The Dismal Science

Whoever labeled economics 'The Dismal Science' was right on the money. Maybe even right on the money supply. But probably not right about anything else. Economists specialize in counting uncountable things, gathering statistics that serve as 'indicators', and posing future scenarios based upon schools of thought. Dismal.

It's pretty clear to me that no one, much less economists, understand our present economy. Those who might really understand are so distrusted by those who don't, they can't explain a thing to anyone else's satisfaction. Many who don't understand, believe they do understand. As Laing said, "What you don't know you don't know, you think you know." Ever was thus. Dismal again.

Fact might be that none of us have any personal experience with 'an economy,' which doesn't exist anywhere but as a network of figments. But then figments have always taken most of our first row seating. We thrive on 'em. Until they do us in.

Our certainty is the most curious part of our relationship with figments. We, for instance, hedge our risks, believing that we have mediated risk as a result. Ceteris Paribus, all other things remaining equal, is small defense against a credit crunch or a full-tilt meltdown. All other things do not, as a general rule, remain equal, just especially uncountable and unpredictable. Small insurance this, against the first person experience of loss.

Now comes the bailout. And I've been thinking about the leverage one has - or doesn't have - when bailing out. Ever been in a boat that's sprung a leak? The size of the boat relative to the size of the body of water that formerly floated it puts the bailer in a weak position. Even should the leak get fixed, the effort required to remove the accumulated water is great. And the bucket remarkably small in comparison.

I read this week that the value of hedged instruments was estimated at perhaps ten times the annual gross world product. That's a big pond. How big is the leak? No one knows how to value what's left. Well, few understood how to value what was there before, either, but it's easier to float on a positive figment than a negative one. We love positive figments and fear the negative ones.

Maybe we only ever come close to experience the real power of collective figment certainty when the bottom falls out from under our confidently maintained fantasy because we experience real hunger then. Perhaps even genuine privation.

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