When it isn’t always clear that things ain’t what they seem to be.
The media is talking about going back to the 70s as if it was a bad time. The 70s were marvellous. We economists were changing the world.
I was then doing my Ph.d at UCL on incentivising public servants to control the money supply. My research was seen as bringing a new dimension to this crucial topic. As a result, I managed to win a three-month fellowship (against stiff competition I might add) to study at the University of Chicago, where it was all really happening.
I arrived in the fall of 1976. You could feel the heat of intellectual ferment in the air even though the city was the coldest place I had ever been. A freezing wind swept through the city off Lake Michigan. If you didn’t dress like you were at the North Pole, you could end up losing limbs to frostbite.
In this cold climate, I fell in love. I was warming up in the university library when the deep, dark, dreamy eyes of Juan Carlos seduced me from across the room. For months, we were inseparable.
The idea of actually implementing economic ideas for real without political hindrance was intoxicating.
I remember my knees turning to jelly as he talked with passion about his dream of bringing economic shock therapy to his home country of Chile. He knew that under Pinochet’s US-backed dictatorship nothing could stop him giving economic rationality to that poor benighted country, which had briefly fallen under the thrall of communism. The idea of actually implementing economic ideas for real without political hindrance was intoxicating.
The high point of our romance was when we attended a gala dinner held by the university in honour of their alumni economist, Milton Friedman and author, Saul Bellow after they had both won Nobel Prizes that year. We were lucky enough to get ringside seats to the collision of Friedman’s and Bellow’s intellects who sat next to each other at the middle of the top table. Bellow, while being a great writer, was also a notorious Trotskyist and clearly they were not going to get on.
They went at it hammer and tongs. Finally Bellow rose to his full height of five foot seven and threw his ultimate insult at Friedman: “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” Apparently, he immortalised these words in a later book.
Friedman, being only five foot two, rather than standing up to be overshadowed by Bellow, lunged at him, sending him reeling across the room to collide with Keynes’s statue behind them.
We knew in our hearts that days of Keynes’s supremacy were over and ours was the new dawn.
With the impact the statue rocked precipitously and then as if in slow motion toppled to the floor where it parted company with various pieces, most notably the head. We economists rose to our feet as one man and applauded ecstatically. We knew in our hearts that days of Keynes’s supremacy were over and ours was the new dawn. Heady days indeed.
Back to the reality of the 2020s and I am listening at our kitchen table to my beloved husband, Thomas, telling me how he has been advising our retired community on saving energy and cooking nutritious meals with budget ingredients.
Meanwhile, Robena Fitzwell, our resident spiritualist, is in particular need of Thomas’s help as she has put all her savings into crypto currencies, which have now crashed. She was drawn in by the way they seemed to raise two fingers at governments and promised 20% returns. On hearing of this I couldn’t help recalling Bellow’s words in Chicago.
What a world we live in now. The glamour has gone.
She looked, also, for help from her nephew and our local MP, Rupert, but his only response was to shout “caveat emptor” before rushing off to another crisis meeting about Johnson’s leadership.
What a world we live in now. The glamour has gone. Friedman may have been very short but he was an intellectual giant. Where are his like now?
While not exactly a genius, my old friend, the charming Prinz Charlz, has abundant ingenuity. He dropped round yesterday to brighten my day with his tales of economic daring-do in the drugs sector. Demand is apparently at a high and he is keeping to his motto of “move fast and break things”.
He also showed me how to “reset” our electricity meter – something, he said the “electric regulator” advises us all to do but the companies keep quiet about it. It will, he says, keep a lid on our power bill as prices climb further next winter. I had been under the illusion that that little unpleasantry was unavoidable.