Some Stories about Economists


·         The great British essayist Thomas Carlisle called economics “the Dismal Science”; more contemporary writers, equally jealous of the profession tend to jokes and stories.  I have accumulated a few, which I put together without much editing for humor, political correctness, and grammar.  Some are British in origin; others are totally inside jokes understandable only to other professionals. 

·         Further submissions will be appreciated.  I may add them in subsequent semesters if I like the stories.


·         Economics is the only field in which two people can get a Nobel Prize for saying exactly the opposite thing.

·         A man walking along a road in the countryside comes across a shepherd and a huge flock of sheep.  He tells the shepherd:  "I will bet you $100 against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in this flock."  The shepherd thinks it over and takes the bet.  "973," says the man.  The shepherd is astonished, because that is exactly right.  He says "OK, I'm a man of my word, take an animal."  The man picks one up and begins to walk away.  "Wait," cries the shepherd, "Let me have a chance to get even: Double or nothing that I can guess your exact occupation."  Man says sure.  "You are an economist for a government think tank," says the shepherd.   "Amazing!" responds the man, "You are exactly right! But tell me, how did you deduce that?"  "Well," says the shepherd, "put down my dog and I will tell you."

·         A mathematician, an accountant and an economist apply for the same job.  The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks "What do two plus two equal?" The mathematician replies "Four." The interviewer asks "Four, exactly?" The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says "Yes, four, exactly."  Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The accountant says "On average, four - give or take ten percent, but on average, four."  Then the interviewer calls in the economist and poses the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer and says, "What do you want it to equal?"

·         Three econometricians went out hunting, and came across a large deer. The first econometrician fired, but missed, by a meter to the left. The second econometrician fired, but also missed, by a meter to the right. The third econometrician didn't fire, but shouted in triumph, "We got it! We got it!" 

·         A mathematician, a theoretical economist and an econometrician are asked to find a black cat (who doesn't really exist) in a closed room with the lights off: - The mathematician gets crazy trying to find a black cat that doesn't exist inside the darkened room and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. - The theoretical economist is unable to catch the black cat that doesn't exist inside the darkened room, but exits the room proudly proclaiming that he can construct a model to describe all his movements with extreme accuracy. - The econometrician walks securely into the darkened room, spend one hour looking for the black cat that doesn't exits and shouts from inside the room that he has it caught by the neck." 

·         Heard at the workshop of evolutionary economists:

Q: How has the French revolution affected world economic growth?

A: Too early to say.


·         Reported over the Internet as a true story:

“I was standing with Ken Arrow by a bank of elevators on the ground floor of William James Hall at Harvard. Three elevators passed us on our way to the basement. I foolishly said, "I wonder why everybody in the basement wants to go upstairs." He responded, almost instantly: "You're confusing supply with demand."

·         Q. What do economists and computers have in common??

A. You need to punch information into both of them.


·         Q. Why does Treasury only have 10 minutes for morning tea??

A. If they had any longer, they would need to re-train all the economists.


If you do some acrobatics

with a little mathematics

It will take you far along.

If your idea's not defensible

don't make it comprehensible

or folks will find you out,

and your work will draw attention

if you only fail to mention

what the whole thing is about.


Your must talk of GNP

and of elasticity

of rates of substitution

and indeterminate solution

and oligonopopsony.


·         Two economists were walking down the street when they noticed two women yelling across the street at each other from their apartment windows.  Of course they will never come to agreement, stated the first economist.  And why is that, inquired his companion, Why, of course, because they are arguing from different premises.

·         A civil engineer, a chemist and an economist are traveling in the countryside. Weary, they stop at a small country inn. "I only have two rooms, so one of you will have to sleep in the barn," the innkeeper says. The civil engineer volunteers to sleep in the barn, goes outside, and the others go to bed. In a short time they're awakened by a knock. It's the engineer, who says, "There's a cow in that barn. I'm a Hindu, and it would offend my beliefs to sleep next to a sacred animal." The chemist says that, OK, he'll sleep in the barn. The others go back to bed, but soon are awakened by another knock. It's the chemist who says, "There's a pig in that barn. I'm Jewish, and cannot sleep next to an unclean animal." So the economist is sent to the barn. It's getting late; the others are very tired and soon fall asleep. But they're awakened by an even louder knocking. They open the door and are surprised by what they see: It's the cow and the pig!

·         Three economists and three mathematicians were going for a trip by train. Before journey mathematicians bought 3 tickets (they could count to three) and economists only one. Mathematicians were glad their stupid colleagues were going to pay a fine. However when the conductor was approaching their compartment, all three economists went to the nearest toilet. Conductor noticing that somebody is in the toilet knocked to the door and in reply saw a hand with the ticket. He checked it and economists saved 2/3 of the ticket price. Next day mathematicians decided to use the same strategy- they bought only one ticket, but economists did not buy tickets at all. When mathematicians saw conductor they went to the toilet, and when they heard knocking they handed in the ticket. They did not get it back. Why? The economists took it and went to the other toilet.

·         A party of economists was climbing in the Alps. After several hours they became hopelessly lost. One of them studied the map for some time, turning it up and down, sighting on distant landmarks, consulting his compass, and finally the sun.  Finally he said, ' OK see that big mountain over there?' 'Yes', answered the others eagerly. 'Well, according to the map, we're standing on top of it.'

·         Q: Why did God create economists?

A: In order to make weather forecasters look good.


·         Q: Why did the economist cross the road?

A: It was the chicken's day off.

·         When Albert Einstein died, he met three New Zealanders in the queue outside the Pearly Gates. To pass the time, he asked what were their IQs. The first replied 190. "Wonderful," exclaimed Einstein. "We can discuss the contribution made by Ernest Rutherford to atomic physics and my theory of general relativity". The second answered 150. "Good," said Einstein. "I look forward to discussing the role of New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation in the quest for world peace". The third New Zealander mumbled 50. Einstein paused, and then asked, "So what is your forecast for the budget deficit next year?" (Adapted from Economist June 13th 1992, p. 71).

·         Two men are flying in a captive balloon. The wind is ugly and they come away from their course and they have no idea where they are. So they go down to 20 m above ground and ask a passing wanderer. "Could you tell us where we are?"  "You are in a balloon."  So the one pilot to the other:  "The answer is perfectly right and absolutely useless. The man must be an economist"  "Then you must be businessmen", answers the man.  "That’s right! How did you know?"  "You have such a good view from where you are and yet you don't know where you are!"

·         Q. What does an economist do?

A. A lot in the short run, which amounts to nothing in the long run.


·         Two economists meet on the street. One inquires, "How's your wife?" The other responds, "Relative to what?" 

·         To an economist, real life is a special case.

·         I asked an economist for her phone number.... and she gave me an estimate.

·         Conversation between two Dinosaurs:  Dinosaur #1: "How many economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Dinosaur #2: "What is an economist?" Dinosaur #1: "A flunkie mathematician who tries to predict the population of kangaroos in Australia. But that's not important and don't ask what a Kangaroo is." Dinosaur #2: "I don't know, how many?" Dinosaur #1: "10 economists and one grad student. One economist to make a model, one to run the regression, one to test the hypothesis, one to interpret the results, one to conclude how to screw it on, one grad student to screw it on, and five economists trying to fight off the dinosaurs trying to eat them.

·         Economists have forecasted 9 out of the last 5 recessions. 

·         An econometrician and an astrologer are arguing about their subjects. The astrologer says, "Astrology is more scientific. My predictions come out right half the time. Yours can't even reach that proportion". The econometrician replies, "That's because of external shocks. Stars don't have those".

·         Heard at the University of Oslo campus. We all know what pareto optimal allocation means... What about Jesus-optimal allocation -- when all persons are equally well off, and one person really gets it bad, worse off, while all the rest are much better off... 

·         A traveler wandering on an island inhabited entirely by cannibals comes upon a butcher shop. This shop specialized in human brains differentiated according to source. The sign in the shop read:

Artists' Brains $9/lb

Philosophers' Brains $12/lb

Scientists' Brains $15/lb

Economists' Brains $19/lb


Upon reading the sign, the traveler noted, "My those economists' brains must be popular!" To which the butcher replied, "Are you kidding! Do you have any idea how many economists you have to kill to get a pound of brains?!"


·         Harry Truman asked for an economist with one arm to advise the government. Why ? Because he was tired of economists who say: "Well on one hand ... But on the other hand ..."

·         The Commerce Department has a 46-page application packet for economists to seeking to run its leading economic index, but the packet warns: "the government will evaluate only the first 25 pages of a written proposal."

·         In Canada there is a small radical group that refuses to speak English and no one can understand them. They are called separatists. In this country (USA) we have the same kind of group. They are called economists. 

·         An economist was asked about the meaning of life. He replied: It depends on the parameter values.

·         “Economic man" never gets a hangover, if he doesn't decide that the advantages of acquiring it exceed the drawbacks.

·         On the first day God created the sun - so the Devil countered and created sunburn. On the second day God created sex. In response the Devil created marriage. On the third day God created an economist. This was a tough one for the Devil, but in the end and after a lot of thought he created a second economist!

·         Three leading economists took a small plane to the wilderness in northern Canada to hunt moose over the weekend. The last thing the pilot said was , remember, this is a very small plane and you will only be able to bring ONE moose back.  But of course, they killed one each and come Sunday, they talked the pilot into letting them bring all three dead moose onboard. So just after takeoff, the plane stalled and crashed. In the wreckage, one of the economists woke up, looked around and said. where the hell are we. Oh, just about a hundred yards east of the place there we crashed last year. 

·         Everybody has a comparative advantage in some respect, provided that performances are not entirely in the third quadrant.

·         "This man is a first year economics student, so we can't show you his friends."

·         An Economist is someone who didn't have enough personality to become an accountant.

·         An economist is someone who knows 100 ways to make love, but doesn't know any women/men.

·         Q: What is a recent economics graduate's usual question in his first job?

A: What would you like to have with your french fries sir?


·         An economist returns to visit his old school. He's interested in the current exam questions and asks his old professor to show some. To his surprise they are exactly the same ones to which he had answered 10 years ago! When he asks about this the professor answers: "the questions are always the same - only the answers change!"

·         Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

·         A central banker walks into a pizzeria to order a pizza.  When the pizza is done, he goes up to the counter get it. There a clerk asks him: "Should I cut it into six pieces or eight pieces?"  The central banker replies: "I'm feeling rather hungry right now. You'd better cut it into eight pieces."

·         Three guys decide to play a round of golf: a priest, a psychologist, and an economist.  They get behind a very slow two-some, who, despite a caddie, are taking all day to line up their shots and four-putting every green, and so on. By the 8th hole, the three men are complaining loudly about the slow play ahead and swearing a blue streak, and so on. The priest says, "Holy Mary, I pray that they should take some lessons before they play again." The psychologist says, "I swear there are people that like to play golf slowly." The economist says, "I really didn’t expect to spend this much time playing a round of golf."  By the 9th hole, they have had it with slow play, so the psychologist goes to the caddie and demands that they be allowed to play through. The caddie says O.K., but then explains that the two golfers are blind, that both are retired firemen who lost their eyesight saving people in a fire, and that explains their slow play, and would they please not swear and complain so loud.  The priest is mortified; he says, "Here I am a man of the cloth and I've been swearing at the slow play of two blind men." The psychologist is also mortified; he says, "Here I am a man trained to help others with their problems and I've been complaining about the slow play of two blind men."  The economist ponders the situation-finally he goes back to the caddie and says, "Listen, the next time could they play at night."

·         A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, "Lets smash the can open with a rock." The chemist says, "Lets build a fire and heat the can first." The economist says, "Lets assume that we have a can-opener..."

·         Q: What's the difference between a finance major and an economics major?

A: Opportunity Cost


·         An economist, a philosopher, a biologist, and an architect were arguing about what was God's real profession. The philosopher said, "Well, first and foremost, God is a philosopher because he created the principles by which man is to live." "Ridiculous!" said the biologist "Before that, God created man and woman and all living things so clearly he was a biologist." "Wrong," said the architect. "Before that, he created the heavens and the earth. Before the earth, there was only complete confusion and chaos!" "Well," said the economist, "where do you think the chaos came from?"

·         The First Law of Economists: For every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist.  The Second Law of Economists: They're both wrong.

·         Two economists are walking down the street. One sees a dollar lying on the sidewalk, and says so.  "Obviously not," says the other. "If there were, someone would have picked it up!" 

·         If all the economists were laid end to end

a) it would be a good thing

b) they would be more comfortable

c) they would never reach conclusion

d) all of the above

e) none of the above

f) they would point in different directions


·         We have 2 classes of forecasters: Those who don't know . . . and those who don't know they don't know.

·         "Murphys law of economic policy": Economists have the least influence on policy where they know the most and are most agreed; they have the most influence on policy where they know the least and disagree most vehemently.

·         An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today.

·         A study of economics usually reveals that the best time to buy anything is last year.

·         Having a little inflation is like being a little pregnant--inflation feeds on itself and quickly passes the "little" mark.

·         If all economists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion.

·         Practical men ... are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

·         If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three opinions. (Winston Churchill )

·         Shall I tell you the opinion of a famous economist on jealousy? Jealousy is just the fact of being deprived. Nothing more.

·         "An economist is someone who sees something working in practice and asks whether it would work in principle." 

·         Economists don't answer to questions others make because they know what the answer is. They answer because they are asked. 

·         Under socialism, if you have two cows, you give one to your neighbor.  Under Communism, if you have two cows, you give both to the State, and the State gives you milk.  Under capitalism, if you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.

·         There is also a joke about the last Mayday parade in the Soviet Union. After the tanks and the troops and the planes and the missiles rolled by there came ten men dressed in black.  "Are they Spies?" Asked Gorby.  "They are economists," replies the KGB director, "imagine the havoc they will wreak when we set them loose on the Americans"

·         The mathematician's child and the economist's child were in the third grade together, and the teacher asked, "If one man with one shovel can dig a ditch in ten days, how long would it take ten men with ten shovels to dig the same ditch?" Both children raised their hands.  The teacher said to the mathematician's child, "Johnny, how long?" and little Johnny v. said, "One day, teacher."  The teacher looked at the economist's child and said, "John Maynard, is that right?"  Little John Maynard said, "Teacher, it all depends." 

·         A sure fire way to determine if someone is an economist: Ask the suspect "what's the difference between ignorance and indifference?" If the reply is "I don't know and I don't care" you can be pretty sure its an economist. Now the only question is what to do with him.

·         The National Institute of Health (NIH) announced that they were going to start using economists instead of rats in their experiments. Naturally, the American Agricultural Economics Association was outraged and filed suit, but NIH presented some compelling reasons for the switch: 

1.       NIH lab assistants become very attached to their rats. This emotional involvement was interfering with the research being conducted. No such attachment could form for an economist.

2.       Economists breed faster.

3.       Economists are much cheaper to care for and the humane society won't object regardless of the experiment.

4.       There are some things even rats won't do.


However, it is difficult to extrapolate test results to human beings.


·         Why God Never Received Tenure at the University

1.       Because he had only one major publication.

2.       And it was in Hebrew.

3.       And it had no cited references.

4.       And it wasn't published in a refereed journal or even submitted for peer review.

5.       And some even doubt he wrote it himself.

6.       It may be true that he created the world but what has he done since?

7.       His cooperative efforts have been quite limited.

8.       The scientific community has had a very rough time trying to replicate his results.

9.       He never applied to the Ethics Board for permission to use human subjects.

10.   When one experiment went awry, he tried to cover it up by drowning the subjects.

11.   When subjects didn't behave as predicted, he often punished them, or just deleted them from the sample.

12.   He rarely came to class, just told students to read the book.

13.   He had his son teach the class.

14.   He expelled his first two students for learning.

15.   Although there were only ten requirements, most students failed his tests.

16.   His office hours were infrequent and usually held on a mountaintop.


·         Having a house economist became for many business people something like having a resident astrologer for the royal court: I don't quite understand what this fellow is saying but there must be something to it."

·         Q: Why do economists carry their diplomas on their dashboards?

A: So they can park in the (morally/intellectually) handicapped parking.


·         If an economist and an IRS agent were both drowning and you could only save one of them, would you go to lunch or read the paper?

·         A guy walks into a DC curio shop. While browsing he comes across an exquisite brass rat. "What a great gag gift" he thinks to himself. After dickering with the shop keeper over the price, the man purchases the rat and leaves. As he's walking down the street, he hears scurrying noises behind him. Stopping and looking around, he sees hundreds, then thousands of rats pouring out of the alleys and stairwells into the street behind him. In a panic he runs down the street with the rats not far behind. The street ends at a pier; he runs to the end of the pier and heaves the brass rat into the Potomac. All of the rats scurry past him into the river where they drown. After breathing a sigh of relief and wiping his brow, the man heads back to the curio shop, finds the shop keeper and asks, "Do you have any brass economists?"

·         How can you tell when an economist is lying?

A: His lips are moving. 


·         Ten Things to Do With an Economics Textbook


1.       Press pretty flowers.

2.       Press pretty insects.

3.       Use it as paper weight on your already over cluttered desk.

4.       Leave out in obvious places to impress uninformed undergraduates.

5.       Mail to the White House as an intimidation tactic.

6.       Give it a walk-on part in a boring European existentialist play.

7.       Just throw the damn thing away.

8.       Leave out for the rain and other forces of nature to reckon with.

9.       Read it (ha ha ha), and weep.

10.   Get a refund from bookstore so you can buy weekend's beer supply.


·         They say that Christopher Columbus was the first economist. When he left to discover America, he didn't know where he was going. When he got there he didn't know where he was. And it was all done on a government grant.

·         A grade school teacher was asking students what their parents did for a living. "Tim, you be first. What does your mother do all day?"  Tim stood up and proudly said, "She's a doctor."  "That's wonderful. How about you, Amy?"  Amy shyly stood up, scuffed her feet and said, "My father is a mailman."  "Thank you, Amy" said the teacher. "What does your parent do, Billy?"  Billy proudly stood up and announced:

Answer 1. “Nothing. He's an economist."

Answer 2. "My daddy plays piano in a whorehouse." The teacher was aghast and went to Billy's house and rang the bell. Billy's father answered the door. The teacher explained what his son had said and demanded an explanation. Billy's dad said, "I'm actually an economist. How can I explain a thing like that to a seven-year-old?"

·         Q: Why won't sharks attack economists?

A: Professional courtesy.

·         Q: What do you get when you cross the Godfather with an economist?

A: An offer you can't understand.

·         A Berkeley economist died and went to heaven (No, that's not the joke). There were thousands of people ahead of him in line to see St. Peter. To his surprise, St. Peter left his desk at the gate and came down the long line to where the economist was, and greeted him warmly. St. Peter took the economist up to the front of the line, and into a comfortable chair by his desk. The economist said, "I like all this attention, but what makes ME so special?" St. Peter replied, "Well, I've added up all the hours for which you billed your consultation clients, and by my calculation you're 193 years old!"

Light Bulb Jokes

Q: How many mainstream economists does it take to change a light bulb?

A1: Two. One to assume the existence of ladder and one to change the bulb.

A2: Two. One to assume the existence of latter and one to change the bulb.

Q: How many neo-classical economists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: It depends on the wage rate.

Q: How many conservative economists does it take to change a light bulb?

A1: None. The darkness will cause the light bulb to change by itself

A2: None. If it really needed changing, market forces would have caused it to happen.

A3: None. If the government would just leave it alone, it would screw itself in. 

A4. None. "There is no need to change the light bulb. All the conditions for illumination are in place.

A5. None, because, look! It's getting brighter! It's definitely getting brighter!!!

A6. None; they're all waiting for the unseen hand of the market to correct the lighting disequilibrium.

Q: How many Wharton MBAs does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Only one, if you hire me. I can actually change the light bulb by myself. As you can see from my resume, I've had extensive experience changing light bulbs in my previous positions. I've also been named to the Wharton Light Bulb list, and am presently a teaching assistant for Light Bulb Management 666. My only weakness is that I'm compulsive about changing light bulbs in my spare time. 

Q: How many B-school doctoral students does it take to change a light bulb?

A: I'm writing my dissertation on that topic; I should have an answer for you in about 5 years

Q: How many investors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None - the market has already discounted the change.

Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Eight. One to screw it in and seven to hold everything else constant.

Q.  How many economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

1. Just one, but it really gets screwed

2. One to prepare the proposal, an econometrician to run the model, one each MS and Ph.D. student to write the theses and dissertations, two more to prepare the journal article (senior authorship not assigned), four to review it, and at least as many to refine the model and replicate the results.

Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Hell, you need a whole department of them just to prepare the research grant.