On April Fools' Day, Planet Money Tries Out Economics Jokes

Apr 1, 2015
Originally published on April 2, 2015 2:22 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today is April 1, a day when you are likely to hear - if you haven't already - many bad jokes. In that tradition, we bring you this from our Planet Money team - a particular category of bad joke, one that deals with economics. NPR's Robert Smith and David Kestenbaum scoured the world for the best economics jokes and tried them out on stage.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: David, I have always wanted to do standup comedy.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, BYLINE: I have never thought I could do standup comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello. Hey everybody. How you doin' tonight?

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: This was at a bar in Brooklyn called Splitty. And this was a legit comedy night with real professional comedians.

KESTENBAUM: Real comedians and us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's two radio guys here. They're going to do comedy for the first time ever tonight. So you have that to look forward to. It's going to be a great time.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. You have your seat, but you're only going to need the edge tonight...

SMITH: It was our turn, and I was sweating.

KESTENBAUM: We went up on stage. Robert, you read the first joke.

SMITH: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: Three econometricians go hunting, and they spot a large deer. The first econometrician fires but his shot goes three-feet wide to the left. The second econometrician - he fires also, but he misses. His shot goes three feet to the right. The third econometrician starts jumping up and down shouting we got it. We got it.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: That's a pity laugh.

KESTENBAUM: Clearly, to appreciate the subtle humor in these jokes, we need someone to do what you're never supposed to do, explain the joke.

TIM HARFORD: I can explain the joke, although let's just be clear, that's not going to make it funny.

SMITH: Ladies and gentlemen, Tim Harford, economist and columnist for The Financial Times.

HARFORD: The first thing you need to know is an econometrician is someone who does economic statistics. And what you need to know about statistics is there's always a margin for error. And so when these two economic statisticians - these two econometricians shoot for the deer and one shot just goes to one side of the deer and the other shot goes to the other side of the deer, the deer is within the margin of error, so they got the deer.

KESTENBAUM: On average, they got the deer exactly.

SMITH: Next joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KESTENBAUM: How many Chicago school economists does it take to change a light bulb? None. If the light bulb needed changing, the market would've done it already.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: All right. All right, that's good - that's about free market economists. But here is the rebuttal joke. How many Keynesian economists does it take to change a light bulb? All of them because you'll generate employment, more consumption, dislocating the aggregate demand to the right.

KESTENBAUM: That one killed.

HARFORD: It's just a terrible joke.

KESTENBAUM: It's a terrible joke.

SMITH: It helps if you know that Keynesian economists believe that government spending can help end recessions. So the idea in the joke is that if you pay someone to screw in a light bulb, then they have more money to spend, which creates even more jobs.

KESTENBAUM: And by that logic, the government should hire as many light bulb-changers as possible.

SMITH: OK, OK, last joke. And we're going to let Tim Harford tell it because he's the person we heard it from.

KESTENBAUM: And he tells it better.

HARFORD: There are two men in a hot air balloon. And the wind blows across the countryside and they get completely lost. They look down. They're drifting low over a field. And they see standing in the road beneath them a chap in a suit. And so they call down, they say excuse us, excuse us, where are we? The guy in the suit looks up and says you're in a balloon. So one of the men in the balloon calls down and says, you're obviously an economist. The economist calls up and says you're right, I am an economist. How do you know? The guy in the hot air balloon calls down and says because your answer is precisely true and utterly useless.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: And the guys in the balloon look down and say wait - wait, wait, wait - are you an economist?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah. How'd you know?

SMITH: Because your answer is both precisely true and completely useless.

KESTENBAUM: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

HARFORD: I like that joke, and it doesn't really need to be explained, which is why it's better than the other jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Planet Money, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: Thanks everyone. We'll be here all week. I'm Robert Smith.

KESTENBAUM: I'm David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Give it up for Planet Money.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Actually, I listen to Planet Money.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball or whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't know. I don't know.

CORNISH: You can hear the rest of the jokes and explanations on the Planet Money podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.