Dismal Science?

In 2004 I started my PhD in Economics and one of the first things I have learned is that economists are not famous for their sense of humor. We have a tradition of bad jokes that make little sense for people outside our departments. Here an example:

Two economists are walking down the street when they see someone parking a really nice car. They stop to look at it, and after a bit, one of the economists says, “I’d like to buy a car like that.” To which the other economist replies, “No, you wouldn’t.”

[That’s it. This is the joke. If you do not find this funny you agree with me.]

But bad jokes is not the reason why Economics is described as the “dismal science”. The origin of this definition is 170 years old.

Not a ‘gay science,’ I should say, like some we have heard of; no, a dreary, desolate and, indeed, quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science.

This quote come from the historian Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question (1849) by Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle studied the labor situation the West Indies. At that time white planters were complaining that the emancipation of the slaves was an obstacle to their business because they were unable to obtain enough labour. Carlyle thought that coercion, not the market forces of demand and supply, should regulate the labor according to “their mutual duties” (to know more read here).



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