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Harvard or MIT. Economics graduate student skit, ca. 1963.


Because of the reference to Jaroslav Vanek’s leaving Harvard, we are able to date the following script to 1962-63 since Vanek left Harvard to work at the State Department in 1963. Almost everything about this script would lead me to conclude that it was used in a Harvard graduate student skit that somehow wound up in the folder for the Graduate Student Association at the Department of Economics of M.I.T. The folder is otherwise filled with clearly M.I.T. skit material from the 1960s. One of the students is identified as “David” another “Bob” and the third looks like “Les”.  

Lester Thurow did get his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1964 and came to M.I.T. in 1968 so it is not inconceivable that the following transcription is indeed based upon his personal typed script copy with original pencil stage directions that made its way into the folder. 

One thing that I find rather surprising about the text is just how many Harvard professors’ names have been misspelled.


D—This is a review with a message—a message no economist can afford to ignore. The year is 2000 A.D. 16 years have now passed since 1984, that Armageddon of the economics profession when Professor Wassily Leontief finally established that the world really was homogeneous of degree one. The then President of the United States, Mr. Norman Mailer, immediately issued the great Marginal Product Proclamation. Everyone was to receive their marginal product.

B— But there was nothing left over for the economists. Economists became the hand-loom weavers of the 20th. century.

L—Arthur Schlesinger Jr. vividly described their position in a 17-volume work entitled “The Coming of the Raw Deal.” Economists everywhere, after the first shock, set out upon new careers. Tonight we shall discover what happened to some of those whom we know and love.

D—Several of them went into the movie industry and we will now let you hear the soundtrack of the preview of one of their movies.

(Epic Music—Bruckner?)

[Insert: Stand]

L—Ladies and Gentlemen, 21st Century Fox are proud to present Arthur Smithies and Joan Robinson in….The Big Push, the story of the unbalanced growth of an economist….

B—Production by Karl [sic] Kaysen

D—Copyright by Edward Hastings Chamberlain [sic]

L—All labor disputes on location and with Elizabeth Taylor arbitrated by John Dunlop.

B—Continuity by Simon Kuznets

L—Editing by Seymour Harris, of course.

D—Costumes by Robert Dorfman.

B—This is the story of Ragnar Maynard von Eckstein (his parents had always wanted him to be an economist). After many struggles at last he got to Harvard Graduate School.

L—It is a tale of |horror. See him now at a seminar on the economics of Medical Care…..

D—This after-noon I am going to discuss the economics of Blood-banking. One of the crucial problems in this field is what proportion to maintain of liquid assets. In this category we have blood [Insert:   L. What about near blood] near-blood. We also have non-liquid assets—bonds in the form of pounds of flesh. Another problem is the current shortage of tellers, for we can only employ vampires with a strong liquidity preference. If we cannot get more it will clot up the flow of funds and reduce the velocity of circulation.

L—It is a tale of |ambition…..

B—Coming from a family whose marginal product was zero, Ragnar Maynard realized that to get on quickly he must publish something. But what? He had not written anything. But our resourceful hero saw a way out: he would publish his first book before it was written. It was called First Draft, a revised tentative, preliminary, provisional text. It was based on Photostat copies of his blackboard notes.

L—It is a tale of |love….

D—Ragnar Manyrd fell passionately in love with a beautiful capital theorist, played in the movie by ravishing Joan Robinson. His demand for her love was infinitely elastic; her supply could not meet him—at least not at his price. The price was to join him in his exhausting search over peaks and through troughs for the elusive U-shaped cost curve.

L—It is a tale of |excitement

B—See Ragnar Maynard trying to free himself from the dreaded liquidity trap.

Insert: D—It’s true, it really is thicker than water

L—All this and more you can see in this movie—The Big Push is a take-off point in the development of the motion-picture.

B—See the exciting attempt on Professor Leontief’s life (with a 202 rifle) to try to prevent him revealing his startling discovery of a constant returns world.

D—See the world’s largest input-output table which proved it—drawn by the Economic Research project in the sand of the New Mexican desert.

L—You cannot afford to miss this motion picture. Filmed in wonderful new—Solocolor. An introducing revolutionary—Rostowscope.

(concluding epic music)

[Insert: Sit]

D—But the movies could not accommodate everybody…

[Insert: Bob in middle]

[Insert: one illegible word]

L—Professor Leontief, having escaped with his life, and using his input-output table from Scientific American as a testimonial, got into the business of designing bathroom tiles.

B—Professor Duesenbery [sic] was well qualified to go into the demonstration business. He drove Cadillacs around low-income districts to stimulate demand. And changed his name to Jones so that it would be him that everyone was keeping up with.

D—In England many economists went to work for the government where they produced a remarkable effect. Before 1984 political speeches had sounded something like this.

B—Good evening; I’m the Prime Minister. My name is….. [insert: ad lib] etc.

D—But now all this has changed…

B—Good evening…[insert: ad lib] etc.

L—Professor Tom Schelling took up a career in Madison avenue. It was he who was responsible for some of the following products…

D—Ladies, now you can wear the most powerful and alluring perfume in the world—First Strike—the only perfume with complete credibility. It also contains the only deodorant with overkill.

B—Now at last there is a product to take away the smell of deodorant—it is called Counterforce. Only Counterforce gives you 24-hour protection against odorlessness. [Insert: 5120 or S120]

[Insert: STAND]

L—For years girls have been searching for a perfume which will attract the men and yet prevent them from taking liberties—now they have it in the form of Deterrence—the perfume which is effective [Insert: only] if you don’t use it.

D—He also introduced a city wide deodorant campaign under the title of Civil defence.

L—And the only really safe method of birth control—Early Warning.

B—Meanwhile Professor Dunlop had become a truck driver and a shop steward for Jimmy Hoffa.

D—And Professor Kuznets took to selling abacuses.

[Insert: Some economists, not from Harvard opened a cafeteria.]

[Insert: Bob-Les—come forward]

L—Professor Galbraith first thought of becoming a rice farmer. But he soon saw that since there was no more need for economists he could now come into his own. After a coup d’etat he took over the Littauer building and changed it into the department of Affluent Studies. The idea was the ultra-popularization of economics; the main qualification for admission was to be a good phrase-monger. The new department published books like…

B—The Economics of Sex, with an appendix on the second derivatives of Jayne Mansfield. A geometric interpretation with diagrams.

D—The department became identified with a new theory of economic decline, published as a non-Rostovian manifesto. All countries, it said, tend to decline, and their speed of decline is determined by their relative degree of economic advancement. Its five stages of decline started with the age of mass consumption, through the age of preconditions for decline, coming then to the crucial landing stage.

B—Other books appeared like ‘The Naked Truth about Public Squalor, and so on.

[Insert: Pause—back to audience]

L—Only one of the redundant economists took the highest calling of all. Let us now eavesdrop on a sermon by [Insert: his eminence] Archbishop Gerschenkron…

[Insert: seated]

B—You know, when I was an economist one of my graduate students wrote a very good paper for my course. Matthew, [Insert: I said] why don’t you publish this paper, no, really why don’t you publish. But you know youll have to change the title. What journal is going to publish a paper called ‘the First Gospel’? But you know it really was a very good paper. There was a lot of interesting material about the farm problem in Egypt and about the almost miraculous elasticity of supply of loaves and small fishes in Gallillee [sic]. Then there was a very good section about Christ throwing the money-changers from the temple. Well, you see, the rate of interest was very high then. Don’t you think that the real reason why Christ did this was to reduce the rate of interest and to stimulate investment. You see, I wanted Matthew to rewrite his paper for the Quarterly Journal and call it ‘Christ as a proto-Keynsian’ [sic] But no, he was a very strong-willed boy and he brought it out in a syposium [sic] edited by Seymour Harris, called the Bible, essays in honor of God. But, you know, it was still required reading for my course.

D—Professor Harberler [sic] took to song writing, and here is a sample…

[Insert: stand behind table]

(tune: God bless America)

[Insert: All:] God bless free enterprise,
[Insert: MOC or HOC or NOC] System divine,
Stand beside her and guide her,
Just as long as the profits are mine.
[Insert: Salute]
Corporations may they prosper
Big business, may it grow!
[Insert: MOC or HOC or NOC] God bless Free Enterprise,
The Status quo!

L—Well, David, I guess that’s it. Do you think they’ll throw us out?

D—I dont know. But I dont suppose we’ll ever be allowed to pass generals. There are still some jobs you can get without a Ph.D.

B—No chance at all is there? I mean about generals….

D—Well they were all in it weren’t they—all the generals board.

L—What about Professor Vanek? He emerged unscathed.

D—That’s true but he’s leaving.

B—That’s fair, of course.

L—Yes, he hasn’t done much since he’s been here really.

D—Half a dozen good articles…

B—4 books, or is it 5?

L—He’s become an acknowledged expert on at least two major fields of economics…

D—A clear and stimulating teacher…
And a nice guy…

L—Not much really. [Insert: Clearly not a Harvard type]

B—Not surprised they’re letting him go

D—Well, that’s it then.

B—One more thing actually…The perpetrators of this entertainment would like it to be known that any resemblance of characters in this review to any person or persons living or half-dead is purely intentional.

L—So be it.

All—In the name of the Holy Trinity:



B—and Solow.



Source:   MIT Archives. Department of Economics Records, Box 2, Folder “GEA 1961-67”.


Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier