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Davos 2013: An Interview With an Economist

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As the Annual Meeting for the World Economic Forum in Davos reaches full speed, I have tried to tackle the philosophical question of what would happen if you interviewed an economist and nobody heard his answers? Did the interview take place? Does it matter?

Below is the transcript of an interview that has everything but the Economist's answers. It's anyone's guess if they would improve it.

1. The Global Fund yesterday said that we could be a generation from a cure of TB, AIDS and malaria. Imagining a world without these diseases is a very exciting prospect! In the same period could we see an end to meaningless statistics, incomprehensible graphs, and mangled buzzwords of economists?

2. The tools of economics -- and I don't mean that as a personal insult; I mean the econometric models that economists use to reach conclusions -- didn't predict the current crisis. As we look back on it now, it was blindingly obvious that things were going to blow up. Do we blame the economists for not predicting the crash, or blame the economists for creating the tools that justified the build up? Or can we just blame the economists for creating the entire system? Essentially I am saying that we are going to blame the economists, and it would help if the accused would confess before the whippings commenced.

3. China's development is the main subject in every conversation about the world in this next century. How's your Mandarin? If we dropped enough economists on them, could we slow Chinese growth?

4. Quantitative easing. Did you come up with that one?

5. Iceland, what happened there? I mean they are small, have their own currency, let their banks default and the country has rebounded. Isn't that exactly what a country is not supposed to do?

6. The U.S. government is trying hard to make the right cuts, struggling to get out of the red, and President Obama has made it clear it must embrace China in the next century. Is that why everyone was so excited to see Michelle Obama at the Inauguration in a bright red Jason Wu gown and sporting a new hair-do?

7. This time last year the Greeks were paying an interest rate of nearly 40 percent. This year we'd have to accept only 10 percent for the risk they will fall into the Aegean with our money. Does this mean the market is saying the crisis is over? Can we go back to normal behaviour, forgetting the lack of cultural alignment and non-existent fiscal controls between the North and the South and the entrenched corruption and dwindling tax base of Greece and Italy? Can Dusseldorf pensioners return to buying the bonds of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Southern Sudan)?

8. The Euro is 11 years old this January. It's a pre-teen and already acting weird. How do you think it will behave during the difficult teenage years? Does it need strict controls, perhaps and some very defined boundaries? Already it seems to not know who it wants at its parties.

9. The UK seems to want a United States of Europe, the way Canada wants the United States of America: a large uniform market that is very close but not such that they have to accept their neighbour's whacky way of life. Does it matter what UK Prime Minister David Cameron said today, or did the European stop listening after Churchill left office?

10. Most people accept that the only way is to keep the Euro is to force through "more Europe" on the Southern countries. Many people read this as code for "more Germany." Do the rest of Europe get to decide which bit they get more of? Can it be more Heidi Klum, or must it be more Angela Merkel? Can they chose to get Vorsprung Durch Technik or will they have to settle for Schadenfreude?

11. As far as I can tell, austerity as an economic policy is unpopular with just about everyone, except those who think economic policy shouldn't be decided by a popularity contest. Conflict seems to be rising fast in the Southern nations where they are applying indiscriminant austerity on the low and middle class as the higher orders are shipping their assets to higher elevations. How large or widespread do protest movements have to get before they derail the orderly progress toward a return to how things used to be? What I am really asking is, in a strict asset allocation sense, what percentage of one's net worth do you advise keeping in small notes in your mattress?

12. Thank you for your time, but before we finish, can you use these economic phrases in a sentence for me: stagnant economic growth, unemployable youth, unfunded pension obligations, spiraling inflation, rising inequality and falling social mobility.

13. Now, do the same thing, but make it have a happy ending.

Impossible? Yeah, I am having a hard time myself seeing this all it ends nicely.