As the (former, and perhaps future) Specialized Co-Editor for Miscellany of Economic Inquiry (which offers additional innovations such as a no-revisions option), I am delighted to put out this request for submissions that expose the lighter side of the dismal science:
- Humorous articles, such as Leijonhufvud’s “Life among the Econ”, (Economic Inquiry, 1973), Gregor W. Smith’s “Japan’s Phillips Curve looks like Japan” (Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, 2008), or my own “Principles of economics, translated”, which is available in text format (Annals of Improbable Research, 2003) or on YouTube. (See below for a semi-complete list of funny articles.)
- News headlines, real or imagined, such as a 2004 CNN.com article that was originally headlined “Iraqis polled: War did more harm than good but worth it.”
- Original economics jokes, such as “You might be an economist if…” Please don’t send me “assume a can-opener” or other jokes that are online, e.g., on JokEc.
- Cartoons, anecdotes, and other funny stuff. I’ll even consider amusing excerpts from rejection letters, such as the 2003 referee report by a reviewer who failed to notice that the 20th century was over.
See the list below for my stab at a compendium of economics humor, and note some of these articles (and many others) can be found in Clotfelter’s On the Third Hand: Wit and Humor in the Dismal Science. If you have additions to this list, please let me know!
Instructions for submissions
If you have a joke or cartoon or other short piece, email it (with a subject line of “Economics miscellany”) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a multi-page “serious” submission, send it through the usual process, beginning with a careful read of the Submission Information. (Make sure to write on your paper that it is intended for the Miscellany section, and yes you will have to pay the submission fee.) If you are not sure whether your paper is “serious” or not, email it to me and ask me.
Funny economics articles
Please send me additions, and please note that some of these articles (and many others) can be found in Clotfelter’s On the Third Hand. Highly recommended items are in boldface.
- “Foundation and Empire”, by Kwok Tong Soo, working paper, Nov 2021. Abstract: “This paper develops a model to formalise the conditions under which a powerful Empire, led by an able General, is unable to defeat an inferior opponent. It also shows how a mutant may be able to achieve the victory.”
- “Willingness Toupee” by David M. McEvoy, O. Ashton Morgan and John C. Whitehead. Working paper, 2019. Abstract: In this paper we tackle the hairy problem of male pattern baldness. We survey balding men and elicit their willingness to pay to move from their current sad situation to a more plentiful one. Then we comb-over the results. What’s the average willingness to pay to move from a glistening cue ball to a luscious mane? About $30,000. Key Words: mullet, skullet, comb-over, ducktail, Beatlemania, buzz cut, whiffle, pageboy, attribute non-attendance
- “The economics song” by DeForest McDuff, 2018 (a take-off of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song).
- “Research in Progress” by Matthew Rabin, 2017 (starting with “Squaring Both Sides: An Essay on Methodology” and including “Is Behavioral Economics Becoming More Popular? Evidence from Trends in Mug Prices” and “Peak-Load Pricing During Hyperinflation” and “The Equity Premium Puzzle and Cooperation in the Finitely Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma: An Equivalence Theorem”.
- These are not exactly about economics, but they are pretty funny, and they are by a PhD/JD who was one of Ken Arrow’s thesis students: “Tiger Cub Strikes Back: Memoirs of an Ex-Child Prodigy About Legal Education and Parenting”, by Peter H. Huang, 2012; “The Zombie Lawyer Apocalypse”, by Peter H. Huang and Corie Rosen Felder, 2015; and “Adventures in Higher Education, Happiness, and Mindfulness”, by Peter H. Huang, 2018.
- “Why a Background in Economics Kills Your Social/Love Life” by Will Siskey, 2017.
- “A Leacockian View of Economics Today” by S. Subramanian, 2017.
- “The Model of a Laissez-Faire Economist” (to be sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General”) by Berthold Gambrel, 2013.
- “How Economics Saved Christmas” by Art Carden, 2010.
- “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Final”, funny Micro questions by Xan Vongsathorn, 2016.
- “Your right arm for a publication in AER?” by Attema, Brouwer, and van Exel. Economic Inquiry 52:495-502, 2014.
- “A comment on Siegfried’s first lesson in econometrics” by Eldrige. Economic Inquiry 52:503-504, 2014.
- “An economic theory of workaholics and alcoholics” by Finkle and Shin. Economic Inquiry 52:896-899, 2014.
- “Social drinking versus administering alcohol” by Frank, Haucap, and Herr. Economic Inquiry 52:1245–1247, 2014.
- “Dubious and dubiouser: Contingent valuation and the time of day” by Dickinson and Whitehead. Economic Inquiry 53:1396-1400, 2015.
- “Euclidean fairness and efficiency” by Gratton and Kolotilin. Economic Inquiry 53:1689-1690, 2015.
- “‘A diamond is forever’ and other fairy tales: The relationship between wedding expenses and marriage duration” by Francis-Tan and Mialon, Economic Inquiry 53:1919-1930, 2015.
- Routines from the Jan 2015 American Economic Association Humor Session.
- “A Few Goodmen: Surname-Sharing Economist Coauthors” by Goodman, Goodman, Goodman, and Goodman. Economic Inquiry 53, no. 2: 1392-1395, 2015.
- “A modest proposal for the extension of non-market valuation methods” by Andrew Keeler, written in 1992, rediscovered in 2014 via Will Delavan. Keeler notes the paper was “rejected from Land Economics in 1992 because reviewers thought it wasn’t funny” and it has lived underground ever since. (Update: Now published in Economic Inquiry, 2015.
- Why Economists Fear the Commandments they Do Not Remember? by Avichai Snir, 2014.
- The economics of spam by Justin M. Rao and David H. Reiley, Journal of Economic Perspectives 26:87-110, 2012. First paragraph: “The term “spam,” as applied to unsolicited commercial email and related undesirable online communication, is derived from a popular Monty Python sketch set in a cafe that includes the canned meat product SPAM in almost every dish. As the waitress describes the menu with increasing usage of the word “spam,” a group of Vikings in the cafe start singing, “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam,” drowning out all other communication with their irrelevant, repetitive song. The analogy to unsolicited commercial solicitations jamming one’s inbox seems apt. Every day about 100 billion emails are sent to valid email addresses around the world; in 2010 an estimated 88 percent of this worldwide email traffic was spam (Symantec 2010; MAAWG 2011). Almost all of this spam is illegal under current laws.”
- The Major-General Theory by Andrew John. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics 6: 122-124 (1983). (Hat tip to Michael McMahon, who notes that “an economist who was a few years ahead of me in Trinity… wrote an economics poem/song about GE theory to the tune of the Modern Major General from the [Gilbert and Sullivan] Pirates of Penzance musical.” He also recalls “a Bank of England conference I attended on September 13th and 14th 2007 – it was called “On the sources of macroeconomic stability”. During that conference, the market disruption led to a run on Northern Rock bank which the Bank of England had to bail out, announcing it at the start of the conference the next day. It was the start of the first bank run since Victorian times and the conference timing could not have been less perfect!”)
- A New Fable: Lost Frank Baum? by Roger W. Spencer, 2012. Abstract: “Recently, a new short story, reminiscent of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was uncovered. While not a find on the scale of a long lost Van Gogh painting, the new fairy tale, if authentic, offers fresh fodder for political-economic analysis as accorded Baum’s 1900 masterpiece. A panel of three experts was assembled at a recent economics conference to discuss the authenticity of the piece, each offering separate views as to whether Baum is indeed the author. The new story, entitled “The Wizards of Twelve,” and the discussants’ impressions follow this introduction.”
- Experienced advice for “lost” graduate students in economics by Ariel Rubinstein, 2011: “Even better, volunteer for reserve duty in the Israeli army. These have been my most fruitful periods of research.” (!)
- Wouldn’t it be nice (to have a bit more inflation)? by Pierre-Louis Vézina, 2011. Abstract: “Central bankers have in their hands policy tools that allow them to optimize society‟s wellbeing. This paper argues that the latter is best captured by the quality of music and then provides estimates based on a reduced-form non-linear smoother as well as a quadratic fit that suggest the Federal Reserve should aim for a rate around 6.2%, way above the holy-grail target of 2%.”
- “Tournaments, fairness and the Prouhet-Thue-Morse Sequence” by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, Economic Inquiry, 50: 848–849 (2012). (This paper is quirky rather than humorous; it’s also quite substantive IMHO.) The abstract: “The Prouhet-Thue-Morse sequence occurs as the answer to various apparently unrelated questions in combinatorics, differential geometry, number theory, physics, music, turtle graphics and other areas in the natural sciences. This paper shows that it can also be the answer to an important question in Economics: how should the order of a sequential tournament competition between two agents be determined to make it fair?”
- “An option value problem from Seinfeld“ by Avinash Dixit, Economic Inquiry, 50: 563-565 (2011). (Ungated version here.) The abstract: “This is a paper about nothing.”
- “The economics of faking ecstacy” by Hugo Mialon, Economic Inquiry, 50: 277-285 (2012).
- “Sell local! The next logical step” by Philip Thompson and Hart Hodges, Economic Inquiry, 49: 1117 (2011).
- Economics “Yo momma” jokes. Some funny, some lewd, etc.
- “Male organ and economic growth: Does size matter?” by Tatu Westling, Helsinki Center of Economic Research Discussion Paper, July 2011.
- “Up or down? A male economist’s manifesto on the toilet seat etiquette” by Jay Pil Choi. Economic Inquiry 49: 303-309, 2011. (Hat tip to Andy Meyer.)
- “The theory of interstellar trade” by Paul Krugman (Nobel laureate, 2008). Economic Inquiry, 48: 1119-1123 (2010). The original version of this paper is from 1978 but was never published. Krugman blogs about the paper (and posts a PDF of his earlier unpublished version) here. If the link at the beginning of this paragraph doesn’t work or is gated then try this one (ungated). More history in Joshua Gans’s post from 2008.
- “The economic roots of the American “zigzag”: Knives, forks, and British mercantilism” by Travis J. Lybbert, Economic Inquiry, 48: 810–815 (2010). (This paper is more quirky than humorous.)
- “Monopoly® pricing” by John Cawley and Donald S. Kenkel. Economic Inquiry 48: 517-520 (2010).
- “The effect of prayer on God’s attitude toward mankind” by James J. Heckman (Nobel laureate, 2000). Economic Inquiry 48: 234-235 (2010).
- “The contractual view of marriage” by Luke Froeb (Jan 29 2010)
- “Market madness” by Allen Sanderson. An NCAA-style tournament to determine the cause of the financial crisis, this appeared first in the U of Chicago alumni magazine in fall 2009, in the Milken Institute Review (1st qtr 2010), David Warsh’s “Economic Principles” in spring 2010, and (linked above) in the AEA program in Atlanta in January 2009.
- “A rational choice model for the Dakota Effect” by Jac C. Heckelman, PS: Political Science and Politics 41: 677-678 (2008).
- “Why I don’t have a girlfriend” by Peter Backus (2008-ish). Not an economics article, but it’s written by an economist. Hat tip to Kate Cell.
- “Contest submissions on a TV show about economists”, organized in early 2009 by Sultan. Here were the rules, here were the entries, and here was the voting. My favorite submission copied here.
- “On the efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson” by Robert J. Oxoby. Economic Inquiry 47(3):598-602, 2009. (Ungated version here, and congrats to Rob for having a second publication in the same issue! It’s “Game theory for playing games: Sophistication in a negative-externality experiment”, by John M. Spraggon and Robert J. Oxoby. Economic Inquiry 47(3):467-81, 2009.)
- “Clerihews in merry hues: An A-to-Z of the lives and times of economists in jolly rhymes” by S. Subramanian. Royal Economic Society Newsletter 146, July 2009, pp17-18.
- “A poem on poverty” by S. Subramanian. Challenge 52:4, July/Aug 2009.
- “A day in the life of a supply-side economist” by Samuel K. McSweeney’s, April 13, 2009. (Hat tip to Andrew Gianni.)
- “Japan’s Phillips Curve looks like Japan” by Gregor W. Smith. Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 40:1325-26 (2008). (Ungated version here, and hat tip to Evren Damar.) Smith’s webpage used to link to a version of the paper with a note that “the title is also the abstract and, frankly, most of the text.”
- “Why is language vague?” by Barton L. Lipman. Working paper, Dec 2006. (Hat tip to an anonymous friend, who notes that it’s a serious paper but that it has the funniest abstract ever: “I don’t know.”)
- “JEL review of The Undercover Economist“ by R. Preston McAfee. Journal of Economic Literature 54:722-47 (2006).
- “Counterfactuals in wonderland” by Dov Samet. Games and Economic Behavior 51:537-41 (2005). Note the eight year review lag—maybe we should have a contest for longest review lag 🙂
- “Prose, psychopaths and persistence: personal perspectives on publishing” (see also ungated version here) by David J. Pannell. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 50:101-116 (2002). This article includes the poem “I’m The Referee”:
I’m The Referee
You’ve posted in your paper
To a journal of repute
And you’re hoping that the referees
Won’t send you down the chute
You’d better not build up a sense of
I’ve just received your manuscript and
I’m the referee
This power’s a revelation
I’m so glad it’s come to me
I can be a total bastard with
I used to be a psychopath
But never more will be
I can deal with my frustrations now that
I’m a referee
- “Mankiw’s ten principles of economics, translated”, by Yoram Bauman. Annals of Improbable Research 9:2 (March/April 2003). Also available on YouTube.
- “Deluge economics” by Eban Goodstein. Ecological Economics 39:1-2 (2001).
- “Tribal ritual among the Ag-econ” by Henry Bahn and George McDowell. Review of Agricultural Economics 19:404-410 (1997). (Hat tip to George McDowell.) This paper has been called “a spin-off of the Leijonhufvud classic.” (See below for “Life among the Econ”, 1973)
- “Cricket versus baseball as an engine of growth” by Howard J. Wall. Royal Economic Society Newsletter 90:2-3 (July 1995). (Hat tip to Gregor Smith.)
- “The cookie caper” by R. Preston McAfee. Unpublished (1994-ish).
- “The Cinderella Paradox resolved” by Edward L. Glaeser. Journal of Political Economy 100:430-432 (Apr 1992). (Hat tip to René Böheim.) See also Glaeser’s NY Times blog post on “The economics of fairy tales” (Sept 1, 2009).
- “The Tie-pology” by Hein Schreuder. Organization Studies 15:609-618 (1994).
- “The Whimsical Science” by Richard A. Levins. Review of Agricultural Economics 14:139-151 (1992). (Hat tip to David Pannell.)
- “The lighter side of the dismal science: The humor of economics by Margaret A. Ray. Social Science Journal 28:227-242 (1991). (Hat tip to René Böheim.)
- “Chickens, eggs, and causality, or Which came first?” by Walter N. Thurman and Mark E. Fisher. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 70:237-38 (1988). (Hat tip to Chris Bollinger.)
- “Why Everything Takes 2.71828… Times as Long as Expected” by Philip Musgrove. American Economic Review 75:250-252 (1985). Hat tip to Paul Hughes-Cromwick (@cromwick)
- “Suitable research: On the development of a positive theory of the business suit” by Hein Schreuder. Accounting, Organizations and Society 10(1):105-108 (1985).
- “American economic growth and the voyage of Columbus” by R. Preston McAfee. American Economic Review 73:735-40 (1983). Ungated version here.
- “The Transylvanian problem of renewable resources” by R. Hartl and A. Mehlmann [Richard F. Hartl and Alexander Mehlmann]. RAIRO – Operations Research 16:379-390 (1982). (Hat tip to Rich Steinberg; see also the next item.)
- “Macroeconomic policy and the optimal destruction of vampires” by Dennis J. Snower. Journal of Political Economy 90:647-655 (1982). (See also the previous item.)
- “On romantic love—An analysis of open system economic behavior “ by K. K. Fung. Policy Sciences 11:179-186 (1979). Not I think an intentionally funny article, but here’s the start of the abstract: “Romantic love is characterized by a preoccupation with a deliberately restricted set of perceived characteristics in the love object which are viewed as means to some ideal ends. In the process of selecting the set of perceived characteristics and the process of determining the ideal ends, there is also a systematic failure to assess the accuracy of the perceived characteristics and the feasibility of achieving the ideal ends given the selected set of means and other pre-existing ends.” (Hat tip: Cyril Morong.)
- “Why we should not make mean log of wealth big though years to act are long.” by Paul Samuelson (Nobel laureate, 1970). Journal of Banking and Finance 3:305-307 (1979). (Hat tip: Malin Hu)
- “A theory of extramarital affairs” by Ray C. Fair. Journal of Political Economy 86:45-61 (1978). (Here’s the paper’s data set.)
- “The conference handbook” by George J. Stigler (Nobel laureate, 1982). Journal of Political Economy 85:441-43 (1977).
- “On some debates in capital theory” by Amartya K. Sen (Nobel laureate, 1998). Economica 41:328-35 (1974).
- “The economics of brushing teeth” by Alan S. Blinder. Journal of Political Economy 82:887-91 (1974).
- “The quantity theory of drink—A restatement” by O.E. Covick. Australian Economic Papers 13:171-177 (Dec 1974). Hat tip to Le Parisien (in the comments section below).
- “The Quality Theory of Money (or Glued Money Does Not Drive Out Bad Money)” by E. R. Weintraub, P. Gusen and T. Havrilesky. Intermountain Economic Review, vol. 5 no. 1 (Summer, 1974), pp. 107-108. (Hat tip to Jeff Rubin, who notes that the article “Basically discusses how we could use epoxy and other types of glues to slow the velocity of money and keep inflation under control including many examples of the use of similar ‘strategies’ in other countries.”)
- “Life among the Econ” by Axel Leijonhufvud. Economic Inquiry 11:327-37 (1973). At the time, Economic Inquiry was called Western Economic Journal.
- “The Inverted Tetrahexahedron: A personal account of the discovery of the structure of the ICBM” by Dudley G. Luckett. Journal of Political Economy 79:933-37 (1971). (Hat tip to S. Subramanian.)
- “A first lesson in econometrics” by John J. Siegfried. Journal of Political Economy 78:1378-79 (1970).
- “The Feather River Analogy” by Kenneth Boulding. Publication type unknown (1966). (Hat tip to George McDowell, who also sends me this compilation of Kenneth Boulding poems that he says were “prepared for a session on Boulding back in 2005 at the annual agecon meetings”.) (Note: For the record, I cannot verify that these were written by Boulding, so I’m taking McDowell’s word for it.)
- “The Golden Rule of Accumulation: A Fable for Growthmen” by Edmund Phelps (Nobel laureate, 2006). American Economic Review 51:638-643 (1961). Called “an entertaining classic” by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
- “The Candlestick Makers’ Petition” by Frédéric Bastiat (1845).
The “assume a can opener” joke (from JokEc)
A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Lets smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Lets build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Lets assume that we have a can-opener…”