Elfish!? As in “of or pertaining to elves”? Sure, why not? The currently reigning orthodoxy is “Selfish Economics,” and perhaps it is time to get the s... out of our economic life.

But there is another — and better — reason. As we shall see, the world in economic terms is, and always has been, divided into elves and trolls. The elves do the work and the trolls collect troll-tolls from anyone needing to use the bridges of commerce. Because they control the bridges, the trolls have the power to make the rules and write the texts of economics. It is time that we had new rules and a new text. We need an economics that empowers those who do the work: the elves.


Economics? Really? Do we have to? Isn't that stuff really boring? And hard? And full of incomprehensible math?

Yes, we have to. Whether or not it is boring depends a lot on you and what pushes your buttons (or not), but if you have actually read a lot of that stuff (like yours truly) you might come to the conclusion that much of it is in fact designed to be boring. It does not need to be. And like anything else, when you get deeply into it, some of it is difficult. But the necessary parts are simple. And they do not require any but the simplest of mathematics.

But why do we have to? Because economics is life. Economics is power. Economics is control. Economics allows the powerful to suppress and exploit the weak with only a minimal recourse to nasty things like guns and chains.

It could also allow us to turn the tables on the rich and powerful and selfish.

The Looking-Glass World. It helps to realize just how surreal the world of economics is. At least that helps if you have a sense of humor. Economics likes to present itself as a science, but it is really about 20% science, 50% ideology, 20% common sense, and 10% wild-ass guesses. Unfortunately, much of the “science” is based on the ideology. That is, much of what economists do involves complex mathematical work founded on purely ideological premises.

There is an old joke that perfectly illustrates the way economists think. Three professors were walking along having an intense intellectual discussion when they absent-mindedly fell down a deep well. One of the professors was a physicist, one an engineer, and the other an economist. The engineer, recognizing their predicament as one demanding his particular skill set, whipped out his calculator (it was originally a slide rule, which tells you how old this story is) and set to work solving their problem. He puzzled furiously for a while and finally gave up. So he turned to the physicist and asked if he had any ideas. The physicist then pulled out his calculator and gave it his best, with the same result. No luck. In desperation they looked at the economist and asked if he, by any wild chance, had any ideas. “Of course,” he said, calmly and disdainfully, “First, I will assume a ladder. . . ."

That is essentially how economists solve their problems and get the results they want: they assume ladders. They are also — mostly — quite indifferent to facts. In other branches of science, you will find theorists and experimenters. There is nothing the experimenters love more than poking holes in some grand theory. This provides a useful discipline; it helps to keep the theorists honest. There is no such discipline in economics.

[Next Page: More Nasty Facts about Economists.]