics models to the noise of surveys, to address a monetarists meeting as a Symposium.
The literary and philosophical nobility of a Symposium are derived from the ancient Greek culture and the philosophical Plato’s book Symposium, which was a philosophical dialogue about love. With the choice of symposium the Jackson Hole meeting, tries to convey the significance of a meeting of monetarists who are in love with their economic theories, but also probably uncovers the trivial love, of the economics science for money. But as if we were at a festive banquet having a symposium with fellow peers, what actually it’s love, what can be defined as love and what’s the nature of love? In Plato’s philosophical dialogue known as Symposium, the subject of love is discussed by various characters such as: Socrates and his disciple Aristodemus, we find the physician Eryximachus, the playwright Aristophanes, Pausanias, the lover of Agathon, and his friend Phaedrus, son of Pythocles and an expert in rhetoric: each of them, at Erissimachus’ invitation, held a speech that has as its object a praise of Eros. After all the characters make philosophy with their dialogue, at the end, Socrates has time to speak about Love, and to the surprise of the diners, and the surprise of Plato’s readers, Socrates defines Love as the lack of some other person, also the lacking of something, that human beings are searching for. With this concept, Socrates amuses the other characters with a Greek mythological tale about the birth of Eros, the deity of Love.
Socrates, therefore, recounts that precisely during a banquet of Greek divinities, on the edge of the proclaimed table, where beggars lay waiting for the crumbs of food to fall from the banqueting table, there were Penìa, a semi-divinity, and Poros.
Socrates tells how the divinity Diotima told that the semi-divinity Penìa (in Greek, poverty) and Poros (in Greek, street), after having eaten and being drunk, then Penìa took advantage of Poros, and from the union of both Eros was created. Eros had all the features of his mother Penìa, he was barefoot, wandered the streets, had no place to sleep and had nothing to feed on.
So Socrates uses the mythological tale to mean that Love is the feeling of Lacking someone and of some things.
Now we don’t know why, a perhaps convivial academic meeting of monetarists and economists has been defined as a symposium, we can only understand that a monetarists’ symposium is dedicated in a convivial way to the passion for economic sciences, although the phrase that made many think: “As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies”, indicates with a metaphor precisely the sense of lack and uncertainty about the direction to take.
Then we can proceed with our disquisition of why navigation is referred to: “As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies”. In this, there are numerous literary references from which to draw, for a pure rhetorical form of a speech, but also to understand the literary meaning of a sentence in a speech. When we read the metaphor of sailing under the stars and clouds, we feel precisely a sense of directionlessness that can be informed by knowledge, in modern monetarist terms from economic data.
“As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies. At upcoming meetings, we will assess our progress based on the totality of the data and the evolving outlook and risks. Based on this assessment, we will proceed carefully as we decide whether to tighten further or, instead, to hold the policy rate constant and await further data.”
Modern-day navigation of Central Banks through the economy and financial system has been mostly based on gathering hard data and high-frequency data. Therefore hard data are the inputs needed for the monetarists to apply their academic technique in deciding the course of monetary policy. In this, we find the constant quest for knowledge from economists of all academic backgrounds to inform their disquisition and decision-making, at the point where the data can overcome the human being in imposing the choice and setting the navigation route for the monetarist to go through. This inadvertently makes the human element less relevant in the face of the mass of economic data and the complexity of the global economic system, such that it can sometimes appear just like a journey into the unknown.
With this, we can open another important literary reference to a fundamental work of Italian and Occidental literature, which is the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. In particular, we can refer to canto XXVI, in which Dante, in the company of the poet Virgil, describes how in the eighth pit he meets Ulysses, and Diomedes, characters from Greek mythology, and how there is a reference to the journey of Aeneas towards the lands of what later in history would become the Roman Empire. In this dialogue, there are the foundations of Occidental culture made from the continuous search for knowledge.
Dante has Ulysses tell Virgil about his journey across the Mediterranean towards the Pillars of Hercules, the limit of the terraqueous lobe known until then. Therefore Ulysses describes to Virglio how approaching the coasts of Seville, he glimpsed the columns of Hercules, and in fear of crossing the edge of the earth with their small floating wood, Dante makes Ulysses pronounce one of the most symbolic verses of Occidental literature:”
“O frati”, dissi “che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia
d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente,
non vogliate negar l’esperienza,
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.
Li miei compagni fec’io sì aguti,
con questa orazion picciola, al cammino,
che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti;
e volta nostra poppa nel mattino,
de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo,
sempre acquistando dal lato mancino.
Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo
vedea la notte e ‘l nostro tanto basso,
che non surgea fuor del marin suolo.
Cinque volte racceso e tante casso
lo lume era di sotto da la luna,
poi che ‘ntrati eravam ne l’alto passo,
quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna
per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto
quanto veduta non avea alcuna.
Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto,
ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque,
e percosse del legno il primo canto.
Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l’acque;
a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
e la prora ire in giù, com’altrui piacque,
infin che ‘l mar fu sovra noi richiuso”.
“Call to mind from whence we sprang: Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes, But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.”
In these verses, there are all the founding values of Occidental culture and its continuous search for knowledge. And Dante makes Ulysses say “To the dawn Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flightMade our oars wings, still gaining on the left.”, the medieval allegory of how the thirst for knowledge of Occidental civilization, initiated by the ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans, in the medieval allegorical religious vision, becomes the pindalic journey towards knowledge and a journey towards the unknown, a challenge to the deities, as in the Greek tragedy of the chained Prometheus.
In fact, the small ship that supports Ulysses and his companions, finally, in Dante’s allegory, is swallowed up by a marine whirlwind. Because the Pillars of Hercules were the known limit of the Earth, hence also the Latin phrase “Non plus Ultra”, not going further into the unknown.
So the monetarists like the helmsman of a ship, seek the direction, under starry and cloudy skies, through knowledge and through the empirical observation of economic data. In these are the foundations of the empirical sciences of Occidental civilization.
In what and how Dante, through his literary work, and Ulysses have crossed the limit of the columns of Hercules, with the knowledge and have reached the Americas. In this, there’s the trait d’unìon of the two worlds. And how the continuum of literary thought carries the literature of Edgar Allan Poe, as a reference to sailing under the stars under cloudy skies. Indeed, American literature offers us great literary references with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and in particular: ” The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” and “A Descent into the Maelström”, both books by Edgar Allan Poe with references to the adventures of navigation and the discovery of new lands. In fact, in “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” we have a short story in which the protagonists have the goal of the journey to reach the South Pole, lands hitherto inaccessible, unexplored and still uninhabitable for human beings, and in this, we can once again find the spirit of adventure and the thirst for knowledge of the human intellect, even when faced with difficulties and places uninhabitable by mankind.
Although the unknowns of explorations and knowledge, after many centuries, in our time, we know that the Symposium, what took place in ancient Greece described by Plato, where in the aeropagus the philosophers and the citizens of the polis conversed, this form of civilization has crossed the world beyond the Pillars of Hercules, travelling in a long journey of knowledge and civilization to the Americas, where in Wyoming we have a Symposium.