Chapter 6 - Basle, October 2015
Introducing an honorable economist – a rarity in 2015
"I'm going to publish it," promised Kurt, during a tea break of a symposium on job sharing. "Ze only problem iz when. We're publishing Harry's paper in the September edition, and March is filled, which leaves June or December."
"That's an important decision for us," Watson pointed out. “We are in trouble if it is published after Harry's paper. People might even think that we pinched one of his ideas." Kurt agreed that there was a problem. "I vill do my best to look after your interests," he promised as he rushed off to another important meeting.
Kurt Gunter was a boffin’s boffin. He sported a bushy beard, a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and thick, coke-bottle glasses that made his eyes look at least twice their natural size. He was practically blind, and was driven around by his long suffering wife. “Angela, Angela” Kurt would shout as she drove him down the tollway to Geneva. “Zat car is going to crash into us! Swing off ze road now!”
Kurt had in his youth modeled himself on Dr Strangelove of the famous movie. He had for a brief time advised the German government on the economic problems of reunification, but this had been such a fiasco that he had been forced to accept a lowly position teaching German economics at Basle. He had doggedly rehabilitated himself over the next 30 years, however, and was an associate director in UC Inc’s Swiss branch.
Unfortunately for the Organization, Kurt Gunter had some old-fashioned ideas about quality, and Harry's offer was eventually turned down. "Harry, I vill be more zan happy to publish your paper," wrote Kurt a few weeks later, "but ze ozzers are pretty thin. Dino's is okay but irrelevant, and they are all far too long. I don't have ze space."
When Harry had accepted this offer Kurt was presented with a dilemma. He had already agreed to publish the paper by Watson and Sampson. Kurt had early realised that the GradStude’s paper was pretty good, and he didn’t like the way they had been treated by Big Harry.
“Zis is a poor show” Kurt told Angela. “Ze timing vill be tricky. I have ze moral dilemma.”
It is a puzzling but true fact that economists are generally amoral people. It is a boy’s game mostly, and modern males have almost all spent too much time playing violent computer games. These games imply that life is cheap and that the dead can easily be rebooted.
Very few young economists have received any religious education, and few economics courses include a segment on “ethics”. A reforming Vice Chancellor at Melbourne University, Glyn Davis by name, once introduced what he nicely called the “Melbourne model” in a bold attempt to increase his university’s revenues.
This plan struggled when the students – a fairly bright lot – worked out that this was a plot to keep them paying fees for a few extra years. The point of the new first degrees at “The Shop” - as Melbourne U was known – was to inculcate breadth, and to introduce future engineers to art and future economists to great literature, including (a few of the dons believed) the St James version of the Christian Bible.
The former idea had founded as few potential engineers would be seen dead in an art gallery. And students of economics almost universally derided the tenets of religion. There were a few exceptions in Australia since the Prime Minister of the time claimed to be a Christian, and the Vice Chancellor at Melbourne was known to be one of his best mates. When they met, Glyn would say “G’day, mate”. “G’day mate”, Kevin would reply.
A few of the economics lecturers at Melbourne University persisted with attempts to incorporate Christian ideals - such as equality of incomes - into their lectures but their hearts were not in it. The whole plan broke down when a small but determined group of Muslim students – offspring of hard men from the Middle East and some of the worst of the African hell-holes - protested and took their complaint about what they called “forced Christianization” all the way to the High Court. There the superbly multi-cultural judges handed them a famous victory.
But there is a deeper reason for the failure of religion, or even the rules of ethical behavior, to take root among economists. While the fathers of economics include Moral Philosophers like Adam Smith and David Hume, modern economics focuses above all on the careful comparison of costs and benefits. Ethical considerations are difficult to reduce to dollars and cents and so are typically brushed aside as “political matters”, unworthy of the “scientific” calculations a proper economist likes to think he is making.
A long and costly education learning “scientific” economics leaves all but the best of the breed unable to commit himself to ethical positions. Young economists whose bodies and minds are coursing with testosterone compete to appear more hard-arsed than the next bloke. “If it can’t be measured its bullshit” is the ultimate put-down among this group of zealots. “‘Selfish’ makes the world goes round” (traditional English being another missing ingredient of these splendid chaps) is another bon mot of the dedicated economist.
Kurt Gunter was a rare decent fellow in a generally amoral profession. The question his competitors asked themselves was how and why he had risen to a position of influence in such an arid profession.
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