A Tale of Two Economists

On something of a holiday in Tasmania last week, I learned a great new joke about economists...(more under the fold...)

My partner willingly sacrificed half our holiday so that I could give three peak oil presentations to small audiences in Hobart and Launceston. Over a drink after one of the presentations, during the doom and gloom discussions that inevitably follow, my partner insisted on a round of jokes to lighten up the mood. I am indebted to Piers (a new addition to ASPO Hobart) for this gem, which brightened up our whole week:

Two economists find themselves locked in a basement. They're not sure what time it is, because it's dark and they can't read their watches. They think it's nearly dinner time, cause they're starting to feel hungry. But they're not worried; they are not starting to panic - because they know that their demand will create sandwiches for them!

The next day I told this joke just before I showed this slide with the EIA's oil 'forecast' - I'm pretty sure it helped to get my point across.

So what other peak oil related jokes have you heard? There's a lot of other people out there who need cheering up!

Reminds me of Brian Fisher from ABARE's statement to the Senate committee hearing into peak oil:

"If the price of eggs is high enough, roosters will start to lay eggs"


Exactly which orifice they will squeeze them out of, no one knows...

I'm glad you brought this up and have provided the link because I've been wanting record of it.

I saw this clip when it first came out and could not believe what I was hearing.

The quotation has haunted me ever since as the simplest, most direct statement of the delusion that is killing us all.

Thank you.

Until the senate inquiry I had often wondered whether economists were hermaphrodites or eunuchs. Brian Fisher's comment confirmed that they are hermaphrodites.

Hello Phil and Gav - wellcome aboard - here's my joke:

By 2020 - just 12 years away, UK gas production is forecast to fall below 20 bcm per year. And demand is forecast to grow to over 140 bcm per year.


Its hilarious isn't it?

Sorry for this sarcasm - and starting a peak oil joke section is a great idea!

Hilarious for the Russians I guess - for a while at least.

Oh, I love it!!!!

Just what I needed for an antagonist whom touts his expertise as an economist and is sure that technology (and '400 years of fossil fuels supplies') will see him through until his death and the death of his children and grandchildren.

Here are a couple of articles which include interviews with the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol who also believes that demand will create oil. The IEA's reference case for 2030 is production of 116 million barrels/day, similar to that of the EIA.

Birol looks a little nervous in the picture below



Hello Phil Hart,

I always got a big laugh from the consistently and horribly wrong crude price predictions of Yergin and Lynch.

Full credit to the TODer who posted this delightful tidbit earlier [I hope I remembered it accurately]:

"I wonder if Yergin laughed when his clients asked for a full refund on their BigBucks$$$ CERA articles."

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Two economists are stranded on a small deserted island.
No observable food ready to grab and eat.
No observable fresh water ready to drink.
There are some raw materials: rocks, trees with leaves (no ripe coconuts), sand and they have their clothes as well as eyeglasses.

In short order the economists establish a monetary system between themselves and begin exchanging futures options using sea shells as their tokens.

At the end of the first day they proclaim it to be "good" for they have created a robust "healthy" economy.

Ha. Ha.

Hey, cheer up......worse days ahead.......

Here are a few:

The First Law of Economists: For every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist.

The Second Law of Economists: They're both wrong.


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


A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of beans washes ashore. The chemist says, "Let’s build a fire until the beans explode out of the can." The physicist says, "Great idea! I'll plot the trajectory so we can catch them". The economist shakes his head and says, "No, no, no. Lets assume that we have a can-opener..."


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.

(battered economist)

Addition: I almost forgot this one:

Definition of an Economist: Someone who knows a little math, but doesn't have enough personality to become an accountant.


Thanks Debbie! Great to see an economist with a sense of humour. If it is any consolation, I'm a glorified IT nerd.

What does a computer programmer use for contraception?
His personality :-)

Thanks Phil. Over the last week I have seen the price of oil shoot up unbelievably, and heard at least 2 more very credible people say that Peak OIl occured in 2006. I'm really ready to hear some jokes - I need them.

David C.

Q:What do you get when you cross an economist with a werewolf?
A: Nothing. There are some things even a dog won't do.

Q:How many economists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They can't see the spreadsheet to decide if the lightbulb is worth changing.

I liked the programmer joke! It reminds me of another one about economists:

Definition of an Economist: Someone who knows a little math, but doesn't have enough personality to become an accountant.



In the year 2150 economists will say: See, supply and demand works. As the supply of oil declined, so too did the demand for people.

If you took all of the economists in the world and stacked them end to end -- it'd be a good idea.

If you took 10 economists and lined them up, they'd all point in different directions.

Q: How many economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: None, the invisible hand will do it.

Did you hear the one about the economist who drown crossing a river that was an average of 2 feet deep?

I always liked this one:

"If you took all the economists in the world and laid them end to end, they wouldn't reach a conclusion."

That's the one I remember.

Here is a good one I read today:

"Inflation was low because oil prices surged"

Actually it's real story at marketwatch. It's starting to get bad when they admit their numbers have nothing to do with reality.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- As odd as it sounds, the government reported that inflation was at a four-decade low in the third quarter, primarily because import oil prices rose so much.

If you don't understand that, welcome to the confusing world of national income accounting, where up sometimes is down, and where sometimes one plus one can equal zero.
The simple explantion:
Because of the way the government counts and reports the numbers, real-life inflation was understated and growth was overstated.

The economy didn't really grow 3.9%, and inflation really wasn't 0.8%. The numbers aren't as good as they look.
The complicated explantion:

When reporting on gross domestic product, the government counts up all the economic activity in the country, including consumer spending, business and residential investment, and government spending and investment. Then it adds all the exports, and subtracts all the imports. The final total is gross domestic product.
The fact that imports are subtracted is an important detail, so remember it.
Of course, all this counting is done in current dollars, the kind you and I have in our pockets, the kind that lose value every day to inflation. In order to gauge how much of the increase in spending and investment during a quarter was due to real growth and how much to inflation, the government deflates the total number of dollars by its estimate for how much prices rose.
In the third quarter, the government estimated that current dollar spending and investment increased at a 4.7% annual rate. After subtracting 0.8% for inflation, the real growth rate was 3.9% in the third quarter. See full story.
How does the government estimate inflation? The same way it estimates growth, by looking at individual price changes for consumer spending, business and residential investment, and government spending. Then it adds the price changes for exports and subtracts the price changes for imports.
It subtacts import price changes. Remember that.
Sometimes the mechanical formula produces some "quirky, nonintuititive relationships," said Shelley Smith, who's in charge of figuring the price index for the government's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Most of the time, the government's formula doesn't produce any weird numbers, because the mathematical quirks all cancel each other out. But in the just concluded third quarter, it did produce quirky numbers that don't accurately reflect reality, even though they are correct from an accounting point of view.

Imported crude oil prices rose from an average of about $69 a barrel in the second quarter to $75 in the third, but wholesale gasoline prices fell by about 10 cents to $2.07 a gallon. Imported prices for energy rose, but domestic prices didn't.

In the government's accounting, prices of imported goods rose at a 10.3% annual pace in the quarter, but that increase was subtracted when figuring the economy-wide price index. Import prices subtracted 1.3 percentage points from inflation in the third quarter. With domestic prices rising slower than they had previously, it was enough to push inflation to four-decade low of 0.8%.

The accounting is right. But it's not reality

The accounting is right. But it's not reality

So that means that they ARE right when they say peak-oil won't happen after all? Reality notwithstanding, 'cos it doesn't actually matter?

Jaymax (cornucomer-doomopian)

Ya Empires have a habit of creating their own reality, at least until they collapse of course.

"That's not the way the world really works anymore..''

...''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

somehow, I believe the pundits and 'industry' experts over at Fox Business will rip apart anyone who dares question 'official' government 'inflation' numbers. At least until after the executives have purchased large sums of physical gold/silver and dried food. Then of course, its off to the races.

The sad thing is, many old grandma's and folks sending their kids to college will listen to the gubmint, of course, these people also vote. hmmmmm.

as cheerful as things are around the world, its no where near as cheerful as they're gonna need to be!

How do an economist and a petroleum geologist make love? One with an invisible hand, the other with an invisible finger.

"The only group that has a worse track record than petroleum engineers and geologists searching for oil is economists!"

sorry I missed your presentation. I woulda been there had I known, since I live an hour out of Hobart and I'm actively working on several forms of alternative energy. Also I have some ideas on how the State's hydro, windpower and biomass are not used to best effect.

next time,

As the King of Saudi Arabia showed up in the UK, the Queen of Englend`s Royal Band gave him a special welcome song....


I first heard about this on National Public Radio yesterday Oct 30, 2007, USA.

Hello Olorin,

Without giving away the Royal Band musical song: were the Saudis unhappy with the serenade, or totally unaware of the music's context?

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Wow. That beats me playing the "Emporor's March" for my sister's wedding rehearsal.

- Scott
"Winter is coming"

That is easily the biggest and at the same time subtlest affront in diplomacy I have ever seen. Woah!


Nothing like a bit of British wit.

I wonder what they play when Cheney pays a visit ?


thanks everyone! at the end of a pretty stressful day at work, the collection of jokes (and sarcasm) here gave me quite a few laughs. i feel much better now :-)

I think I read this one over at peakoil.com:

An economist walks along a street with his wife next to him. Suddenly she shouts: "Look, there is a 10 Euro bill right in front of us - let's pick it up!"
The economist keeps on walking without ever looking down, dragging his wife along.
"But dear, if there would have been a 10 Euro bill, someone else would have taken it already."

(I think this refers to the miracle of instant arbitration in perfect markets.)



In the tradition of the old executive job interview joke:

Three people are in the same job interview: a mathematician, a statistician and a mathematical economist.

Mathematician is interviewed first. Interviewer shows him a Hubbert curve of oil production and asks what does it imply.

Mathematician answers that the function looks like a derivative of the logistic function and that it implies a fast decline in available production flow as a function of time after global maximum has been reached.

Interviewer asks "Are you sure?"

Mathematician answer, annoyed: "Yes, of course I'm sure"

Mathematician is dismissed.

Statistician is shown the same curve and asked what it implies.

Statistician answers it has a resemblance of a normal distribution, perhaps a derivative of logistic function, with badly defined error margins, regardless implying a probable decline of production flow in some not completely known point in time.

Statistician is dismissed.

Mathematical economist is shown Hubbert curve and asked what it implies.

The economist pulls down the curtains, closes the door, leans over to the interviewer and asks:

"What would you like it to imply?"

They hire the economist.

Mr. Yergin arrives at the Pearly Gates, a little befuddled at recently starving to death when the Wal-Mart "warehouse on wheels" scheme collapsed. He asks Saint Peter at his accountant’s desk. "How could Peak Oil have killed me like that? I had so much faith in economics and there was so much demand for oil. Why didn’t you guys warn me?"

Peter peers over his bifocals, "But Mr. Yergin, we tried. Don’t you remember that oil expert, Hubbert, way back in the 50’s."

"Oh, yes, yes. He was crazy ".

"Well, we don’t discriminate on that basis here. And then we sent you that peanut farmer after those nasty oil shocks in the ‘70s. We thought maybe a man of God would fare better, with his evangelical zeal for conservation and alternative energy programs. "

"Well, the economics were all wrong then, weren’t they? "

Peter shrugged "We thought we were really clever, you know, just before petroleum actually peaked in ’05, when we sent that prophet disguised as an oil financier. I was particularly proud of that move".

"He didn’t really understand how things were, though", Yergin offered.

"Well, I really became afraid for you when you refused the free garden seeds from your neighbor Mr. Coco Pelli in the spring you starved"

"Couldn’t have been worth much if they were free, besides, wasn’t he in the witness protection program?" Yergin countered.

Wandering over to the Pearly Gates Yergin noticed a small sign: "Heaven and Hell this way, step lively, now". It pointed at two small doors, one marked "Growth Eternal" the other "Budget Today"

"But which one do I choose?" Yergin pined.

Peter, deep in concentration, scribed Yergin’s name in the ledger and mumbled, "Oh that, don’t worry! He changes those darned signs every time. I expect an Invisible Hand will guide you".

Sustaining in North Central Florida

In a study to find out if people follow the rules of game theory in real situations, it was found that only two groups of people did follow the rules...psycopaths and economists.

Not a joke, but quite funny.

I always like a joke on economists, considering all the jokes they've played on us. These are the two economist quotes that I use in my peak oil presentation:

"Economics is nothing more than politics in disguise ... economics is a form of brain damage."
Hazel Henderson

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
Kenneth Boulding

Or an adaptation of a lawyer joke: What do you have when you see an economist buried up to his neck in sand? Not enough sand.

Having majored in economics years ago, I always appreciated this one:

Economists have successfully predicted seven of the last five recessions.

And how could I possibly forget the very first words from the professor in my first Econ 1A class:

"In order to study economics, we have to assume that people behave rationally."

Three economists go hunting.
They spy a deer and prepare to shoot.
The first economist misses, about a yard to the left of the deer.
The second economist misses, this time about a yard to the right of the deer.
The third economist jumps up excitedly saying
"We hit it! We hit it!"

Q:Why didn't the DTI realise that the North Sea was declining?

A:Because all the oil is in the rocks offshore Scotland and all the dipsticks are in London.

The good news is that OPEC is no longer in control of the oil price.
The bad news is that nobody is in control of the oil price.


Let them eat [Hydrogen]:

In pre-revolutionary France Marie Antoinette is alleged to have said :"If they have no bread then let them eat cake."

In pre-oilvelutionary western economies the out of touch elites in their ivory towers say: If they have no oil to drive to the superstore then let them drive on hydrogen.

Note: hydrogen and cake are both ways of storing and carrying energy, they consume a lot of energy to make, and do not occur naturally in any useful quantity.

Hydrogen and cake are difficult to carry without mishap.

While both hydrogen and cake will be important commodities in 50 years neither hydrogen nor cake will ever run a mass market auto-transport system.

(my bike runs on cake sometimes)


surely there can only be one Max in Depletion Scotland! good to hear from you :-)

i wish that all the time and money being spent on hydrogen was invested in small electric vehicles (including bicycles) instead - that might actually be of some use.

perhaps one day somebody will do a PhD thesis comparing the EROEI ratios for cake and hydrogen. my guess is that cake would come out on top!

How about this little gem from Yahoo Canada today:

However, looking beyond the day's headlines is revealing and comforting - from an economic perspective. The average per-barrel price of crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange through Oct. 30 was $68.22, compared with $67.34 over the same period in 2006, according to Energy Department data.

Yay! I feel sooo much better after reading this... I think I'll go out and buy a hummer or two ;-)

I have to add the Bloomberg quote to this collection, which Leanan and Robert Rapier both picked up on:

Bloomberg's survey of oil analysts and traders has correctly predicted the direction of futures 52 percent of the time since the survey's introduction in 2004.

That really is too funny. As garyp said, Bloomberg could replace the costs of all those analysts with a single coin. A 100% cost reduction and only a 2% penalty in performance.

And another one from Daily Reckoning:

“The US is committed to a strong dollar,” said Treasury chief Paulson in India yesterday. What was he thinking? Maybe he spoke with a smile…as least the audience could have taken it for a joke. But press reports make no mention of anyone laughing.

Thank's Phil, enjoyed the original joke since, while built on the demand-side overemphasis of neoclassical economics, it captures so much more. It might be possible to construct individual preference curves demonstrating the intersection of new found demand for raw meat of economist and supply of such, which, you know, would also be the moment of cannibalistic impulse and demise*.
Juan de la O

*Point of fact, that 'demise' has been underway, one manifestation of which has been the near-absolute failure to connect theory and reality, another seen in the greater prominence of heterodox economics, too much of which is merely a re-stating of neoclassical schools' earlier failures.