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Do You Understand Economists?

picture of magazine cover

Do you understand the "economy?" Or better yet, do you understand economists? In two earlier posts, I shared that I have a good grasp on personal finances, but maybe not so much on how the economy works, particularly the global economy. It's even more confusing to listen to the experts (economists) talk about it. They make what seems like good news sound dreary and what seems like bad news sound as though things are improving.

In my files I ran across some humor about economists and the economy. If we can't understand what economists are saying about a complicated field, at least we can enjoy a laugh or two at their expense.

A mathematician, an accountant, and an economist apply for the same job. The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks, "What do two plus two equal?" The mathemetician replies, "Four." The interviewer asks, "Four, exactly?" The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says, "Yes, four, exactly."

Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question, "What do two plus two equal?" The accountant says, "On average, four — give or take ten percent, but on average, four."

Then the interviewer calls in the economist and poses the same question, "What do two plus two equal?" The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer and says, "What do you want it to equal?"


Three economists went out hunting and came across a large deer. The first economist fired, but missed, by a meter to the left. The second economist fired, but also missed, by a meter to the right. The third economist didn't fire, but shouted in triumph, "We got it! We got it!"


Here are a couple of cartoons that need no explanations from an economist.

picture of economy cartoon

This one says something similar....

picture of economy cartoon


A group of economists was hiking in the Alps. After several hours they became hopelessly lost. One of them studied the map for some time, turning it up and down, sighting distant landmarks, consulting his compass and the sun's location for that time of day. Finally he said, "OK, see that big mountain over there?"

"Yes," answered the others eagerly.

"Well, according to this map, we're standing on top of it."


The First Law of Economists: For every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist.

The Second Law of Economists: They’re both wrong.

Newlan's Truism on the Natural Rate of Unemployment: An "acceptable" level of unemployment means that the government economist to whom it is acceptable still has a job.

Economist light bulb jokes:

Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A1: Seven, plus/minus ten.
A2: Irrelevant — the light bulb's preferences are to be taken as a given.

Q: How many mainstream economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to assume the existence of the ladder and one to change the bulb.

Q: How many neo-classical economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It depends on the wage rate.

Q: How many central bank economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one — he holds the light bulb and the whole earth revolves around him.

Q: How many Marxists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None — the bulb contains within it the seeds of its own revolution.

Q: How many conservative economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A1: None. The darkness will cause the light bulb to change by itself.
A2: None. If the government would just leave it alone, it would change itself.
A3: None. "There is no need to change the light bulb. All the conditions for illumination are in place.
A4: None, because,... look! It's getting brighter! It's definitely getting brighter!
A5: None; they're all waiting for the unseen hand of the market lighting to correct the disequilibrium.

Q: How many investors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None — the market has already discounted the change.

Q: How many Keynesian economists does it takes to change a light bulb?
A: All of them. Because then you will generate employment, more consumption, dislocating the AD (aggregate demand) to the right,....

picture of economist cartoon

Q: How many Wharton MBA's does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, if you hire me. I can actually change the light bulb by myself. As you can see from my resume, I've had extensive experience changing light bulbs in my previous positions. I've also been named to the Wharton Light Bulb list, and am presently a teaching assistant for Light Bulb Management 601. My only weakness is that I'm compulsive about changing light bulbs in my spare time.

Q: How many B-school (business school) doctoral students does it take to change a light bulb?
A: I'm writing my dissertation on that topic; I should have an answer for you in about 5 years.


True story: The scene is a conference of professors of marketing.

The keynote speaker is an eminent economist. The chairman say, "I would like to introduce my colleague and friend. He's an economist, one of those people who turn random numbers into mathematical laws."

The economist, not to be outdone, replies, "My friend, here, is a marketer. They reverse the process."

Q&A about economists

Q: Why did the economist end up breaking his neck when he dove into his swimming pool?
A: He forgot to "seasonally adjust" his pool.

Q: What's the difference between an economist and a befuddled old man with dementia?
A: The economist is the one with the calculator.

Q: What do economists and computers have in common?
A: You need to punch information into both of them.

Q: Why does God allow some people to become economists?
A: In order to make weather forecasters look good.

Q: How has French revolution affected world economic growth?
A: Too early to say.

One- and two-liners about economists:

The economy is affecting our children in ways we haven't even thought about....


It's not easy being an economist. How would you like to go through life pretending you knew what M1 was all about?


I asked an economist for her phone number ... and she gave me an estimate.


Two economists sit down to play chess. They study the board for 24 hours and declare a stalemate.


Two economists meet on the street. One inquires, "How's your wife doing?" The other responds, "Relative to what?"


I'll end with a final cartoon....

picture of economy cartoon

What are your thoughts on the economy and economists?


"God is in the business of the impossible." — Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Economics is the only field in which two people can share a Nobel Prize for saying opposing things.

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5 Comments on “Do You Understand Economists?”

  1. #1 Ron
    on Jul 19th, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Kind of makes me wonder. Do economist and weathermen go to the same school?

    Rob adds: Good question, Ron. 😉

  2. #2 Michael
    on Jul 19th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    The comparison to weather forecasters is a good one, and I do believe weather forecasters are more accurate with their predictions. Economists are trying to predict what humans will do which is much less predictable than what the elements of nature do.

    Rob adds: Good points. You must know some of the same humans I do, Michael.

  3. #3 Vikki
    on Jul 19th, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I remember taking economics (both micro and macro) in college and thinking them a total waste of time and effort. Maybe that’s because I was an accounting major… It was all “If this happens, in theory, this or that could possibly be the outcome…or not. On the other hand, using these other charts and theories, just the opposite might be the result.” Please, just give me factual, relevant data. It was also during the era of “stagflation” that I took economics which was blowing many long held economic theories out of the water and causing them to go back to square one with their charts and theories. And please tell me, why do they make the big bucks on guesses?!?!

    Being an accountant, I’ve yet to meet a practicing accountant who didn’t hate their economics classes and vice-versa.

    Rob adds: Thanks for your honesty, Vikki. Wow! I would have thought that accountants would love econ classes.

  4. #4 Vikki
    on Jul 20th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Per you comment on my comment. Economics deals with theories and possibilities — accounting deals with facts. Totally opposite ways of thinking and looking at things.

    Rob adds: Thanks, Vikki. That makes more sense to me, the non-business brain. (Or is that monkey-business brain.) 🙂

  5. #5 Jonathan
    on Jul 26th, 2010 at 11:28 am

    You shouldn’t be so hard on them. Economists have accurately predicted 7 out of the last 3 recessions.

    Rob adds: Jonathan, I’m sorry. I had no idea their success rate was that high.