Manasi Phadke

Eponymics – The new economics!

Manasi Phadke | Updated on August 12, 2021

JM Keynes Lasting legacy   -  Special Arrangement

Eco-jargon — Keynesian, Hick’s law, Giffen’s paradox, Occam’s Razor

Let us face it — Economics is Eponymics! What is an eponym? Well, a word derived from the proper name of a person most closely associated with the phenomenon is called an eponym. ‘America’, amongst other things, is also an eponym. So is ‘Diesel’. Had a ‘Sandwich’? Wore ‘Denims’? Referred an ‘Atlas’? Hmm, now, looks like you are eating, wearing and referring to eponyms!

Modern language is simply peppered with eponyms. When you talk about ‘Draconian’ laws, temperature measured in ‘Fahrenheits’, ‘Narcissistic’ tendencies and ‘Mesmerising’ conversations, you are actually referring to names associated with certain phenomena. Another interesting usage of eponyms occurs when a brand is treated as a product. All Indians have eaten the ‘Ramen-ki-Maggi’, just as we have ‘Xeroxed’ some papers.

Unique lingo

We have to accept that eponyms are as much interesting linguistic tools, as they are cultural associations. Only people of a particular coterie can understand an eponym; hence eponyms are as much group building devices, as they are methods of separating outsiders from insiders. However, no one has quite used eponyms as effectively as economists to create their own unique lingo, which no other mortal is quite capable of following. The eponyms in economics are not restricted to good old laws and theorems, but also stretch to paradoxes, boxes and razors!

Economists are rather ‘Maya Sarabhai-ish’, when it comes to eponyms. You can almost hear them drawling at activists — “Call it ‘Keynesian’ spending, beta. This Kharch karo lingo is eponymically middle class!” Think of the Covid-19 pandemic. A common man might just say that the pandemic was a difficult time. Not so with economists. Apparently, for them, the virus has ‘black-swanned’, ‘Malthused’ and ‘Keynesianized’ all policy debates in the recent past.

Most societies are expected to show much higher inequalities at the end of the pandemic, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I hate to break the news to you, but this rich getting richer business has a name within the eco-circles. That’s the ‘Matthew’s law’, one of the eponymous laws of economics. Add the gender dimension to this, and you get rich men getting richer at the cost of the already poor women getting poorer. That’s the ‘Matilda Effect’, one of the special cases of the Matthew’s law.

Why, the common man might wonder, do governments not take quick action against Matthew to protect Matilda? That is because Hicks does not allow it to! The ‘Hick’s law’ tells you that decision time of the government is a logarithmic function of number of options it has. I can see you cringe when I belt out the eco-jargon. So let’s talk English.

If you reduce the number of policy options from 100 to 99, the time required by the government to arrive at a decision may not fall drastically. But if the number of options were reduced from 50 to 49, or even better, from 10 to 9, that decision time will show a massive reduction indeed! Just see the difference in the language! Take quick action, says the common man. Maximum governance, minimum government, say the political leaders. Hick’s law, say the economists.

Do miracles occur?

Rather than do a Hick’s, which while effective, would be admittedly tricky, the government seems to have make done with Littlewood. Now, ‘Littlewood’s law’ is more based on statistics, that twin sister concern, rather than economics and states that miracles occur at the rate of one miracle per month! Let us do the math. Littlewood defines miracles to be events occurring at a frequency of one in a million. Now, a human experiences one event, ordinary or extraordinary, per second.

If a human is assumed to be awake for eight hours, then simple arithmetic suggests that she experiences a million events every 35 days. Putting the gyan together, you should be expecting that miracle every month.

Unfortunately for the government, Littlewood was beaten hollow by ‘Murphy’, who claims that pretty much anything that can go wrong will definitely go wrong. And so it did. As the economy contracted, many pro-government economists were seen to be quoting the ‘Easterlin paradox of happiness’. The paradox says that countries with high GDP levels did not report high levels of happiness amongst its people. By those norms, we must be simply spewing happiness by the tonne!

The next time any economist tries to pull the Matthew, Matilda, Hicks or Littlewood on you, use the ‘Occam’s razor’ to shush him, get him into the ‘Edgeworth Box’, and quote the ‘Stigler’s law of eponymy’. The Stigler’s law, proposed by statistician Stephen Stigler, says that no scientific discovery is named after its own discoverer. Ask him who discovered the Stigler’s law. That’ll keep him busy for a while.

The author is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds

Published on August 11, 2021

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