Ben Bernanke, economists and politicians: Less isn't more - it's less

Poets like Robert Browning shouldn't give economic advice. Economists shouldn't try to be poetic. Hear that, Mr. Bernanke? Photo: Robert Browning and Ben Bernanke

WASHINGTON, February 22, 2012 – Lucrezia, wife of poet Robert Browning’s hero, the thieving Andrea del Sarto in his dramatic monologe “My Last Duchess,” needs some dressing-down.

As Sarto vainly tries to rein in her ebullience, her economy, he utters the desperate and totally unconvincing line, “Less is more.”

Browning notwithstanding, less is not more. More is more.

Merely noting that Browning was a poet and not an accountant, scientist, or economist, “My Last Duchess” should be required background reading for those who spout his words to support their own misconceptions.

More is more. Less is less. Words have meanings. Opposites are not synonyms.

Still, there are practical applications of the “less is more” principle. The Laffer Curve posits that, under certain conditions and within certain limits, lowered tax rates result in higher tax revenue.

Still, we may ask, is “greater tax revenue” a good thing? We pay it!

Race drivers have long known that when you apply “to go fast you need to slow down” what you are doing, in order to better-control the vehicle and win the race, is add caution and control to your speed.

Still, the Laffer Curve is useful only to help politicians extract the highest-possible amount of money from the economy; and the first car across the finish line wins.

“Less is more” is commonly uttered by the engineers of budget cuts, headcount reductions, and various resource reallocators, always as if the obvious contradiction carries in it some inexplicable wisdom.

Such “wisdom” is no substitute for the real thing; it is intended to throw the gullible and the mentally-lazy off the scent. It is intended to give those in the audience a graceful way to swallow a clump of bunk.

The “graceful” always swallow it, too, and the liar at the podium gets away with his lie.

So, if your financial advisor, for instance, tells you that “less is more,” you should probably raise an eyebrow.

A close corollary is “doing more with less.” That’s possible, if the “new less” is more efficient than the “old more.”

A 21st-Century platoon, given sufficient ammunition, could probably defeat Caesar’s army – but they couldn’t do it using Caesar’s weapons!

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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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