Richard Bronk is a Visiting Fellow at the European Institute (L.S.E.), with a career spanning finance, central banking and university teaching and the author of 'The Romantic Economist - Imagination in Economics'.
Bronk opened the conference with a keynote that provided a philosophical foundation for the day. In this plenary, the nature of the imagination, the role it plays in innovation and economics, and how it interacts with reason in conditions of uncertainty was discussed. In a presentation whose style reflected the intellectual pursuit of Bronk, the intersection of philosophy and economics, many diverse disciplines were drawn upon to weave a narrative about the relationship between reason and imagination. Calling on a range of ideas from Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Keats, to economists like Keynes and Mill, Bronk finds that: “We have all too often overlooked that reason and imagination are both essential...neither is complete or effective without the other.”
There is a core tension in this relationship, however. While “reason can neither deduce futures yet-to-be-created, nor predict novelties as yet unimagined, imaginaries can be equally dangerous...” This paradox was elaborated on further to explain that there is a challenge posed by imagination, which can both work to liberate us and allow us to innovate, however, it can also result in almost violent uncertainty if not employed correctly.
The way forward is in creating a link between uncertainty and imagination on the one hand, and reason and rationalism on the other. In this balanced approach, imagination enables a necessary escape from the illusion that there is a single rational answer to how we ought to live (the idea that “there is no alternative”). Reason, then, can serve as a “diagnostic tool” with which to “stress-test” these new and fanciful ideas in order to carefully anticipate their consequences.
Bronk therefore advocated for a ‘reasoning imagination’ in order to strike a balance between the uncertainties we face, the potential of human imagination, and the rationality of modern political economic thought. This results not in a dogmatic preference of one approach over the other, but rather leads to a “diversity of response”.