How many economists?

How many economists does it take to change one’s mind about when to cut the UK’s public deficit?

Twenty wrote an open letter to the Sunday Times last weekend calling for public spending cuts to start this year – the position favoured by the opposition Conservative party.

But 60 appear on the FT’s letters page this morning – in two separate letters – to back chancellor Alistair Darling’s view that it would jeopardise a fragile recovery to cut the deficit before 2011.

For some reason, Googling my question mainly produces vaguely familiar answers involving light bulbs.

Still, one or two are worth wheeling out again:

1) How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?

Given 1,000 economists there will be 10 theoretical economists with different theories on how to change the light bulb and 990 empirical economists labouring to determine which theory is the “correct” one, and everyone will still be in the dark.

2) How many Keynesian economists?

All of them. Because then you will generate employment and more consumption, dislocating the aggregate demand to the right.

3) How many Chicago School economists?

None. If the light bulb needed changing , the market would have done it already.

4) How many mainstream economists?

Two. One to assume the existence of the ladder and one to change the bulb.

5) How many Marxists?

None – the bulb contains within it the seeds of its own revolution.

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.


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