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The Dismal Science

Written By: Jason Shafrin - May• 21•06

Alex Tabarrok of the Marginal Revolution blog, has an interesting post regarding economics, long known as the dismal science.  First off, he has an entertaining excerpt from the Jon Stewart show:

Jon Stewart: Uh, the way you’ve explained the tax cuts doesn’t really seem fair.

John Hodgman: Fairness isn’t really the point.  They don’t call economics the dismal science because it’s fair.

JS:  Well, I suppose not.

JH: No, no, they call it that after Sir Eustice Dismal.  The 18th century English economist who proposed making smokestacks out of children.

JS: I uh, I actually never knew that.

JH: Yes, it was a very interesting proposal but ultimately flawed.  I mean if you make the smokestacks out of children who will you force to clean them?…

JH: Yes, it’s referred to as Dismal’s paradox.

In actuality, economics is known as the dismal science because of Thomas Malthus.  Tabarrok also cites the EconLog website which has a nice summary of “The secret history of the dismal science.”

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  1. Louise Staley says:

    Economics is NOT known as the dismal science because of Malthus as the site you link to makes clear:

    “Everyone knows that economics is the dismal science. And almost everyone knows that it was given this description by Thomas Carlyle, who was inspired to coin the phrase by T. R. Malthus’s gloomy prediction that population would always grow faster than food, dooming mankind to unending poverty and hardship. While this story is well-known, it is also wrong, so wrong that it is hard to imagine a story that is farther from the truth.