What Would an Economist Think?

My old friend Dave Barbour once met an academic-looking gentleman at a party and asked him what kind of work he did. “I teach writing,” the professor said, “to engineers.”

Dave was aghast. “You mean you TEACH them to write that way?”

That was decades ago and, come to think of it, must have been about the time an enterprise called The Great Courses got started, hitchhiking on The Great Books concept out of the University of Chicago.

I just saw an announcement from The Great Courses, appearing in the cunning camouflage of a full page ad in The Economist magazine (which ought to be a little more discriminating). The Great Courses logo looks like the United Fund torch logo, so l guess they steal from anyone and everyone, and their offerings have obviously failed to advance. This one advertises a book/DVD/CD,

Thinking Like an Economist

In DVD format, the book was $199.95. Now it’s $39.95, so we can be sure that demand for learning to think like an economist is none too brisk. The $134.95 CD is now $24.95.

I haven’t seen the book or played the DVD, but they show a list of the lecture titles, which get off to a rousing start with 6 principles and three core concepts, then “the myth of True Value,” the economics of ignorance, a few others, and finally the deeply subversive “Acting Like an Economist.”

So, yes – it’s true – they actually TEACH them to think that way!

Hence all the wacko forecasts on housing starts and consumer prices and unemployment and interest rates and all the urgings on CNBC to load up on equities in the fall of 2007, just before the stock market went through the floor.

I’ve known and/or read a few really good economists – Krugman, Stiglitz, Sunstein, Thaler, Al Blumstein, the late Richard Bernstein, The Economist magazine as a whole, and Mark (one of our editors) – and what sets them apart is that they know how to think beyond economics.

The Great Courses’ current ad doesn’t list its other course offerings, but I know they’re there. At a guess, I would expect,

Dancing Like an Armadillo
Gubernatorial Orating
Add and Subtract Like Einstein
(on golf) Putting Like Mr. Magoo
(on baseball) How to Throw Like a Girl
(on tennis) Serve Like Sophie Tucker

I know, I know. I’m being entirely too hard on The Great Courses. The trouble started when I took their course on writing book reviews.

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.