A master of the dark arts

A weird and overdue penny dropped for me today.  I’m still working out if it’s a good one.  But today I realised I’m an economist!

Really, this should be no surprise.  It’s been nineteen years since I last walked out of a university exam room having completed a tough assignment on project management and impact assessment.  What followed was six weeks of dread while I waited for results to confirm I’d passed all of the final semester subjects, particularly as I had a job pending my success (and having a job was no small matter in the depth of the 1991/2 recession we “had to have”).

My final scrawled essay on cost-benefit analysis carried the day and I was the proud owner of a Bachelor of Economics.  At this point I wish to stress I AM NOT AN ACCOUNTANT!  At the end of high school there was a massive push for us to get into a Bachelor of Commerce, the pathway to a career in accountancy.  This was the final gasp of the greed is good era and the wild 1980s entrepreneurs were demanding a production line to cook their books.

In my final stretch of Year 12 work experience I’d asked to be placed with a stock-broking firm and had been placed with a local accountancy practice for two tedious weeks.  This was more than enough to ensure I bucked the pressure towards Commerce and enrolled in the much smaller Economics class.  For the first 18 months we put up with the taunts about our future earning prospects from the Commerce  mob, and then the recession happened.

By late 1991 the world was begging for Economists to dig them out of a hole (which just goes to show how mad the world really was) and graduating Commerce students were contemplating picking mangoes.  Six months after commencing work I returned to my home-town for a placement at the old Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) and enjoyed the wry pleasure of doling out unemployment benefits to my Commerce cousins.

But because I started work quickly and also missed my graduation ceremony I don’t think I’ve ever reflected that I’m an “economist” until today.  This happened when spending six hours in the car and listening to the measured and serious tomes of several economics ‘experts’ and heard the radio announcers talking about their skills with a mixture of reverence and revulsion.

Yep, I’m one of *them*, and could follow their convoluted arguments, sometimes in agreeance and at others with guffaws with disbelief (this was mostly reserved for those in the employ of the major banks who are so blinded by group-think and corporate expediency that they seem completely removed from everyday usefulness).

So I know all the jokes about economists and their blurry crystal balls.  In our defence it’s impossible to forecast human behaviour accurately.  Since 2004 I’d been saying to anyone who’d listen that far too much economic “activity” was actually unproductive fluff, just a vacuous exercise in inflationary selling of thin air.  I famously locked horns with this with the Westpac senior economist when he arrived to speak in Dubbo at what was really just supposed to be an afternoon of bank-funded glad-handling.  I don’t think he’d expected there’d be a peer in a congregation of country yokels and didn’t agree with my assessment.  I haven’t seen him since 2008 to review our relative positions.

I guess I’ve never held a position that has allowed me to assume the job title of “Economist”.  But I’ve no doubt that my three years invested in my degree set me up well to be productive in what I’ve done in life, and even in this role I now hold as a Director of Camping.

The main skill of a good economist is the ability to consume a large amount of varying and at times conflicting information and quickly analyze and distill it into something useful.  And this useful has to be forward-casting and even visionary.

I’m nearly twelve months into this job now, and I came into it without a camping background.  So that dark art of the economist to roam over an overwhelming vein of information and weld it into something useful for our organisation has been kinda handy.  It’s also helped that the financial planing part of the role is something I can do pretty much on auto-pilot which has meant I’ve had much more time reserved for the real reason this position was created – equipping our staff to be empowered in their roles and fulfilled in their vision.

Right now it feels like I’ve had enough time to consume the information and distill it into something useful.  Now the fun part begins, plotting a forward vision and bringing everyone along for the implementation ride.  Told you being an economist can be fun.


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