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Home / Brunch / Humour: Befriending economics

Humour: Befriending economics

A courageous attempt at understanding the queen of the social sciences

brunch Updated: Feb 08, 2020 23:57 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Did you know that GDP is not the best indicator of growth? Or that the arrival of low-wage migrants does not upset the wages of native workers in a town
Did you know that GDP is not the best indicator of growth? Or that the arrival of low-wage migrants does not upset the wages of native workers in a town(Photo: Shutterstock)

At the recent launch of a book, I found myself twinning with one of the two acclaimed authors. I cannot assume that Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee and I have much in common, but on that January day we were both dressed in black churidar-kurtas and floral jackets. Finding him beside me at the coffee counter just before the event, I nervously muttered, “May I please shake your hand… because I can?” The befuddled intellectual shrugged his shoulders and gamely accepted my graceless offer.

The friendly intellectuals

Which brings me to my point: economics. Having hit the home stretch of Good Economics for Hard Times by Banerjee and Esther Duflo, I have come to certain conclusions, and not all in the area of the book’s study. The first: thank heavens for intellectuals who aren’t condescending. There are so many jokes and pop culture references in the guide that even clueless lit graduates are made to feel welcome. Second, did you know that GDP is not the best indicator of growth? Or that the arrival of low-wage migrants does not upset the wages of native workers in a town?

Forgive me for going on like this, but this is perhaps the first economics book I’ve ever read and it’s making me feel positively solvent. Long have I suffered the fear and self-loathing of the right-brained when it comes to questions of money and other inscrutable phenomena. Like Rachel Green says of Chandler Bing in the quiz episode of Friends, I too believe people in finance who carry briefcases to their offices while dressed in pinstriped shirts are “transponsters”. But reading this book has put me on nodding terms with the ‘queen of the social sciences’.

Dear MBA…

In defence of my tribe, I must say that we do make an effort. How many of the creative types here haven’t ever asked an MBA for financial advice? The frequency and amplitude of our nodding nods when they go on about mutual funds and insurance, shares and property is positively heartbreaking. We sit and we listen, and we pretend to understand their scary acronyms but we soon realise – it ain’t gonna happen. But it’s too late in the game to let our trusted advisor know this. Sooner or later it comes down to the desperate entreaty: “If you had x rupees to invest right now, what would you do?” You’re hoping for a magic answer that will relieve you of your guilt at not making your money work hard. Instead you get a sage Chinese proverb. Sometimes, it’s enough to just give a man some fish, I say. And while you’re at it, please see that it’s been deboned, thank you very much.

Like Rachel Green says of Chandler Bing in the quiz episode of Friends, I believe people in finance who carry briefcases to their offices while dressed in pinstriped shirts are ‘transponsters’

The next option is the CA, that species whose motives you will die second-guessing. As also the friendly lady at the bank. Some solace is extracted from horror stories of wealthy businessmen who have been done in by their business managers (please refer to the sitcom Schitt’s Creek). And so you choose to go it alone, like a cowboy without a saddle or a lasso. It’s not very wise, but the alternative requires you to somehow acquire an ISO-approved brain, and a heart that does not flutter at the mention of ‘suspense account’.

Homegrown economics

It’s best to make your peace with it. The thing about reading the work of this Nobel-winning duo is that it gives you a great holistic perspective about the economy without guilting you out about not knowing a thing about money. This is complemented with my self-prescribed economics lessons, which are of the quaint variety. ‘Spend less if you want to save more’ – is one such gem. ‘Want less’ – when I’m being philosophical. ‘Hand-me-downs rule!’ – is not particularly elegant phrasing, but it makes great sense. Further, ‘Your face will not grow nails if you use hand cream on it’ – is my defence against advertising that propels you towards ultra-specialised and uber-unnecessary products.

Emboldened by my success with this book, the next economics-related work on my list is Poor Economics by the same authors. I plan on challenging the claim of the title by borrowing a copy.

From HT Brunch, February 9, 2020

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