Beautiful Babble

There are some subjects that continue to baffle me despite years of trying to understand them. Economics is one. On the basement book shelf at home there must be half-a-dozen well-thumbed bluffer's guides to economics, yet I still have only a slight grasp on the concept of a mortgage backed security. Nevertheless, I thought I would have another go at economics. My retirement accounts have been hemorrhaging cash and I haven't a clue why this is happening. So in the past week I've been reading about economics from the likes of Robert Heilbroner, Lester Thurow and Alan Blinder, but I'm still baffled.

So I gave up last night and returned to John Kenneth Galbraith's wonderful The Great Crash of 1929. I haven't a clue what Galbraith is talking about, but I sure love to read him. The man was such a wonderful prose stylist. Here are a few dollops:

Economics is a subject profoundly conducive to cliche, resonant with boredom. On few topics is an American audience so practiced in turning off its ears and minds. And none can say that the response is ill advised.

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
I may not know what a debenture is, but I no longer care. I'm too busy admiring Galbraith's economy of phrase to worry much about his economics. Indeed, there are some people I read solely for their prose. One is M.F. K. Fisher, who penned a collection of essays entitled Consider the Oyster. I can't stand oysters so it's unlikely I will ever make any of the recipes Fisher recommends (or even suffer an oyster to cross my threshold), yet I have enjoyably read Consider the Oyster many times. Here is the opening of her essay Love and Death Among the Molluscs:

An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.

Indeed, his chance to live at all is slim, and if he should survive the arrows of his outrageous fortune and in the two weeks of his carefree youth find a smooth clean place to fix on, the years afterwards are full of stress, passion, and danger.

He--but why call him he, except for clarity? Almost any normal oyster never knows from one year to the next whether he is he or she, and may start at any moment, after the first year, to lay eggs where before he spent his sexual energies in being exceptionally masculine. If he is a she, her energies are equally feminine, so that in a single summer, if all goes well, and the temperature of the water is somewhere around or above seventy degrees, she may spawn several hundred million eggs, fifteen to one hundred million at a time, with commendable pride.

Look at how much dry factual information about an indecisively-sexed bivalve is packed into these paragraphs, yet I don't mind reading it because the voice that is speaking is engaging. The hesitations ("but why call him he...?"), the opinionated adverbs ("exceptionally masculine"), and the personifications ("commendable pride") all make an otherwise uninteresting subject, well, interesting.

If nothing else, it helps to take my mind off the diminishing prospects for an early retirement.


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