Monday, April 18, 2011

Laughing Our Way Out of a Recession

Don't ask me why, but the other day I was thinking about one of my all-time favourite opening sentences in an academic paper:

         "0.    Introduction.   Consider a light bulb."
         (Balkema and de Haan, 1974, p.792.)

It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? It takes courage to begin a paper in that way. More courage than I have! From there, it was just a small leap to begin reminiscing about memorable light bulb jokes, but I'm not going to go down that track. Actually, I don't have a stock of econometrics jokes, though I recognize that many jokes are very "transportable" across professions. For instance, we could quite easily convert the line, "Once I couldn't even spell 'Engineer' - now I are one!", into something that hits a little closer to home, also beginning with an 'E'. But I digress!

In recent times there's been a lot of press relating to measuring 'happiness' (whatever that is), and to the idea that perhaps we should replace measures such as GDP with some sort of Gross National Happiness Index, at least for certain purposes. I'm not sure what I could possibly add to that discussion directly, but it got me thinking about how our mood is governed in part by the state of the economy, and that perhaps this is reflected in our use of humour to deal with both personal and economic depression.

A lot of cartoons that appear in newspapers and magazines relate, not too surprisingly, to political events and politicians. Political satire has always been popular. It's also the case that a decent number of these cartoons relate specifically to economic matters. Of course, I know that there is often an overlap between economics and politics. None the less, I think we'll all agree that we regularly see cartoons whose primary focus is some aspect of the economy.