Babble in Babel

What do economists do when a politician talks about economics? They snigger and respond in a patronising way with stories about the foolish and the ignorant.

What do politicians do when an economist uses econometrics to make a political point? They start hopping about lest NDTV start snapping at their heels because no politician likes to be told that he or she has failed the poor.

What do bureaucrats in the economic ministries do when they have to deal with both politicians and economists? They ignore both because neither helps them manage policy better. Privately they tell you that both are a terrible nuisance.

Everything can be challenged because the guiding principle is “there is no fact but one fact and that fact is my fact.”

What does social media do when it sees these three responses from people it considers to be the root cause of all the troubles in the world? It behaves like a puppy with a ball, going crazy for a few hours with one topic before running off after something else.

Last but not least, what do journalists and columnists do when they are confronted by these four? ­Depending on their mood they write like economists, politicians and bureaucrats. And a few, like me, write like ­Twinkle Khanna. But unlike me she is bitingly funny!

If you say the sun rises in the East, there is a high chance that the reply will be “but so does the moon, so what?”

This is the nature of the policy debate in economics — in India certainly and perhaps in other countries as well I daresay. No one emerges any the wiser from it because of the sheer amount of nonsense and non-sequiturs that are produced by the antagonists and the protagonists.

 

Three Laws of Debate

Therefore I have, over the years, like Isaac Newton written down three laws of public debate in economics. So far no one has been able to contest, let disprove, them. That must mean that they are spatially and inter-temporally valid.

TCA’s First Law: This says that “For every piece of data, there exists an equal and opposite piece of data. This can also be stated as “my data is better than your data.” This frees everyone to trot out their own data or its interpretation. Everything can be, and is, challenged because the guiding principle is “there is no fact but one fact and that fact is my fact.”

TCA’s Second Law: This says that “If every opinion is valid then, by definition, every opinion must also be invalid.” This can also be stated in Latin as “Ipsi Dixit” or “because I say so”. This law encapsulates the primary conceit amongst economists, politicians and bureaucrats. They believe that an opinion is valid merely because they happen to hold it. You can see this every night on the TV channels.

TCA’s Third Law: This law says that “To agree is to concede defeat”. This leads every economist, politician and bureaucrat to start every sentence with either a ‘but’ or a ‘no, but’. Try it with your friendly neighbourhood economist, politician and bureaucrat sometime. If you say the sun rises in the East, there is a high chance that the reply will be “but so does the moon, so what?”

 

Three Lessons

If you agree with what I have written above, you can draw three lessons. One, don’t waste your time on debates on economics. Two, check the cost of your shopping each week. And three, without fail see a good film (on TV) every day.

This is all there is to economics. The rest is fiction.

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