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Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm
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More mumbo-jumbo than the average new-age therapy, and yet more counter-intuitive than quantum physics, surely the economics of the past 30 years deserves a place here, amongst the pseudo-sciences.


Examples:

One of the most basic essentials produced by any functioning economic system is the house. If this becomes less expensive, it is a VERY BAD THING!

The most highly-rewarded people are the ones who do the least-productive jobs (eg advertising, trading in debt, hosting chat-shows.) If these peopl found they could only make a decent living by doing something useful, this would be a VERY BAD THING!

If a large proportion of the population decided they didn't want to buy 'stuff' until they could afford it, this too would be a VBT!

More examples, or some learned explanations of the above seeming-absurdities, would be welcome.


December 9th, 2008, 4:21 pm
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Hei NO thundril!
Quote:
More mumbo-jumbo than the average new-age therapy, and yet more counter-intuitive than quantum physics, I feel that the economics of the past 30 years deserves a place here.

Economics is a serious discipline, the problem is that too many "less serious" people/journalists often write about Economics.

Quote:
One of the most basic essentials produced by any functioning economic system is the house. If this becomes less expensive, it is a VERY BAD THING!

Twisted statement and out of context. The accepted "rule-of-thumb" says that the cost of a house should be 4-5 times a year's salary. If this rule comes wrong there are two chances:
Either you have bought too an expensive house compared to your purse
or
The price of the house is inflated and you should resist spending the money.
If someone has paid an inflated sum there can be two outcomes: either you find somebody else with "little competence" to buy your house or you accept the fact to have done a bad deal.

Quote:
The most highly-rewarded people are the ones who do the least-productive jobs (eg advertising, trading in debt, hosting chat-shows.)

I do not agree! Who said that advertising etc. are not productive? The worth of a job is related to "the amount of business (£££) yield.

Quote:
If a large proportion of the population decided they didn't want to buy 'stuff' until they could afford it, this too would be a VBT!

One golden rule of marketing says that if people decide not to buy a product it means that the product is wrong; but you probably refer to a different context here, i.e. "let's buy to help the economy"; if that is so then the answer is too long to explain in this forum but the Government is correct.
Bye!

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December 9th, 2008, 4:56 pm
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peneasy wrote:
Hei NO thundril!
Quote:
More mumbo-jumbo than the average new-age therapy, and yet more counter-intuitive than quantum physics, I feel that the economics of the past 30 years deserves a place here.

Economics is a serious discipline, the problem is that too many "less serious" people/journalists often write about Economics.

Hi peneasy! I agree economics is (or used to be) an important and serious area of inquiry. As an old 'marxist', I feel that the Reaganomics of the past decades has abandoned any serious attept to distinguish between price and value. Hence the constant talk of falls in the 'value' of a house, when actually it is only the price that has inflated for years and is now dropping..

Quote:
One of the most basic essentials produced by any functioning economic system is the house. If this becomes less expensive, it is a VERY BAD THING!

Twisted statement and out of context. The accepted "rule-of-thumb" says that the cost of a house should be 4-5 times a year's salary. If this rule comes wrong there are two chances:
Either you have bought too an expensive house compared to your purse
or
The price of the house is inflated and you should resist spending the money.

If enough decent housing could be produced, so that everyone who needed a home could afford one, would this not be, in the current economic system, a VERY BAD THING? f
If someone has paid an inflated sum there can be two outcomes: either you find somebody else with "little competence" to buy your house or you accept the fact to have done a bad deal.

So the dog-eat-dog survival of the most ruthless is a VERY GOOD THING, is it?

Quote:
The most highly-rewarded people are the ones who do the least-productive jobs (eg advertising, trading in debt, hosting chat-shows.)

I do not agree! Who said that advertising etc. are not productive? The worth of a job is related to "the amount of business (£££) yield.

If I need something which is on the market, I need to know a few basic facts: where it can be got, how much, what alternatives are on offer.
Much of modern advertising is aimed at persuading people that they 'must have' all kinds of crap that we don't need at all. This kind of advertising is at least useless, at worst harmful.
(Check out the percentage of psychology graduates who are employed in this field.)

Quote:
If a large proportion of the population decided they didn't want to buy 'stuff' until they could afford it, this too would be a VBT!


One golden rule of marketing says that if people decide not to buy a product it means that the product is wrong; but you probably refer to a different context here, i.e. "let's buy to help the economy"; if that is so then the answer is too long to explain in this forum but the Government is correct.

Actually I am referring to the 'pressure' advertising that leaves people feeling that they would be better people/happier/cooler/more popular if they bought something.
Check out the phrase 'pester-power- for example.

And if people did decide to save u to buy stuff instead of getting into debt, would this not be a VBT in today's economic model?
All the best, Jax.

Bye!


December 9th, 2008, 5:22 pm
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Economics considers the emergent properties of a dynamic system, whilst contributing to that system quite extensively. How much of the current recession is actually caused by panic among economists who were waiting for the bubble to burst and as soon as they get wind of a slump they lost confidence and dropped the ball? Then of course the media hypes it beyond recognition and the public lose confidence, so instead of maintaining cash flow through spending, everyone prepares for recession by not spending, thus triggering a recession.

Money needs to flow in order to turn the wheels that keep the money flowing. Modern economics is still governed by the traditional concept of supply and demand, but consumerism enables suppliers to create the demand (through fashion, advertising, carefully timed release of improved products and built-in obsolescence/disposability) rather than relying on existing demand. This generates jobs, which brings in money, which subsequently gravitates towards those who are generating the demand (advertisers, the media, suppliers). Of course, most people don't have the ready money to get involved in this (semi)self-perpetuating process, but everybody is subject to the fashion, advertising and built-in obsolescence. This leads to a dependence on credit, which is an expensive way to spend for the individual, but it makes lots of money for the lender. Money to borrow becomes more available as lenders get caught up in the demand for credit, but sooner or later people start to default, lenders lose their cash and the whole system goes into shock. The demand suddenly dries up, so the established system collapses.

In short, consumerism is all about getting people to buy shit they want, but don't need. They do this until they run out of cash, then they do it some more until they run out of credit. So rather than buy a house that they can afford, they buy one that they want; rather than buy a car they can afford they buy one that they want. Then when their credit finally dries up (along with everyone elses - after all, it's keeping up with everyone else that got them in this state in the first place) they don't spend cash any more (neither does anyone else) so jobs dealing with cash (from banking to retail) start to disappear and all the stuff bought on credit gets taken away when people default on their payments. Suddenly there's a glut of stuff, with no-one to buy it, so prices drop to encourage buyers. Those who were sensible or lucky enough to not get caught out in the slump slowly come out of the woodwork when the price drops level out, they start spending and slowly the system starts up again.

Of course, everyone forgets that exactly the same thing happened 20 years ago and it will probably happen again in another 20 years, since no-one learns that unrestricted growth of an economy based on spending will always result in a crash when people are encouraged to spend beyond their means.

Economics is not in control of these processes, it is an observational tool that can be used to identify methods of intervention that will influence the running of the process, but it should be noted that the cause of the problems thundril identifed is not modern economics, but consumerism.

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December 9th, 2008, 5:55 pm
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Thank you, Paolo, for your very clear description of the process of consumerism, and yes I did confuse the issue by calling it 'economics'.

But my question now is, is modern economics anything more than the study of consumerism?
Is there an economic theory anywhere that takes the absurdities we have both described (me flippantly, you more knowledgeably) and proposes any sort of workable alternative?


December 9th, 2008, 6:13 pm
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I am hardly knowledgeable about these things, but...

Economics is the study of economy and economic systems. The findings and theories derived from economics can be applied to any economic system, be it dominantly consumer-driven or production-driven. The problem is that economic theory does not control or govern economics, even though it does influence broader economic policy. The problem lies in society.

At no point has wealth ever been homogenously spread (not even in communist regimes) and those who are in a position of authority, where they can excercise an influence on the economy, tend to also (out of necessity) be the ones with the wealth. This shouldn't make too much difference in theory, but when those people are only in power for a limited time (and at the whim of the wider public), their economic policies tend to only focus on short to medium term stability. Thatcher's policies were all about short term rapid gains, which left some very wealthy at the expense of others (and led to a deep recession). Labour's policy was intended to be more sustainable (as demonstrated by shifting control of the interest rates to the Bank of England, rather than using interest rates as a lever to control public opinion rather than borrowing rate), but those early intentions were whittled away by mismanagement by the Bank/banks and inappropriate government intervention. Now Gordon Brown has offered a cut in VAT, simply because he lost the ability to manipulate interest rates to garner public support in the way that the previous Conservative administration could.

The main problem lies in the fact that people fall for the bullshit. Buisnesses will keep manipulating public opinion, so people will keep buying stuff. The only realistic control is to curtail borrowing when the economy is strong, to prevent the boom and bust culture. It is only by saying "no" to lending people the money they want that a stable economy can be established, but people won't like that. They all forget the bust when they are getting high on the boom.

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December 10th, 2008, 12:00 pm
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Once again, Paolo, I agree with your general descripton of consumerism.
But it still leaves my original point, which is that if economics, as an area of study, has failed to notice the logical flaws in consumerism, then it does indeed belong to the 'pseudo-sciences'.
"Economics: the science of faith-based perpetual motion machines"


December 10th, 2008, 1:25 pm
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Sorry, I got side-tracked and didn't make my point clear.

Economics does recognise the flaws in consumerism, but it's simply not in a position to be able to "fix" those flaws. Economic theories do exist which suggest how to reduce boom/bust cyclicity, but political and social requirements for a booming economy make it impossible for such theories to be effectively implemented. As a result, applied economics works within the system to give more gradual growth and less dramatic downturns. Of course, the individuals with knowledge of ecomonic principles are also trying to make their companies and themselves wealthy, so there will always be a marked difference between what should be done and what is done.

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December 10th, 2008, 2:35 pm
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OK, so economics takes observations of a system, attempts to relate outcomes to events within and around the observed system, and tries to develop an understanding.
Religion and spirituality do much the same, but without claiming to be 'sciences'.


December 10th, 2008, 3:16 pm
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It is not at all easy to comment the above statements because the topic is vast!
I'll try to summarize:
Paolo is more or less right in substance with the exception that he confuses Economics with Marketing.
There are basically two Economic systems: Communist regime and Market Economy. We pertain to the latter.
The word "market" specifies that our economic system is based on the encounter of demand and offer; it also assumes that the individual is not stupid (or he is expected not to be) and he is free to take his economic decisions.
Economics, in its pure sense, is a science and describes the levers to navigate the "system", what happens if a lever is pushed up or down and what means are at the disposal of e government to adjust a deviation; this is also called Macroeconomics.
Microeconomics consists in the management of short term policies within a population.
Marketing consists in the observation of the population's behavior, the study of their needs and the best way/s to satisfy those needs. As we are in a market Economy demand and supply must meet.
Economics and Marketing have no-moral (which is different from immoral) and they follow the rule of the free economy.
It is the job of Politics and, precisely the Government, to apply moral rules, limits and limitations to make a Country thrive and navigate at cruise speed. To do that the Government avails itself of economists but politicians have the final word ...and freedom to decide.
Just an aphorism: a war can be strategically well planned and conceived but may be lost for incompetence or an "ill-advised President".
The present crisis is due to the lack of moral rules and limitations by the US administration.

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December 10th, 2008, 6:56 pm
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Firstly I fully admit to being a bear of little brain when it comes to economics :)
peneasy wrote:
There are basically two Economic systems: Communist regime and Market Economy. We pertain to the latter.


But it does strike me that neither Economic system works. Market economy is wysiwyg - sell comparatively rich folk stuff through insidious marketing and let the rest of the world suffer.

Surely, what is needed now is a new way of looking at it. From the simple: we have unemployed builders so lets build social housing, to the macro: how can we devise an equitable, suatainable system for all our planets citizens?

I have no answers, being of little economic brain, but there must be a way, surely?


December 10th, 2008, 8:55 pm
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"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." — Kenneth E. Boulding.

Boulding was an economist but also, unfortunately, a religious mystic, so from my point of view he was quite mad. Why is it that so many of the growth-sceptical economists were/are religious? E.J. Mishan and Herman Daly both talked a fair bit of sense, I reckon, until they got onto the topic of God, and then they talked complete bollocks.

Emma


December 10th, 2008, 10:01 pm
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Strikes me to find that so many friends are crossed with Economics! But I find that "intriguing".
I do repeat: Economics is a science in the same way as Medicine is.
We keep saying that research in medicine must be a-moral and free from religion; I assume that you agree that "Ethics" to be applied to medicine is the job of the Law (law=Judiciary i.e. Government). Economics is just as well the same.

Quote:
Market economy is wysiwyg - sell comparatively rich folk stuff through insidious marketing and let the rest of the world suffer.

Fia, first and foremost I am, as you say you are, a little bear of little brain in disciplines other that Economics.
Let me stress that it is the job of a government that to make rules. When you play Golf or Football each player egoistically tries to get the most but players must undergo "rules".
If the poor suffers it is the job of the government to apply limitations to the rich (e.g. more taxation) in order for it to have more cash to help the poor.

Quote:
we have unemployed builders so lets build social housing

Yes if social housing is insufficient, No if they cover demand fully; in this instance the government must push (with tax reduction) builders (Barratt, Bellway, Berkeley, etc.) to build for the rich in order that masons are re-employed.
Actually, in the UK the cost of housing overshot in big towns just because building restrictions were applied by past governments for too long causing an excessive demand.

Quote:
how can we devise an equitable, suatainable system for all our planets citizens?

Blunt answer: impossible! It is just impossible because we don't have a worldwide ruler/government. Do you really believe that governments are made up of totally competent and ALTRUISTIC people?!

Emma,
Quote:
Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist

Mr. Boulding must have overlooked the fact that in Economics if growth is zero and the population's growth is also zero then a "zero-growth economy" would be a viable alternative.
World population keeps rising instead and economy, by consequence, must rise if we don't want to rise poverty! Can we find a way to stop population making more than three children in the average? if the answer is yes then we can stop pollution and survive in a zero/growth economy. But, honestly and frightening at the same time, the clue problem of Earth survival is "too much population", ....but this must be directed to another topic.
P.S.: please note that I am a HUMANIST.

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December 11th, 2008, 4:40 pm
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Interesting, Peneasy, that you perceive the need to protest your 'humanism', after your comments on population.
The poor consume very little of the 'product' of capitalism. If you really were interested in limiting 'growth' in the interests of protecting the planetary eco-system, wouldn't it make more sense to advocate reducing the populations of 'rich' people?
And on the broader point; although I might grudgingly agree that economics broadly could reasonably claim to be a Science, modern economic theory (by which I mean monetarism) belongs in the category of 'pseudo-science' precisely because it claims to be a science whilst actually being the study and promotion of a faith-based perpetual motion machine.
Science my arse!


December 11th, 2008, 6:10 pm
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I place these next remarks in a separate post because they are slightly off-topic, and might lead to a different thread.
Population and economics: Populations consistently are seen to stabilise given three conditions; Improvements in child mortality rates, education of girls, and emancipation of women.
All of these are enhanced by the availability of clean drinking water, and a reduction in the grip of male-centred religion.
Difficult?


December 13th, 2008, 5:54 pm
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And so, to continue the topic:
Am I right in thinking that the 'science' of economics claims that in an area where penniless people are starving, there is no demand for food?
How scientific is that?


December 13th, 2008, 5:56 pm
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In economics the term 'demand' refers not only to the desire or need for something but the ability to buy it, the purchasing power, to be able not only to want it and ask for it but to demand it (in the market). Suppliers may then respond to this demand (in order to earn rewards --- profit, wages, interest, rent). In welfare state and similar systems the Government acts as proxy, taking with the power of law, some purchasing power from one set of citizens by means of tax demands and other devices and transferring it to others citizens in the form of transfer payments (benefits, grants,etc) and public sector goods (education, health care, etc.)

It is because the poor cannot exercise economic demand that they (or others who identify with or seek to exploit them) may resort to exercising some form of political demand, including violent revolution.

An essential starting point in the study of economics (as in other sciences) is to learn and understand its terminology.

Chris

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December 15th, 2008, 11:37 pm
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Thanks for the reply, Chris.
I alreay am familiar with the special ways that specialist subjects use common terms, (consider the difference between medical and common usage of terms like 'paranoid' for example).
In this thread I am being deliberately obtuse in order to challenge the absurdity of 'monetarism'.

A serious economic science would start from the question 'what is economic activity?' If it made recommendations to governments, a serious economic science would base its recommendations around the question 'what is economic activity for?'

In the real (human) world, economic activity is not entirely centred on money, and nor is it entirely aimed at self-interest. Monetarism disregards these crucial facts, and sets up a false picture of the world, which it then promotes to governments, mainly to improve the lives of those whose only activity is playing with money.
Clearly if an engineering 'theorist' proposed that the purpose of the internal combustion engine should be to splash lubricant about, real engineers would fall over laughing.

It is for this reason that I call monetarism a pseudo-science.


December 16th, 2008, 2:10 pm
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Hello thundril

I have to confess to not having read all the earlier postings carefully (I have been away) so what I am going to say in response may have been dealt with earlier ---- but

1. Quote: "It is for this reason that I call monetarism a pseudo-science". You said "economics claims that ----''. Monetarism is only one school of thought / model of macro-economic behaviour among many in the social science of economics.

2. But anyway both the monetarists and other economists are entirely correct in saying 'that in an area where penniless people are starving, there is no demand for food' for reasons I explained, fairly clearly I though. Penniless people have a need for food and a desire for food but they cannot demand food in the economic sense (so may seek to demand it in other ways). That is their problem, the poor / penniless cannot exercise demand in the market in a way which generates supply in response.

3. Furthermore although I am not a Monetarist but a neo-Keynesian your notion of Monetarism seems to be a misconception. 'what is economic activity for?' Monetarists, Free Market Economists, Keynesians and Socialist / Collectivists of many varieties are all likely to answer this in much the same way. Economic activity is for satisfying the needs, wants and demands of the members of a society. They differ on how best this can be done (including how best to help the poor to turn their needs into demands), on how the economic mechanisms work, on how individuals, groups and institutions behave. Monetarist in particular put the price mechanism and the supply of money in a more central role than others and are often (not always) associated with Free Market Economics which is not the same thing (and also Supply Siders), for example in their opposition to State regulation of the financial markets / institutions (something which is at the core of the credit crisis).

So, to quote "modern economic theory (by which I mean monetarism)" ----- Monetarism is not particularly 'modern', like most economic theory it just a 20 century development of mainly 18 / 19 century ideas (in particular the Quantity Theory of Money and Say's Law of Markets); neo-Keynesianism / Supply Side Keynesianism are just as much part of 'modern economic theory' ---- and probably much more which has developed since I retired from teaching it over ten years ago.

We are now in need of a 21 century JM Keynes.

Chris

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December 17th, 2008, 11:50 pm
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I would like to bring to your attention the following nice column by a respected journalist of the FT. The article is copyrighted and I hope not to be sued.
Quote:
Expect to get dirty when a name is mud

By Lucy Kellaway

Published: December 21 2008 19:15 | Last updated: December 21 2008 19:15

In England at around the time of Edward the Confessor people started to call themselves after the sort of work they did. If you made bread you were Mr Baker; if you made things from wood you took the name Mr Carpenter; if you made barrels you were called Mr Cooper.

I was reminded of this fine tradition last week by the story of Bernie Madoff (pronounced Made-off). If one’s occupation involves making off with $50bn of investors’ money, then it is quite proper that one’s name should reflect that.

Mr Madoff is not alone among disgraced businessmen in having a name that gives the game away. Take the case of Anurag Dikshit, co-founder of PartyGaming, who last week agreed to plead guilty to an internet betting charge. Think too of the Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. His name suggests that blagging is something that came naturally to him.

Could there be a trend here? Last week I spent a day researching financiers and business people that had got into trouble and decided there definitely could. According to my findings, what unites them is not a troubled childhood, alcohol abuse or a narcissistic personality disorder but having a name that hints at trouble.

Writers of fiction understand this well. Charles Dickens appreciated the importance of people living up to their names, and so called his goodies Little Nell or Florence or Amy, while he gave his baddies names such as Ebenezer Scrooge and Uriah Heep. Even less subtly in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum calls his villains The Wicked Witch of the West and The Wicked Witch of the East.

Real life turns out to be closer to Wizard of Oz than A Christmas Carol in the prosaic way it links dark deeds and dark names. Consider Conrad Black, who is now serving out a prison sentence in Florida. It is no coincidence that it wasn’t Conrad White or Conrad Scarlett who defrauded Hollinger shareholders out of millions of dollars.

At Enron the names should also have been a clue to hapless investors and staff that something was amiss. There was Kenneth Lay, whose moniker should have warned any innocents that climbing into bed with him was going to be a mistake. And then there was Andrew Fastow, who pulled a fast-o with his off-balance sheet deals and is now behind bars. And Jeffrey Skilling – whose name was surely a double bluff. Skill was something he had plenty of, he just happened not to put it to terribly good use.

In the more distant past there was Michael Milken who, as Junk Bond King, milked ’em for all they were worth. And Asil Nadir, now a fugitive from justice in Cyprus, whose fraudulent antics at Polly Peck represented a nadir for shareholders, the Serious Fraud Office, a government minister who resigned and the entire British political establishment.

Some business crooks signalled their badness more through their first names than their surnames: Dennis Kozlowski, greedy bully at Tyco who blew $15,000 of shareholders’ money on an umbrella stand and $8,000 on a shower curtain, shared a first name with the British cartoon character Dennis the Menace who used to go around bashing up softies until his dad attacked him with a slipper.

Aha, you may be thinking, this is all very well, but what about Robert Maxwell? He was utterly crooked, but his name was utterly straight. At first sight, my theory does appear to collapse with the crooked Czech. However, Robert Maxwell was not born Robert Maxwell; his real name was Jan Ludvig Hoch – which is an entirely appropriate name for one who became so deeply in hock not only to his bankers but to thousands of luckless Maxwell pensioners.

Though this link between name and misdemeanour is irrefutable, it does not tell us which way the causality runs. Is it that babies with wicked genes are somehow a magnet for wicked names?

Or is that sweet children, born innocent, are somehow turned bad by the names they are given? If you have to tell people over and again that your name is Made-Off, or Dikshit, maybe you start getting ideas and behaving accordingly.

Either way, my research has important implications for all investors and fine upstanding citizens. If, say, a nice looking Dutch financier should ever come along promising you that his fund will reliably pay out 15 per cent, look first at his name. If, let us say, it is Hans In Der Til, then just say no.

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December 23rd, 2008, 4:07 pm
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