There is something about the way that economists think that makes them different. Sometimes this makes them downright brilliant. Other times it makes them complete outcasts.
I often enthuse about the paradox of voting — the phenomenon whereby economists struggle to explain why people vote. But when I talk about it to anyone else, the idea is normally met with a combination of confusion and mirth.
I escaped early though. Realising early on that I didn’t really have a talent for economics, I switched tracks soon after completing my degree. I still retain an interest in the subject though, and it definitely still affects the way I think.
The core problem that economics is concerned with is the allocation of scarce resources. Poor John Stuart Mill was traumatised by the problem. When trying to take his mind off the dismal issue, he turned to music. But he only found himself worrying about the scarcity of different musical notes. This insight in turn led him to conclude that, one day in the future, every possible combination of notes will be exhausted and there will be no new melodies.
He needn’t have worried. As we all know in these vuvuzela-aware times, millions will happily make do with one solitary hooting B♭.
A thought about scarcity suddenly struck me today. It is widely thought that this generation will be vilified, but most assume that it will be because we’ve used up all the oil or something.
But what about those all-important usernames on that we depend upon as our identities on the internet? Everyone who has tried to sign up for a half-decent email address knows that it can be a complete pain finding a unique username that isn’t idiotic.
That is how I ended up with an idiotic moniker like ‘doctorvee’. Even this mad username was already taken up on YouTube and Skype when I tried to sign up to those sites. Moreover, some other chappie has decided to call himself ‘Mr DeeJay Doctor V€€’, thereby putting paid to my chance of buying doctorvee.com, should I ever have felt the urge to do so.
The problem is bad enough today. Maybe we can keep on signing up to Twitter with vaguely comprehensible usernames for a few years more. But what about 10, 50, 100 years in the future? Surely by then everything will be used up.
Or perhaps, like Mill and his music, it is just the paranoia that comes with the territory when you think like an economist.