MIT Faculty Skit: Robert Solow as the 2000 year old economist

Fun bit from Irwin Collier who continues to dig into archives of economics departments:

A skit in economics typically involves a humor transplant of some sort. The following script from the faculty contribution to an annual M.I.T. economics skit party (ca.  late-1970s?) took its inspiration from  two greats in American comedy, Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, who sometimes performed as interviewer and 2,000 year-old man, respectively.

While it is fairly clear that Robert Solow performed and probably wrote the entire skit, the identity of the interviewer still needs to be established. Hint: there is a comment box at the bottom of this post. 

The script comes from a file of such Solovian skits that Roger Backhouse has copied during his archival research and has shared with Economics in the Rear-View Mirror.

Sample this:

Q: Let’s come to your recent impressions. What do you see as the most important recent development in economics?

A: That’s easy – the increase in the mandatory retirement age to 70. Of course it’s got a long way to go before it does me any good, but I underestimate the DRI Mandatory Retirement Age Monitor estimates the retirement age to be rising at 1.73 years per year, so time is on my side.

Q: Apart from its effects on you personally, why do you think this is an important development?

A: It saves a lot of time at department meetings never to have to make a tenure appointment again. And you know what department meetings are like – even worse than skit parties.

Q: How do you think the change will affect students?

A: They’ll love it. Courses will be the same year after year. Reading lists will never change. Textbooks will go on and on and on. Can you imagine the 200th edition of Dornbusch and Fischer? I hope it’s printed on better paper than the low-grade papyrus of the first edition… I do wonder about Eckaus and that Sphinx…… Exams will be the same year after year. Students hate change. Look at what happened when you fellows tried to change 14.121 this year.

Q: Turning to economic theory, what has been the most important development you have witnessed in the last 2000 years?

A: The two-dimensional diagram.

Q: Be serious.

A: I am serious. Can you imagine Bhagwati, the Picasso of the Production Possibility Locus, trying to fit all those curves in a one-dimensional diagram, which was all we had in the old days? There wasn’t hardly room for anything besides the axis.

Q: Come, come. Bhagwati would find a solution for that little difficulty. Who needs an axis?

A: Maybe so, but can you imagine four-color one-dimensional diagrams? How could we have expensive textbooks without four-color diagrams? How could we have expensive professors without expensive textbooks? How could……

Q: OK, OK. What is the second most important development in economic theory in your lifetime?

A: The subscript.

Q: Don’t you know the difference between trivia and serious economic theory?

A: Sure. Trivia are worth remembering, but serious economics is OK to forget.

Q: Maybe we better stick to trivia…

A: I was just kidding. I really know the answer. There is no difference between trivia and serious economic theory.



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