Ask a Bureaucrat (March 2012)

Dear Bureaucrat,

How come American Airlines goes completely bankrupt and it’s business as usual, but I miss one credit card payment and I no longer qualify for a mortgage?

-Stuck in Subprime

Dear Subprime,

You are not alone. Since mortgages caused the financial crisis we banned them outright, even for people who aren’t FICO deadbeats like you. As for American, while it is legally a person it is more like a celebrity in that we don’t hold it responsible for its actions. It is also a government carrier. We really didn’t want to lose our gold status by switching airlines.

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Dear Bureaucrat,

What is the proper etiquette for wearing one’s ID badge outside the office?

-Eager Summer Intern

Dear ESI,

On a first date go with something casual like lanyard around neck but badge in shirt pocket. At happy hour one may hang one’s ID from a belt loop provided that one’s agency name and clearance level show prominently. When poolside one’s badge may substitute for swim trunks provided that one diligently pulls the retractable cord to a decent length.

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Dear Bureaucrat,

I suspect my dog may be up to no good. It digs holes in the backyard and then covers up the evidence with dirt. How can I deter it?

-Ezra Ayle

Dear Ezra,

Cut off your dog’s supply of chew toys. Threaten to not pet other dogs that share their chew toys with it. If that doesn’t work, stop feeding it. Soon enough Fido will roll over, and sit, and fetch, and do whatever else you want in exchange for a treat. That or bite you and pee all over the house. Bad dog!

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Dear Bureaucrat,

How might the internationalization of the Chinese yuan diminish the ability of the U.S. Treasury to finance sustained current account deficits while maintaining debt stability?

-Milton Schwartz

Dear Milton,

Just because it says “economist” in my job title does not mean I have ever actually studied economics. I’ll ask our intern and get back to you.

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An Economist Explains (April 2011)

An Economist ExplainsMaximizing utility with marginal advice

Dear Economist,

My wife and I own Uncle Sam’s,a food truck here in DC. We have been filling the gas tank with premium for a number of years, but now my wife insists we have to cut costs by switching to regular. I say minimizing engine knocking is a nonnegotiable priority. Even though we take in $2,000 with a good lunch crowd, she’s threatening to shut down the whole operation over 15 cents a gallon. Whose fault is it if we’re not serving sloppy joes at 14 & K come Monday?

–Premiumly Pissed

Dear Premium,

Why not reach a deal to continue operating in the short run? The only real condition you need is for price to be greater than average variable cost. You can worry about the fixed costs of buying a more fuel-efficient truck in the long run, by which point I have a feeling divorce court will have ruled that you are 50% of total assets plus child support at fault here.

——–

Dear Economist,

When I was stretching before a run the other day, I found that I could no longer touch my toes. How am I supposed to play competitive kickball on the Mall if I’m standing straight up even when I’m bending over?

–Inflexible in Arlington

Dear Inflexible,

Unfortunately, the more you value playing kickball the more inelastic you are bound to become. Don’t be surprised if they raise your league fee to $15,000 next season.

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Dear Economist,

I was the hottest currency in the international system before that thing in the Middle East that I’m going to pretend didn’t happen happened. Now I’m feeling more underappreciated than ever. How can I fix this again?

–Renminbi

Dear RMB,

A little floating can go a long way. Unfortunately, if you tried to float at this juncture it would undermine the no-fly zone. I’d love to help you out, but I think I’m going to have to abstain on this one.

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An Economist Explains (January 2011)

An Economist ExplainsMaximizing utility with marginal advice

Dear EE,

I have a friend, let’s call him “The Economy”, who for the past year or so has not been experiencing the kind of growth he’s used to. Even when he tries prolonged stimulus he just can’t get it up. His wife’s interest rate is essentially zero at this point. If he can’t produce an expansion soon, he’s in for a real domestic crisis. Help!

-Not Me, Really

Dear Not Me,

Aside from a bigger package, “The Economy” may want to try certain unconventional tools to satisfy his domestic constituency. For more adventurous folks, there is a technique known as “quantitative easing,” although in order for that to work one needs to have a lot of very open-minded neighbors.

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Dear EE,

China China China China China China China!!!

-World

Dear World,

Japan.

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Dear EE,

To impress the guys in the union, I pretended that my grandfather was Samuel Gompers and that I had a personalized copy of his biography to prove it. Now they want to see my books! What do I do?

-Enthusiasm Unexpected

Dear EU,

Borrow my friend I.M.F’s copy. He loves lending out his Americana.

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Dear EE,

Home has 70 units of labor. It can produce two goods: complicated financial derivatives and film adaptations of chick lit featuring Julia Roberts. The unit labor requirement for derivatives is P(S,t) – Ke-r(T-t) – S + (SN(d1) – Ke-r(T-t)N(d2)), while for chick flicks it is James Franco’s credibility as an actor. Basically, hooray for free trade, no?

-Eat Pray Specialize

Dear EPS,

Trade brought us Mel Gibson. Trade brought us the Spice Girls. Trade brought us soccer and then took it away and gave it to Qatar. Basically, I would take autarky, AIG, and “America’s Sweethearts” over Wannabe and a World

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An Economist Explains (October 2010)

An Economist ExplainsMaximizing utility with marginal advice

Dear EE,

My daughter earns ten dollars a week in allowance for doing household chores. For her birthday last week, her grandfather gave her a $200 check. Now she won’t take out the trash or feed the goldfish. Why the sudden indifference?

-Adversely Affected

Dear Affected,

Your whole problem can be explained by the wealth and substitution effects. To see what I mean, simply draw a convex line and a straight line and then draw a different straight line but also remember another dotted straight line below the new, parallel convex line that you should have drawn in the meantime taking care to align the tangency points so as to equilibrate the marginal rates of substitution. Subtract B from A but add C to the result if it’s Thursday or Giffen and there you have it. If that doesn’t help, two words: college fund.

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Dear EE,

I have 500 pages of reading to do by Monday, but I’d rather spend all weekend watching football and drinking beer. How can I tell which readings are the most valuable to skim in the ten minutes I’ve allotted to schoolwork?

-#1 Redskins Fan

Dear #1,

The only way to find the value of something is to sell it. Since the library charges 7 cents per page to print, and getting to use the printers is highly competitive, price therefore equals marginal cost. Your readings are worth $35, which is exactly what you could pay the other people in your reading group to take notes for you in a google doc.

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Dear EE,

My ficus won’t grow. I’ve given it plenty of capacity in terms of a large pot. I fertilize liberally. I imported dirt from out West. I even propped it up with the aid of a neighbor. What the hell?

-On the Brink of Being Institutionalized

Dear OBBI,

I would be happy to share with you a special recipe I’ve developed for plant care so long as you agree to re-form your method of watering first. One, you can’t keep insisting that everyone use your watering can. If the guy in apartment 2A has a more efficient one, let him sprinkle away. Two, you can’t just keep pouring more water whenever you feel like it. Add at most 10% more water to the soil per year. Three, who elected you to be in charge of watering anyway? Let the condominium association pick a new plant caretaker by May or I’m shutting off your tap.

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An Economist Explains (September 2010)

An Economist ExplainsMaximizing utility with marginal advice

Dear EE,

No matter what ratio of donuts to coffee I offer him, I just can’t seem to get my husband off of the same indifference curve. Has our marriage gotten stale?

-Constrained

Dear Constrained,

The only thing getting stale is that bundle of donuts! The problem is not the increasingly greater number of donuts per cup fewer of coffee you’re buying. What your husband wants is more of everything. Do you have a Costco membership?

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Dear EE,

I got a great deal on an efficiency apartment in DuPont Circle, but I’m on a student budget and utility isn’t included. The neighbors play their stereo on full volume all night and the landlord won’t fix my refrigerator. Will I have to reduce my consumption? -Feeling Good But Inferior

Dear FGBI,

It sounds like you’re really at the maximum point on your pissed off possibilities frontier. Although your situation is awful, I’m afraid that you chose it, so it must therefore be your optimum.

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Dear EE,

I am the proprietor of a small business specializing in Swedish poodle paw massage. Even though I am much better at massaging poodles than tutoring illiterate squirrels, sales are so low that I think I would be better off massaging my own poodles and tutoring my own squirrels.

-D. Nye-Ricardo

Dear D. Nye,

Don’t be ridiculous. Somewhere out there in the Golden Triangle is someone who runs a squirrel tutoring shop and would be ecstatic to tutor your squirrels if you will provide Swedish massage for their poodles. Even if you could massage more poodles or tutor more squirrels overall on your own, more poodles can be massaged and more squirrels tutored in aggregate if you run your poodle massage boutique and take your squirrels across town for tutoring.

——–

Dear EE,

I borrowed $116,000 to pay for graduate school and then tried to pay it back with Monopoly money I photocopied in the library. Now I can’t get nearly as many florins for my guilders as I used to. Help!

-Deflated But Not Worthless

Dear DBNW,

What you need is structural readjustment and fiscal austerity. Psych!

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