Dear Edgeworth--Thank you for the advice on free-riding. I will never vote in another election. And I will do my best to get out of jury whenever I am summoned. But I have another problem now: I have been employed as a teaching assistant for Principles of Macroeconomics. A student asked me a question last week and I didn’t know the answer. I felt like a fool. Now my bowels have stopped working again! I am full of nervous anxiety. What should I do if this event repeats itself? Gratefully, Gunther
Dear Gunther--Alas, the second most important thing for you to learn about being an economist (after free-riding!) is that you must never admit to ignorance. I was an academic for over forty years and I am proud to report that I never once admitted not knowing something. How did I manage this? The trick, dear Gunther, is to learn a lot about something very narrow. I, myself, learned everything there was to know about asymmetric subgame perfect mixed strategy equillibria of repeated pig-in-a-poke games with exactly 37 agents. If anyone ever challenged me on any topic in economics, any topic whatsoever, I’d simply tell them the following: “You’ve obviously misunderstood me. If you read Baishansky in Econometrica ‘62 on 37-person pig-in-a-poke games, you’ll understand exactly what I’m saying.” Baishanksy is impenetrable, of course, and only three people in the world have ever bothered to read him. (Two of them are dead). Therefore, I have always gone unchallenged.
I would love to say I invented this brilliant strategy, but alas, I did not. Economists have a name for it. We call it “krugging.” You must learn to “krug.” Dazzle that poor unsuspecting undergraduate with your erudition. You know more than he does, even if this particular question has stumped you. Just spout something you know he won’t understand, and be sure to condescend to him at the same time. Whenever you use your technical expertise or your academic reputation to bully someone into submission over some shrill and sloppy falsehood you’ve uttered, some blatant prejudice you’ve tried to pass off as fact—you “krug.” We all do it, Gunther, and some of us are masters at it.
Take my advice, Gunther, learn to krug. It will bail you out of trouble when you teach or present papers. It will serve you well when you argue politics with your non-economist friends.
Most of all, it will come in handy if you ever need to write a weekly column.