Economics PhDs Only, Please

The utter contempt which our masters reserve for hoi polloi, the common herd, is on display in a paper written by one Dr. Athreya, an economist with the Federal Reserve of Richmond. The learned doctor is intent on showing just how stupid and unqualified to comment on economic policy are all but those with a PhD in economics (or Economics, as he is fain to write it) "from a good school." To that end he deploys a prose that is all but impenetrable.

I have contributed no earth-shaking ideas to Economics and work fundamentally as a worker bee chipping away with known tools at portions of larger problems.

"Worker bee chipping away with known tools"? I was unaware that worker bees use tools of any description, known or unknown. Is the man in a quarry? Mining fool's gold perhaps? Maybe it takes a PhD in Economics.

I was trying to get my head wrapped around the image of Apis mellifera chipping away with some known-but-unknown tools when the doctor conjured up a vision of the Lady Macroeconomics being stalked by bloggers:

Macroeconomics is most narrowly concerned with the tracing of individual actions into aggregate outcomes, and most fatally attractive to bloggers: vice versa.

The role vice versa plays in that sentence is mystifying. To simplify for the doctor, vice versa means "x is to y as y is to x." Plugging the terms of his sentence into that equation we get "Macroeconomics is most fatally attractive to bloggers and bloggers are most fatally attractive to macroeconomics." OK, maybe it takes study "at a good school" to follow the argument here.

We are then treated to the blindingly obvious, which the author mistakes for deep insight, reserved to that subset of economists who can recall Economics 101:

Beyond this, some may recall that Economics 101 is usually insistent on reminding students of the Fallacy of Composition: what is true for some may not be true for all.

In other words, "most" and "many" are not equivalent to "all," nor is 60 percent the same as 100 percent. We should all bear that in mind.

The punchline [sic] to all this is that when a professional research economist thinks or talks about social insurance, unemployment, taxes, budget deficits, or sovereign debt, among other things, they almost always have a very precisely articulated model that has been vetted repeatedly for internal coherence.

Notice how carefully circumscribed is his definition of the person qualified to enter the lists of economics disputation: not just an "economist" or a "research economist" but a "professional research economist." Not only is the public fenced out, but so are most of the doctor's fellow PhDs. Talk about a select few. There it is, the punch line, and we're only halfway through page two. At least one blogger was able to stomach more of Dr. Urethra's wisdom, but I was sated.

It seems to me that the doctor is ignoring the elephant in the room (gee, clichés are fun): these "professional research economists" have brought us the miracle of ever-expanding government debt financed by the Fed's forever expanding money supply. Talk about "internal coherence." There will be a punch line to that "very precisely articulated model" that the noneconomists among us will grasp only too well, whether or not we can recall Economics 101.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

The utter contempt which our masters reserve for hoi polloi, the common herd, is on display in a paper written by one Dr. Athreya, an economist with the Federal Reserve of Richmond. The learned doctor is intent on showing just how stupid and unqualified to comment on economic policy are all but those with a PhD in economics (or Economics, as he is fain to write it) "from a good school." To that end he deploys a prose that is all but impenetrable.

I have contributed no earth-shaking ideas to Economics and work fundamentally as a worker bee chipping away with known tools at portions of larger problems.

"Worker bee chipping away with known tools"? I was unaware that worker bees use tools of any description, known or unknown. Is the man in a quarry? Mining fool's gold perhaps? Maybe it takes a PhD in Economics.

I was trying to get my head wrapped around the image of Apis mellifera chipping away with some known-but-unknown tools when the doctor conjured up a vision of the Lady Macroeconomics being stalked by bloggers:

Macroeconomics is most narrowly concerned with the tracing of individual actions into aggregate outcomes, and most fatally attractive to bloggers: vice versa.

The role vice versa plays in that sentence is mystifying. To simplify for the doctor, vice versa means "x is to y as y is to x." Plugging the terms of his sentence into that equation we get "Macroeconomics is most fatally attractive to bloggers and bloggers are most fatally attractive to macroeconomics." OK, maybe it takes study "at a good school" to follow the argument here.

We are then treated to the blindingly obvious, which the author mistakes for deep insight, reserved to that subset of economists who can recall Economics 101:

Beyond this, some may recall that Economics 101 is usually insistent on reminding students of the Fallacy of Composition: what is true for some may not be true for all.

In other words, "most" and "many" are not equivalent to "all," nor is 60 percent the same as 100 percent. We should all bear that in mind.

The punchline [sic] to all this is that when a professional research economist thinks or talks about social insurance, unemployment, taxes, budget deficits, or sovereign debt, among other things, they almost always have a very precisely articulated model that has been vetted repeatedly for internal coherence.

Notice how carefully circumscribed is his definition of the person qualified to enter the lists of economics disputation: not just an "economist" or a "research economist" but a "professional research economist." Not only is the public fenced out, but so are most of the doctor's fellow PhDs. Talk about a select few. There it is, the punch line, and we're only halfway through page two. At least one blogger was able to stomach more of Dr. Urethra's wisdom, but I was sated.

It seems to me that the doctor is ignoring the elephant in the room (gee, clichés are fun): these "professional research economists" have brought us the miracle of ever-expanding government debt financed by the Fed's forever expanding money supply. Talk about "internal coherence." There will be a punch line to that "very precisely articulated model" that the noneconomists among us will grasp only too well, whether or not we can recall Economics 101.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

RECENT VIDEOS