Of Œconomists

In that time there came to the city a plenipotentiary from the lands in the far West, where the people were Fundamentalists.  He and all his retinue came to the philosopher and did obesiance to him, as he sat in an outer court of the Lower Palace, sunning himself and casting the crumbs of a seedcake to the hungry pond-eels.

“O master,” said the plenipotentiary, “our land is troubled with many afflictions. The mills stand idle, yet there is no want of grain, nor of labour to turn them. The poor cannot afford even the basics of life, yet the rich man grows fat in his walled garden. Our rulers dither while our enemies gather at our frontiers.

“All these afflictions are tolerable: in truth, we hold them to be not only necessary, but beneficial.” At this, the plenipotentiary’s retinue bowed their heads in reverence, for he spoke of holy matters. “What is beyond all bearing is the pride of our advisors and ministers, who style themselves Œconomists.

“Their policies turn to tatters, yet they are not abashed. They have brought calamitous ruin on our banks and poorhouses, yet they go with heads held high in the public streets.

“Is there any remedy for the intolerable smugness of these men?”

The philosopher answered swiftly, “Be not troubled, my friends, for there is no remedy under the sun for the smugness of Œconomists.

“If you demonstrate that their policies have lead to calamity, they will heap blame upon the very rulers they have advised.

“Put them in prison: they will write scornful editorials on the distorting effects of state intervention in the real estate market.

“Tie them to stakes in the town square and set them on fire. They will mock you for your inconsistent carbon pricing policy.

“The Œconomist is smug for two reasons. Firstly, he believes that he understands the affairs of your own household better than you do yourselves. Even they who maintain that the state prospers when each person tends to his own affairs believe this in their hearts: for do they not cheerfully project the fortunes of a million households, as if this were simpler than one?

“Secondly, and more importantly, the Œconomist is smug because he does not have an arts degree.

“Rare is the parent who would object to their child becoming an Œconomist, for they prosper when all other trades and professions wither.

“And this is why they are foremost of all of the creatures of the earth, save one, for sheer effrontery and smugness. Therefore, trouble yourselves not, for you will sooner weave a rope of sand than convince a single Œconomist to admit that he or his profession is in the wrong.”

The plenipotentiary was crestfallen. A young man asked, “What is the one creature, O master, who is more smug than the Œconomist?”

“I don’t remember,” said the philosopher, blushing.


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