Economists like me see the world through the prism of models, fit to statistical data and tested against market realities. Economic models provide powerful perspective: I have used them to argue that, had the economy been left to itself and policymakers not heeded the lessons of history and theory, the 2008 financial crisis might have led to another depression. But there are other ways of gaining understanding about an economy and its workers. This was brought home to me last month when I accompanied my wife on a trip different from any I had ever taken. We drove for two weeks on two-lane roads from Chicago to Portland, Ore., across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The larger cities we passed through included Dubuque, Iowa; Cody, Wyo.; and Bozeman, Mont.