« Never Trust A Poor Economist »

The other morning, I was listening to These Days on KPBS. It was a show dedicated to the state of the economy in 2005, an idea which itself is optimistic. Anyhow, there were two economists on. One had a deeper historical perspective and was a professor at SDSU or something. The thing about economists, I have come to learn, is that they hardly ever entertain ideas of economies moving backwards for more than a few years, and even then, they still paint rosy pictures. The failures of the world of economists seems to be the very thing that gives them a job at all; they see everything in monetary terms. Abstract things like time and space are turned into money. Economists like to break everything down into units that are used like little blocks that a child would toy with. The biggest fallacy that I have come to find plagues the discipline of economics and the profession of economists is that energy is boundless. In fact, I've read enough times that among economists, there is a belief that not only is it not boundless, but that more consumption by a bigger population will lead to more energy! Apparently, these clowns must think that more people can leverage more brain power to find more sources of energy to facilitate more economic activity which in turn would make more people better off. Or something.

Ahem. Economists don't really make a point of studying the laws of thermodynamics. The first of two laws of thermodynamics says that all energy exists courtesy of the sun and cannot be created or destroyed. It can only ever change form. It's a pretty firm rule that humans can't live outside of. We can't mine the sun for energy, so we have to use what falls on our planet and is preserved in the form of decayed organic material, sugars, etc. We can't make the stuff. But economists tell us most often that the sky is the limit, and all the time, paint nice rosy pictures of prosperity. Well, all economic activity uses energy, and increased economic activity of the sort we pursue uses even more energy. And jokers like Bush Sr. tell Americans and the world that the American Way of Life is not negotiable—that we should to use all the energy we need to use in order to live at some ridiculously indulgent standard of living.

I called the radio station to see about getting a question off to the "experts." I wanted to know what economists say to the notion of reversals in economic activity—reversals of a permanent kind due to the peak and decline of oil production. The call screener sort of stammered when she tried to understand the nature of my question. She asked me again what this was about. 'Well, economists tend to always offer optimism, but we seem to be looking at an irreversible decline in energy resources that will undermine our way of life..." She got close enough to understand then put me on hold to be put on the air.

Ten minutes later, she came on, still with ten minutes of the show to do on this topic, and announced that they really weren't going to have time to get to my sort of topic. Either someone totally didn't understand the concept, or maybe economists don't want to be faced with a looming crisis that makes all their predictions meaningless? Earlier in the show, one of the guests admitted a common question of economists was "if you know so much, why aren't you rich?"

Um, could it be because their business is basically a pseudoscience like reading bumps on people's heads?

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