Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ecno* (for Econo*)

Thomas Carlyle was a 19th-century Scottish satirist, essayist, historian, and teacher. From a series of lectures, this one on the subject of "The Hero as Man of Letters," he once wrote: "All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books." He also declared: "What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books." One of his best bon mots, concerning what was then the relatively new field of economics, has persisted to this day: Carlyle dubbed it the "Dismal Science." Sounds about right. In any case, I doubt there are many practitioners these days who would say "Heck no!" to that depressing assessment, despite their unfailing faith in its terrible tenets. It's pretty hard, in fact, to come up with a discipline that's any less dismal. One of the most pathetic things about it is the way it often seems like nothing more than simple guesswork, or divination, or even a deliberate manifestation of the Big Lie. Or, worse yet, pure politics, like the never-ending Trickle-Down Theory. (Almost like being pissed upon. Happily enough, however, it seems this imperishable expression was originally coined, as a joke, by the humorist Will Rogers.) And yet the idea does have a certain cache, which in general smells like cold hard cash. It's something everybody's interested in, but nobody really understands. There were 27 cases of Ecno* in OhioLINK and nearly 800 in WorldCat, some of which might be correctly spelled foreign words, but most of which are clearly typos for words like economics. It may seem like a dismal chore, and you might not see any real returns right away, but believe me, you will. Just kidding, but seriously. You will.

(A print of Thomas Carlyle in 1865, taken from a photo by Elliot & Fry, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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