Dave has written lately about the toxic effect a mainstream economice course has on the brain.
I’ve described the slippery slope to madness here: http://archive.freecapitalists.org/forums/t/33177.aspx
Now is the time to help save the unfortunate who are stuck in these courses from losing their minds. But first, I want to point out that the great poets and thinkers have long understood what these courses are about. They get the italic font, my comments in regular font.
Bob Dylan: Your useless and pointless knowledge. Obviously, a reference to an economics course.
You wouldn’t know a diamond
If you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious
I can’t understand.
A reference to mainstream economics love of fiat money, unbacked by gold or diamonds
You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean
Steely Dan is talking here about a child prodigy taking economics courses, one who is rather full of himself.
The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can’t understand
Goethe, too, in Faust, describes in detail an economics major about to sell his soul to the Devil:
Scene I: Night
(In a high-vaulted Gothic chamber, Faust, in a chair at his desk, restless.)
Ah! Now I’ve done Economics,
I’ve finished Macro and Micro, 355
And sadly even Econometrics:
Taken fierce pains, from end to end.
Now here I am, a fool for sure!
No wiser than I was before:
Note that, unlike Steely Dan’s deluded friend, Faust gets it.
He knows that he has wasted his best years studying baloney.
Master, Doctor’s what they call me, 360
And I’ve been ten years, already,
Crosswise, arcing, to and fro,
Leading my students by the nose,
And see that we can know – nothing!
He got his degree, his tenure, his worshipping students, but he knows he is a big fake.
It almost sets my heart burning. 365
I’m cleverer than all these teachers,
Doctors, Masters, scribes, preachers:
I’m not plagued by doubt or scruple,
Nor is he plagued by humility, it seems.
Scared by neither Hell nor Devil –
Instead all Joy is snatched away, 370
What’s worth knowing, I can’t say,
I can’t say what I should teach
To make men better or convert each.
He admits that all the mainstream eco has driven Austrian Economics completely out of his system.
He forgot all of it.
And then I’ve neither goods nor gold,
No worldly honour, or splendour hold: 375
Not even a dog would play this part!
The fiat money and the bitcoins he relied on have lost all value in those ten years.
Finally we Hermann Hesse’s full length novel, The Glass Bead Game, for which he won a Nobel Prize, describing a syllabus in mainstream economics. We cannot quote it in full, but instead let wikipedia do the talking:
The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date, centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book’s narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum.
In other words, the econ courses are taught to people who will have little to no real world experience. Certainly they have not actually run a business. It was a political decision to isolate them from reality.
Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys, and to nurture and play the Glass Bead Game, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell.
The boarding school for underaged boys is a veiled reference to Keynes’s well known dark side. The econ majors have to be isolated not only from the outside world, but from the rest of the student body, lest they find out what real science looks like.
The rules of the game are only alluded to, and are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of …mathematics…Essentially the game…proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.
One day Joseph Knecht, the smartest guy they have, wakes up and gets it:
As the novel progresses, Knecht begins to question his loyalty to the order; he gradually comes to doubt that the intellectually gifted have a right to withdraw from life’s big problems.
As Mises said, economics is all about predicting the future and knowing what to do about it. All the mainstream econ courses Knecht took either don’t bother with that stuff [econometrics], or get it completely wrong [macro].
Knecht comes to see Castalia as a kind of ivory tower, an ethereal protected community, devoted to pure intellectual pursuits but oblivious to the problems posed by life outside its borders.
Econometrics to a T.
Knecht wakes up, dumps the whole thing, starts spreading the truth:
Knecht does the unthinkable: he resigns as Magister Ludi [top dog] and asks to leave the order, ostensibly to become of value and service to the larger culture. The heads of the order deny his request to leave, but Knecht departs Castalia anyway, initially taking a job as a tutor to his childhood friend Designori’s energetic and strong-willed son, Neodoxy.
But the CIA was onto him:
Only a few days later, the story ends abruptly with Knecht drowning in a mountain lake…
In tears, people have approached Smiling Dave asking for help.
“I have to take these courses, Dave. How can I prevent my brain from melting into a pool of slush?”
Always tender of heart, Dave was touched by these heartrending appeals. He spent many sleepless nights pondering the problem, and casting about for solutions. Finally, he came up with something Joseph Knecht would be proud of.
What is the magical hold econ classes have on the mind? I see two things. First, a supposedly wiser authority figure is up there at the head of the class, mocking anyone who disagrees with him. Second, you have invested so much in passing the course, it hurts to admit that it was all a huge waste of time and money.
My advice: Think of all the time and money you have wasted playing video games, losing yourself in an imaginary world, a video game authority figure telling you the rules, like the phony Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. You didn’t come away from your WOW session thinking it is real, right? It was a way to pass the time and spend your money.
So think of your econ classes as video games, and your prof as the phony Wizard of Oz. This will release their grip on your thinking.
And who should walk in but Devil’s Advocate. What is it, DA?
DA: Smiling Dave, video games only set be back a few hundred bucks, all told. My college education is putting me a hundred grand in debt. And the Wizard of Oz can’t do anything to me, but my prof can fail me.
SD: Devil’s A., you are right. In your case, I suggest you throw good money after bad and ruin not only your financial situation, but your reasoning powers as well.
DA: Thanks, Dave. You had me worried there for a while.