Practitioners of the dismal science are not generally known for humor.
Enter laughing Pasi Kuoppamaki, a mild-mannered Helsinki economist whose specialty is delving into the effects of global warming on Finland's industries. Not a lot of chuckles, right? But Kuoppamaki, 25, is earning a reputation in cyberspace as the king of economics comedy--admittedly not a title for which there is intense competition. He hasn't made it to the Letterman show yet, but his Jokes about Economists and Economics page, available on the Internet's World Wide Web, is rapidly gaining a worldwide following.
Kuoppamaki launched his project last fall, shortly after signing on to the Web for the first time and watching the lawyer jokes go by. That prompted him to carve out a niche for economists. (Based at the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, its Web address is http://www.etla.fi/pkm/joke.html.) To make its point perfectly clear, the page is topped by a picture of Adam Smith. Even the original free-marketer, says Kuoppamaki "would enjoy these jokes."
BRIGHT BULB. Every week, the page is read by some 1,000 people, who are drawn to a collection of 60 or so entries ranging from shaggy PhD stories to Henny Youngman-esque one-liners. Sample: "If an economist and an IRS agent were both drowning and you could save only one of them, would you go to lunch or read the paper?" Many of Kuoppamaki's best offerings, however, are variants on the familiar lightbulb theme: "How many Chicago School economists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. If the bulb needed changing, the market would have already done it."
Most of Kuoppamaki's material comes from contributors who send in their stuff by E-mail to the address listed at the bottom of his page (firstname.lastname@example.org). Other gags come from economist friends and from Kuoppamaki himself, who sifts through the dozens of mther compendiums of humor on the Internet. These include lawyer jokes, Pentium jokes, O.J. Simpson jokes, and several collections of the gross and tasteless.
But no one else appears to have singled out economists to pick on. "I really enjoyed it," chuckles Anthony Chan, chief economist at Banc One Investment Advisors Corp. "We're all humble enough to realize that because exogenous forces are constantly changing and we work with incomplete information, our forecasts are almost always going to be off the mark."
Kuoppamaki doesn't devote all of his online time to laughs, though. With Web-surfing now "one of my major hobbies," the economist also maintains several pages that seek to explain his studies of global warming. (He thinks that Finland's thriving forest-products industry is benefiting from climatic moderation.) With a click of the mouse, however, you can jump from these pages to others at Web sites around the world providing more information on global warming. Or you can simply switch back to putdowns of Kuoppamaki and his colleagues in the dismal science. Asks one entry: "Why did God create economists? Answer: In order to make weather forecasters look good."
Keynes Meets Youngman
Some yucks from the World Wide Web economist-jokes page
Q. What do you get when you cross the
Godfather with an
A. An offer you can't understand.
Q. How many conservative economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. None. If the government would just leave it alone, it would screw
Q. What's the best
way to describe an economist?
A. Someone who doesn't have the personality to be an accountant.