Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's a Grimm world, after all...

Ha.  Now that I've set that pernicious little tune running incessantly through your head...

Sorry to be gone so long.  It's kind of "all of the above", when I look in my box of excuses.

At the top of the list though is: ok, so what is there to say about all this?  The world seems almost jabbered out, to me.  It's been said, screamed, whimpered.  We're all just waiting for the rest of the shoes to fall on our heads.  So it's kinda hard to get up the energy (in between emptying trash cans full of used tissues) to try to write something that anyone in their right mind would want to read.

Hey, I'll cheer up next week, probably.  

Meanwhile; this bit in the Washington Post just hit me, and triggered this story; which might, in fact, be interesting and useful to you.

Basically one of the Post's financial pundits is touting a book- by a writer from the Wall Street Journal!!  entitled: "The Wall Street Journal Guide to the End of Wall Street as We Know It: What You Need to Know About the Greatest Financial Crisis of Our Time -- And How to Survive It".

And she starts out "He had me at the title..."

OMG.  Yeah, he had me, too, but in the other direction.  Here is why- and this is something we desperately need to get our lawmakers to hear- and act on.

True story.  A couple weeks ago, I was at a big statewide "green" meeting.  It was pretty good.  About 400 earnest people; all ages, many of them actually knowing what they were talking about.

At the end of it, there was an unusually good "wrap-up" session, with 2 State Senators, one normal, and one I was actually very impressed with, 2 national congressional staffers, and the moderator, who is a state National Public Radio personality.

Reasonably intelligent conversation- particularly from the little round Santa Claus Senator, who was smart smart smart.  But talked slow.  

And he said stuff that challenged a lot of common "wisdom".

Towards the end, the NPR moderator posed her own question; "Senators, last week I had three economists on my morning show, and I asked them for their views on how long this recession will last, and... "  blah blah.  My brain switched off right there, and I composed this little parable.  Which I actually put to the NPR person, personally, after it was all over.  Cornered her, so she couldn't get away.

The Parable Of The Poor Plumber.

Your sink is leaking, down underneath.  You've tackled it briefly with your own pump pliers, but they don't do any good.  Time for some expert help.

You go to the Yellow Pages, look up "Plumbers", and pick one who is nearby, and available.

They send a guy; he works at the sink for a half hour; making lots of show; lots of tools.  And he presents you with a bill "Hey, lady, it's a minimum $250 to bring the truck out, ya know; I don't set the prices."

The sink seems to work.  Except - the next day, the leak is back.  Worse than before.

You are not happy.  You call the plumbing company; and actually have the gall to complain, and basically demand that for $250 bucks, you do deserve a sink that does not leak.  They grumble, but send a guy out.  Same guy.

He's not really fazed by all this- "Lady, sometimes they just take more fixing.  I'll get it."  And he puts in 45 minutes this time; many tools.  A little cussing.  Well after supper "There, lady- she's fixed."  And he vanishes.

The sink, however- still leaks.  And actually - the cold water faucet no longer delivers water- and it did, before he got down in there to fix it.

If you've been through an exchange like this (and who hasn't) by now, you can see the steam starting to come out of "Lady's" ears.

Once more, you chew out the plumber's dispatcher.  Once more they send a guy (a different one this time!).


Yeah, it's still not fixed.  Leaks as badly as ever; and no cold water.

We're past the steam coming out of the ears now.


Now your toilet is refusing to flush...

Here's the question; and the point:

Do you call the same plumber to come and fix your problems?


Boy, I guarantee I don't.

And at this point, the NPR personality (whom I'd forced to listen, tête-à-tête, to this shaggy dog story) said forcefully and abruptly, "Yes.  So?"

And I replied: "Why.  On God's Green Earth.  Would you ask an economist anything- about the current economic crisis?"

I let that sink in for about 2 seconds (a long time in her world) and continued: "They PUT us here.  They say they couldn't see it coming.  They don't agree on why or how it happened, and they have no ideas for how to get out of it, or where to go.  WHY would you be asking them for advice - as if they had advice to give?"

Oh, she didn't buy it.  Nope, in her world, economists are who you ask about the economy.  Never mind that, just like in the fairy tale (ok, it's Andersen, not Grimm) - they've just proven to the entire world that they are intellectually bare stark naked.

A big part of this problem, of course, is that economists have steadily worked to make the world believe they know what they're doing.  They invented their own Nobel award (Nobel did NOT give a prize in economics); and added "mathematical modeling" to their discipline.

And it all clearly does not reflect any realities- but they've left the world with the impression that there is no other source of information on this important subject; you must ask an economics professor, if you wish to discuss it.  No other options exist.  That, without thinking, is where the NPR person was.

Except.  There IS another discipline- which did see "all this" coming; long ago; and said so, loudly.   Maybe- it would be a good idea to look to the people who predicted all this; for some understanding, and maybe some answers?

Who?  Ecologists.  I got news for ya- ecology is far more a science than economics- and- you notice they have the same Greek root?  oikos - for house.  Ecologists actually study the same thing economists do- the flow of resources; over time.  Except; ecologists go out into the real world, and look to see how it actually works.  Economists- live on college campuses, and make up anything they want.  Reality need not intrude.  Ecologists do experiments, and measure results.  Economists - can't.  So they just project.  Leaving them open to little booboos like "see, the sun comes up in the east; and goes down in the west- OBVIOUSLY - the sun revolves around the earth."

So, Dear World.  Your toilet is backed up; not working.  Who you gonna call?


Update, Tuesday: gosh, couldn't ask for better confirmation of the parable here.  Todays "Economix" blog in the NYT is by a Harvard Economics Professor!! - (my little heart is going pitty-pat!)  and entitled "The Lorax Was Wrong" -  He says living in cities is greener than living in forests.  Gosh.  If you're interested, the responses in his blog comments hit pretty much every refutation you can think of.  I'm tempted to write an OpEd for the NYT myself; maybe entitled "The Professor Is Full Of It."  lol.  And would they print it?  No.


knutty knitter said...

Nice one. Bet she hasn't thought yet though - that sort don't. They rely on specialists instead of brains.

How would it be if we actually taught people how to think instead of filling them up with mindless information?

viv in nz

feonixrift said...

So, ecologists are like astronomers and economists are like astrologers? :)

Thurman Hubbard said...

Well said.

I spend almost every day at work listening to these NPR types prattle on mindlessly during my travels in between job locations and I can't tell you how many times I've had the same exact reaction - why do they keep looking to the idiots that broke it to begin with?

Thanks for trying to enlighten at least one of the folks with access to the megaphone.

Doyu Shonin said...

... Ghostbusters.

Anonymous said...

But in your story the answer would still be a plumber (just a more reputable company) - unless you are willing to tear the whole system out and go with composting toilet, well and bucket. Which may not be a bad (but different) analogy.

Anonymous said...

For an instructive comment on the origins of mathematical economic theory, see:

Greenpa said...

Viv in Nz - what a good idea! :-) I was really lucky in school- had several teachers in HS who had that as their goal. Thinking.

Feonixrift - hadn't thought of that! But exactly!!

Thurman- yeah. It's a standard problem- the rebels become the establishment, bit by bit, and quit asking the hard questions. NPR has shifted in that direction.

Risa- you got it. :-)

EJ - I know, I thought of that. :-) Think of it this way, though, and it works; each different plumbing company is a different department at the U... as the next commenter pointed out- the "quants" Wall Street turned to- were PHYSICS professors. Used to building models for how one tiny sub-sub-sub system works. Wrong idea- and the physicists are STILL looking for a Unified Field Theory.

Heck, as an ecologist, I unify fields all the time.

Phil said...

Time to flush all the economists down the pan, then?

Susan Och said...

Ponzi scheme is in the economist's vocabulary, while sustainable is part of the ecologist's lexicon.

ruralcounsel said...

But wait a minute ...

isn't the current economic collapse taking us just exactly where the "sustainable" movement wanted us to go?

Because re-inflating the bubble(s) to get the economy growing again puts us right back on the path of unnecessary consumption and profligate ways?

Greenpa said...

rural counsel- sure! it's not a matter of reinflating- but of finding a stable path- which is not possible if your an econastrologer- they need "growth" to generate bonuses.

And- whatever pathway we wind up on- there will be choices that lead to quick, very painful, readjustments- which eat kind honest people alive; or slower, softer landings, that do not punish the innocent quite so much. I think the innocents are worth fighting for.