21 December 2009

Economists, part of the problem

I'm going to interrupt my rant on climate change to tell a great joke I heard years ago.

After shipwreck, three world-renowned academics find themselves marooned on an island with a case of canned food. As they start to get hungry, they brainstorm on problem of opening the cans.

The first academic, a chemist, says, "If we leave a can in the sun, Boyle's Law tells me that the contents will increase in pressure and the can will burst."

The second, a mathematician, says, "We'll need to know about the how the can is made so that we can determine how best to locate it so that it will burst in the shortest period of time while spilling the least amount of contents."

The third, an economist, says "Let's just assume that we have a can opener..."

The point here is to illustrate that economists, especially academic ones, make a lot of horribly flawed assumptions about the state of things, specifically considering variables as constants for the purposes of evaluation.

Now, consider the impact that economists have on government.


Mark said...

Far be it from me to disagree, but the country is run by politicians. Those politicians are advised by economists who are selected for politically acceptable views, for the most part.
It's sort of like being Pope - to get there, you have to be part of an ever-shrinking pool of candidates that appeal to the powers in the next few levels up. By the time you arrive, you've spent so much time and energy fitting in that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are plenty of economists in the world that have it the right way around - I can recommend a very nice podcast if you have some listening time - but they're not the ones that appeal to politicians who are looking for "evidence" that their latest scheme is the right thing to do.
Those politicians are looking for the economic equivalent of Howard Zinn. They want someone with a specific viewpoint and the willingness to rearrange a few facts in order to make that view into economic "truth".
To bring it back around to your previous rant, it's sort of like climate change in that regard. There's plenty of evidence that the global climate is changing, but the zealots weren't willing to let a true scientific process work out the hows and whys.

Frank Moore said...

OK, I edited the last sentence to to deflect the focus back onto the joke.

As for economists, the barb was pointed specifically at the academics who publish nonsensical ideas. The point being that there are a lot of politicians who get their ideas from these "lost in space" types whose grip on reality is tenuous at best. It's only after the idea is picked up that the politicians find economists who'll justify it for them.

Anonymous said...

Q. How many economists does it take to change a lightbulb? A. None. If the lightbulb needed changing, the market would do it.