Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Eco jargon

I've been reading economic blogs, lately.

Holy Cow! What a load of malarkey.

Jargon. Secret passwords. Knowledgeable babble. Secret handshakes.

An undiscovered country.

I'm too old for that shit.

(I've really got to quit using that phrase...I'm not that old.)

Actually, economics looks like a world I could delve into, but which could swallow me up. To what purpose? I have no real money to invest, and if I did, investing in my own business makes a whole lot more sense, especially since I actually do have some knowledge of my own business.

But economics is surprising alluring. I have an analytic bent, an ability to see patterns, but without the pesky mathematics. (Which is probably like swimming, without the pesky breast strokes.)

You know how you play a game with a friend who has never played before? And every move he makes is golden? Beginner's luck?

I think that comes from cutting through the bullshit, and seeing the basics. It only lasts for awhile, and then you're corrupted by complexity.

I've spent most of my life trying to learn more. But of course there is more than I can ever learn, even in my tiny little field of specialty. So obviously, it's more important to learn how to access knowledge, how to use it, and how to reach wise conclusions.

So the real question to me is, how much knowledge is enough to reach the correct solution, and how much is too much?

My sister Susie is a geophysics professor, who got her doctorate at Stanford and her post-graduate at Cambridge. I was talking about how much smarter she was; and she demurred. "I'm very knowledgeable in my field," she said. "But that knowledge came at the expense of learning fields other than my own."

My inclination is to follow my interests, wherever it leads. Which probably comes from growing up in a house that resembled a library. It's a helpful characteristic for a writer. It would probably be an even more helpful characteristic for a journalist. It's probably been a plus as a small business owner.

But it means that I dabble in every social science. History, economics (which has only became interesting to me in my fifties....), psychology. Or philosophy, as Bilbobust accused me, but which I cop to only the inclination. I'm always looking for answers, and verbal constructs that approximate the truth. Which is impossible. Still, the ability to verbalize combined with the ability to cut to the central truth, I admire, and the two talents almost never go together.

In physics, it has turned out that math was an elegant approximation of the universe, at least as much as we can understand it. I believe that an elegant verbal expression can be an elegant approximation of reality as well.

I seem to be constantly curious. I almost always know what someone is talking about, even if I'm not an expert. Constantly wanting to learn new things. Constantly trying to accumulate knowledge, as if it will protect me from harm. As if I will suddenly know so much that I will become invincible and immortal.

And then, I start reading economic blogs, and understand that I don't have the first clue. I haven't been rigorous in my accumulation of facts. I've been pretty much a amateur.


Jeff said...

If you're an introvert who likes to write then academia can make for a decent lifestyle. But like any sort of writer, you've got to have a thick skin -- I recently got a paper rejected from a journal that I started working on 8 years ago.

If you don't mind math, then economics is pretty interesting. But it's not necessarily about money and investing -- economists work on all kinds of things -- optimal environmental policy, the economics of crime, decision-making under uncertainty, even a theory of marriage.

But honestly, I'm like you -- I'd rather wander around a library, dabbling in lots of different subjects, than just focus on one specialty. But specialization is what pays the bills.

Bill Greene said...

If you're tired of and confused by the complex "babble" of many economists, try my approach--by using the case method to look at economic history. By focusing on real world activity, you can see clearly what worked and what didn't. That is what form of social organizations advanced the lot of the common people and which did not. Since the objective of economics should be to help people live easier, more comfortable and prosperous lives, this approach develops real world answers about economic policy that work, instead of concentrating on abstract theories that don't. If you are interested, read the "Selected paragraphs" on my website. These selections recap many of the "lessons of history" and provide a common sense explanation of economic and political history for the last 3,000 years. This case method also explains why America became the most affluent and dominant nation on earth and why current domestic trends may cause it to lose that status.