The Tragedy of the Fools.
(Economists, That Is.)
(As Usual.)

I know I’ve heard this one before, or some close kin. But I laughed anew (that’s better than crying) at this ha ha from Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

“An economist, a chemist and a physicist are marooned on a desert island. Their only food is a can of beans, but they have no can opener. What are they to do? The physicist says, ‘Let’s try and focus the tropical sun onto the lid—it might melt a hole.’ ‘No,’ says the chemist. ‘We should first pour saltwater on the lid—maybe that will rust it.’ The economist interrupts: ‘You’re wasting your time with all these complicated ideas. Let’s just assume a can opener.'”

WSJ author Anatole Kaletsky continues: “This little joke tells us more about the causes and consequences of the 2007-2009 crisis than any number of ministerial speeches, Wall Street research reports and central bank monographs. The propensity of modern economic theory for unjustified and oversimplified assumptions allowed politicians, regulators and bankers to create for themselves the imaginary world of market fundamentalist ideology, in which financial stability is automatic, involuntary unemployment is unimaginable and efficient omniscient markets can solve all economic problems, if only the government will stand aside.” (The WSJ piece is a book excerpt from Capitalism 4.0; Kaletsky is editor at large of the Times of London.)

Discount my discounting of economists if you will. It is true that I’ve always thought the discipline a bit of a joke. (Though only when it matters, at times like the present. The economists do quite well in the good times, when the stakes are minuscule.)

Happy Monday!

Happy summer!

Tom Peters posted this on June 21, 2010, in Markets.
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