Apropos of nothing in particular, here’s a line that came up in casual conversation which inadvertently-but-I-am-nevertheless-OK-with-that made the person doing the quoting look like a bit of a imbecile. Be warned, people: if you treat glib quotables like some sort of intellectual highlight reel, these pratfalls are inevitable. Throwing around clever quotes about stuff you clearly don’t understand is the signature useful-conversation-finishing move of obnoxious jackasses the world over.
Some of you are nodding to yourselves right now, because you know exactly who I’m talking about.
“In the long run, we are all dead.” – John Maynard Keynes
Depending on who you’re talking to this means either that the economic structures of the world are an enormous machine controlled at cynical distance by shadowy figures and we can’t do anything about that so screw it or, more often, regular old screw it. The extended quote, however, is as follows:
“The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.”
Keynes is actually halfway through saying that the world is a complicated place, and if you’re an economist and you want that to mean something, you’d better be ready to raise your game.
I wonder if economics is the only field out there where people cite the most basic stuff they teach you in the entry-level course as being the definitive answer to some arbitrarily complex problem. Certainly, anyone who made some claim ending with “… but that’s just computer science 101″ would be immediately put on the to-not-take-seriously list. “Obviously, that’s geology 101.” “Obviously; that’s just biochemistry 101.”