Monday, January 14, 2013

Keynesians vs. Austrians on The Simpsons

Does anyone have any details?
UPDATE A couple of commenters have pointed to a Mises forum report on the Simpson mention of Austrian economics:
Mr. Burns is increasing energy costs and says...
I've assembled a team of distinguished economists...and placed plausible rate hike percentages on their backs.  We'll use unfettered free market principles to arrive at a number.
----There is a picture of several people with "11%, 17%, 22%, 15%" etc. saftey-pinned to their backs.
Burns then says squinting his eyes,
Release the hounds... 

The economists then turn and run as the dogs chase them.  The town folk watch, jaws dropped.  Then Mr.  Burns says to Smithers,
Notice how the Keynesians climb trees while the Austrian school economists hide under rocks! 
Smithers replies very dryly,
That's fascinating.
hahaha.  Harvard jokers.  It is funny because it is an accurate simple analogy for a problem that is coming for them!
 Rates rise by 17%.  Then Mr. Burns releases the radioactive steam onto the people who run away screaming. 
Homer makes a joke about throwing away consumer goods like a good american later as well.  Good episode.

I don't watch The Simpsons, so outside of Homer, I don't know who the other characters are, and it doesn't seem from the description above that there was any explanation on the show of what Austrian economics is. Nevertheless, it is fascinating that a popular mainstream show, such as The Simpsons, even mentions Austrian economics. That looks like progress to me.

UPDATE 2 Here's the video.


  1. Mr. Burns was determining the percent increase in electricity rates by "letting the free market work" He attached different percentages to the backs of economists and released the hounds after them. They noted how the Keynesian economists climbed trees while the austrian economists hid under rocks.


  3. Here's a thread on Mises forums:

    Mr. Burns: I've assembled a team of distinguished economists...and placed plausible rate hike percentages on their backs. We'll use unfettered free market principles to arrive at a number.

    ----There is a picture of several people with "11%, 17%, 22%, 15%" etc. saftey-pinned to their backs.----

    Mr. Burns: Release the hounds...

    ----The economists then turn and run as the dogs chase them. The town folk watch, jaws dropped.----

    Mr. Burns: Notice how the Keynesians climb trees while the Austrian school economists hide under rocks!

    Smithers: That's fascinating.

  4. To watch the episode online, you can find links here:

  5. The scene starts at just before 3 minutes into the episode.

  6. Keynesians climb trees (print money) while Austrians hide under rocks (buy gold)?

    1. I agree with your speculation....which if you are correct makes it very funny!

      It's important for us to have a sense of humor, but more importantly you have to wonder how many Simpsons watchers will now "google" Austrian economics. It's a great reference!

      I find the Simpsons watching crowd to be a saavy crowd for the most part.

    2. So I'm reading that Groening is a "liberal", and I'm going to assume probably not in the classical sense.

      So I'm thinking the odds that it's not a positive reference as we hoped/speculated...but looking at the glass half full it's still a reference on national TV.

      It means there's is progress being made, because if the Austrian viewpoint held little sway they wouldn't even bother. Either way, it's a "win-win".

    3. Groening has little if any influence on the show at this point.

    4. John Swartzwelder, who wrote more Simpsons episodes than any other writer, is a big-time libertarian. Although he no longer writes for the show, many view his influence on the Simpsons as equal to or greater than Groening's. Swartzwelder's episodes are also generally regarded as the shows best, and contain no shortage of libertarian themes.

    5. It's surprising how many people thought they got the joke, but didn't get this reference


    Video will be uploaded in about 30 minutes, so 7:30 AM EST.

    Enjoy, sorry for the watermark, it'll do!!!

    Youtube took down my upload for copyright infringement! Figures!

  8. Someone want to explain the joke to me? It's making fun of Austrians? What exactly is the analogy?

  9. Tom Finnigan recently published an article about the libertarian writer on the simpsons at lew rockwell

  10. I rpthink the joke is at the expense of both, as they see the world differently, they don't understand each other.

  11. Perhaps the Keynesians can see the trees for the forest. Austrians hiding under rocks seems to be the standard critique of Austrians burying their heads and doing nothing to solve the recession?

  12. I understand Ruxton's analysis, and it may be correct. But another may be that in such circumstances as shown (the random pinning of interest rates), that Austrians hiding under rocks means that they will have nothing to do with it. They don't want to be associated with it, but this leaves them easy prey to the dogs. This is analogous to the blaming of the free market (i.e. the Austrians) for the actions of the dogs and the tree-climbers. After all, the dogs did eventually catch a Keynesian in the scene (he was running for the fence), and his number was arbitrarily chosen, which became the policy. Burns proclaimed from the beginning that this was a "unfettered free market principles", so it can only be concluded that the outcome is the fault of the free market.

    IMO, this was actually a very clever observation of the current state of the economics political game.

  13. I'm afraid that everyone is reading too much into this. It is great that the Austrian school is referenced in the skit/joke, but I doubt that these writers know much about economic theory other than fundamentals and name. They know that OTHER people know the difference and they are playing to that. By the same token they associate "free market principles" with vicious attacking dogs and therefore cater to the folks that hold to the belief that the free market is "dog eat dog". I could be wrong, but I think it is to engage everyone no matter what their economic view. I thought the dogs were typical Monty Burns, but I bristled when he referenced the free market with them.

    1. I'm with you on this, Anon: in fact if anything, the fact that the Keynesians were climbing trees and the Austrians weren't, indicates that the Keynesians are more rational (hiding under a rock is a far less effective mechanism for avoiding the hounds).

      What ought to have happened is that the Austrians would have decided it was optimal to pool their resources and fight as a group (Hoppean private provision of security services)... while the Keynesians would have tried to get .gov to pay for their defense by hiring a lobbyist: the money expended would have been WAY too much for the task, the means chosen would have been woefully inefficient,k the job would have been deficit-financed, and would have come back to Monty Burns (through his ownership of a defence contractor) in the fullness of time anyhow... EX-cellent. But too long for 21-minutes-plus-ads.

    2. @ ANON 5:14

      As a complete and total Simpsons geek, you are correct. The Keynesian/Austrian "joke" wasn't so much a joke as just a couple of nerdy writers referring to something that the mainstream knows hardly anything about. It was just something they could use to associate "free market economics" with their typical and tired view of a "capitalist" like Mr. Burns. That stuff is tired and worn out, but at least a few folks will google Austrian economics because of it.

    3. it's clearly a wink at money printing vs. gold. even this softball was too subtle for the target audience, which makes it 1660 times more hilarious.

  14. I think the bigger issue is that the Keynesian vs Austrian split has become part of the national psyche.

    10-20 years ago, no one knew what an Austrian

  15. Might it be a good sign as well that they were referred to not as Austrians but Austrian School? While Keynesians religiously follow a man, we are members of an educated group. (forgive me for equating schooling with education)