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Diary of a Silly Economist #1

By Bezalel Madaki

Copyright 2018 Abel B.S. Gaiya

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18th April – entry #108

The alarm goes off on my phone, but I push the snooze button. Again it goes off, and again I snooze. The struggle recurs three more times, and I finally awake, the conquered.

Laying upon my back, staring at the ceiling, I ponder over my situation. I momentarily get philosophical. Hundreds of million of people all over the world have this same feeling right now. Does it ever go away? Is it to be blamed on capitalism and its demands on labour, or just on the human condition on this earth? It’s funny how we take sleep to be the sweetest thing on earth very early in the morning, and then the sentiment fades away after we take a shower. Sleep must feel awfully dirty for being used and dumped by billions of people.

I end the cogitations and revert to the immediate dilemma. Do I return to sleep and later call my supervisor to give some plausible excuse for my absence? What excuse do I concoct? Or should I sleep for a few more minutes and get to work late, then blame it on traffic? What if I sleep beyond a few minutes? I would have to set an alarm to avoid this risk. Yet I then face the sub-dilemma: to set the alarm on my phone, I shall be exposed to bright light which would prevent me from falling back asleep.

On the other hand, if I do not set the alarm, the risk of oversleeping remains high. What if I squint, wide enough to see the phone screen and yet narrow enough to prevent much light from entering my eyes? The sub-sub-dilemma then arises: how do I know the optimal ‘squinty-ness’ to adopt? What angular position of the phone with respect to my face should I adopt to minimize the risk of overexposure to light? Why haven’t I bought an actual alarm clock yet? Is it an African thing not to have alarm clocks? Ironically, the longer I spend thinking over this, the more awake I will become, thereby wasting both awake-time and sleep-time – an inefficient equilibrium.

As I ruminate, an exogenous factor ultimately decides my fate. Out of nowhere, Katie springs up from below the bed, scaring me half to death (not literally, as ‘half to death’ is equivalent to a vegetative state – and no, I am currently not in such a state and narrating this story to myself. Of course philosophically this cannot be known with certainty; I could be in a state of phenomenological delusion) and driving out any remaining trace of sleep that is left in my eyes. I almost punch her face in fright as it emerges out of the darkness. I wonder how I’d have explained that to her teacher and the police if that happened.

“You’re the best dad in the whole wide world!” She yells, with a bright adorable smile on her eight-year old face which could subject the most violent beast to the urge for a bear hug. She always looks so much like her mother – the cute little dimples which make her so irresistibly delightful whenever she smiles or blushes; her short, narrow nose which I keep teasing her about; those glossy brown eyes that look almost mythical; and silky black hair which her mum’s parents still wonder where she got from. Her mum’s probably criticizing me from heaven about my parenting skills.

Katie seems well-prepared this year. She’s determined not to forget about Father’s day like she did last year. I’m glad, for my sake. I cannot spend another year taking apologies from her, and having her reason that everything I do which upsets her is punishment for forgetting.

While the normal part of my psyche focused on the warmth of her cute gesture, the usual epistemological disciplinarian emerged, like a wedding guest without an invitation or at least a compensatory wedding gift.

Like Adam, who likely had a flurry of compulsions simultaneously hit him for the first time after eating the forbidden fruit, the strong compulsion to respond in a logical manner hit me. I look at her bright face as she waits in expectation of my response. I could follow my compulsions and explain, “That is a very unreliable statement”.

This would likely draw a quizzical look from her. The quick transition from excitement to confusion would undoubtedly be comical.

“You see, given your very limited experience with other fathers, or what statisticians call the sample size, and given that there are hundreds of millions of fathers, your sample size is too small, thereby making the margin of error for that statement substantially high. Therefore, sweetie, me being the best dad in the world is highly statistically unreliable.”

I would feel the tension subside, my muscles relax, my heartbeat normalize, and perhaps some dopamine would spurt around my brain, providing me with a sense of satisfaction and happiness. Like a cocaine addict having his fix after a period of delay, I would feel the world dissipate around me, leaving me floating upon the ether of ecstasy.

On the other hand, my sweetie-pie would have held her hand to her face and heave a sigh of frustration (In digression, metaphorically speaking, she is closer in character to a honey-flavoured biscuit than a sweetie-pie, if a rigorous technical metaphorical analysis were to be conducted; but it is apparently unconventional and ‘not cute’ to refer to my daughter as honey-flavoured biscuit, or even just HFB). Even a “thank you, Sweetie” would have sufficed for her.

“The less controversial statement would be to say that I am a good dad.”

“Okay Dad; you’re a good dad.”

Yet, I would not be completely satisfied.

“Even that is not without its ambiguities.”

“Argh!” She would likely yell.

“A good dad would have to be rigidly defined and possibly indexed, and my performance as a father would then be compared to this ideal.” As the French say, satisfáction complete (I’m not actually sure this is correct, but I was lazy to check Google Translate.)

She’s just eight years old, I would think. I need to ignore my compulsion and do the right thing.

“You’re the best daughter in the universe!”

“Thanks dad!” She hugged me in elation.

“Provided there are no other intelligent societies on other planets; else it is more efficient to simply use earth as the comparative boundary.”

I tried.

She scuttles to the door, picks up a tray which had a single bowl on top of it, and presents to me.

“Breakfast is served,” she says, obviously trying to impress me, and trying to mimic an English accent. It comes out adorably, and makes me giggle.

It is cereal … no longer crunchy, as it has been left to soak in milk for a long time. I force myself to eat it, to keep her excitement going. I even add regular exclamations of “hmm” and “this is really good. You made this yourself?” I smile as she nods her head in pride.

Afterward, we go to the kitchen and I show her how a professional breakfast is made. She eats, and eventually leaves with the school bus after I assault her forehead with kisses before I let her into it. I then proceed to the bus stop, thinking about what stories I’d tell her when she gets back from school.

Arriving at the bus stop, my eyes quickly I catch sight of the same strange lady, the one from last week, and I focus on her. She stands majestically in her light purple gown. Her head turns, and her eyes penetrate mine. A cold tingling feeling shoots through my veins. I would not let her intimidate me this time. She might have won last week’s battle, but I must be victorious today.

My pupils probably dilate; my fingers fold into a fist, biceps constrict, and smile turns into frown. Aggression has been summoned. Hostility must be shown.

The lady flinches for a brief moment at the sight of my physical change. Her stare of fright is the sort one gives when watching a lion trudge towards them. Yet, I am sure she was thinking the same thing – she shan't show any fear. She widens her eyes and scatters her hair. She looks like Medusa; I would’ve turned into stone if not for the fact that this is merely a simile.

I step backwards in terror of what I behold. The young lady I’d been staring at has become a century-old witch.

The sound of the anticipated object can be heard from a distance. It is approaching quickly. I turn away from the lady, and look in the direction of the sound. Everyone else is waiting for it. Everyone else is ready to fight when it came. For in this cruel world, everyone must fight for their prize.

At its arrival, I run forward, but I am dragged backwards by the shirt. I turn back to find that it is she who drags me. She jumps up with great agility and performs a front flip over me. As she lands in front of me, I grab her by the waist and pull her to me. She spins around like a ballerina performing on stage – her hair cutting through the air like a fan.

Her hands fall on my shoulders for support. Her eyes meet mine and she stares for two seconds. Suddenly, she uses her forehead to hit my nose. I let her go to attend to my pain. She attempts to run away, but pain in my nose is not pain in my legs. I throw my foot in front of her legs and she falls to the ground. She lands on her palms. It is evident that she is a well-trained fighter. She pushes herself to a standing position, and turns around with the back of her hand aiming for my cheek. I hyperextend just in time, and then return to my previous position after her hand had missed me.

She is about to kick my groin when I yell, "Wait!"

She pauses.

"The bus left already."

She drops her leg to the ground and turns over to where the bus had been. It isn't there anymore. The fight for a seat in the bus was futile.

It must be noted that this is a ‘very rough’ account of the actual struggle for a seat in the bus. It may have been very less dramatic.

"Well, this is awkward." She says, realizing we would need to wait for the next bus together.

“Sooooo…” she says, thinking of how to break the ice (or break the silence, since we broke actual ice during our last battle)

“So, what’s your name?” I interject, yet unable to make eye contact with her.

“Joseph, Vanessa Joseph,” she responds, in the classic James Bond fashion, obviously trying to sound cool.

“Joseph Vanessa Joseph? Your middle name is feminine, and your first name, which is the same as your surname, is masculine?”

“No, I stated my surname first, and then my full name.”

“Why not just state your full name directly? Isn’t what you just did inefficient and easy to misinterpret?”

“I was just doing it in James Bond style. Nevermind, what’s your name?”

“Richard Zugwai,” I reply, carefully pronouncing my surname so as to prevent her from murdering it when she likely attempts to pronounce it.

“That’s a strange surname. Where are you from?”


“Oh, I’ve always wanted to visit West Africa! I especially love Nigerian music.”

“That’s nice. I myself always wanted to visit Sweden. I studied its economy for many years, it was only fitting that I experience what I study.”

“Why, thank you.” She answers, as if she designed the Swedish model and I was commending her for it. “I guess you’re an economist.”

“Yes, I am; doing my PhD at Lund University.”

“That’s amazing. What’s your dissertation about?”

“Bros before hoes, a rational choice approach.”

She bursts into laughter. I turn to look at her face directly for the first time. This is no Medusa or a century old witch. She actually has a warm personality. She almost stumbles as she laughs (I imagine her actually falling, stumbling – still laughing –; rolling and falling into a gutter, still laughing. Then getting up and approaching me saying, “that was hilarious”, but getting hit by a moving vehicle, landing on the windshield and still laughing with blood and deep cuts all over her body, while I stare in confusion and horror at the entire event, unable to figure out how I’d explain it to the police)

“That was hilarious,” she exclaims, wiping off the tears of laughter from her eyes – which is actually unusually copious –, “I can’t believe I’ve been fighting you over a bus seat these past few days.”

I smile.

“So what do you do?” I ask her.

“I’m a theoretical physicist, also doing my PhD at Lund University.”

“That’s so interesting,” I sincerely remark. “I would have asked you what your dissertation was about if not for the likelihood that I wouldn’t understand.”

“That’s true. All non-physicists I’ve told about it never understand.”

I am about to respond when the next bus arrives. We look at each other, and then I wave my hand in acquiescence of her first entry. She smiles and nods her head in appreciation. I momentarily imagine her saying “so long, sucker”, and giving me a back kick while she’s at the entrance. Then I vow, pointing at the sky – perhaps with spontaneous rain pouring down to make things more dramatic – never to make the same mistake with a woman again.

I desire to sit with her and inquire about theoretical modern physical concepts which I am deeply interested in, but an old man intercepts me – perhaps strategically – and sits with her instead. He doesn’t hear me when I request an exchange of seats, perhaps due to a hearing impairment or just a desire to hit on her. I sit just behind them, listening as the old man hit on her by telling her how great the country once was – the typical romantic ranting of old conservatives.

I can’t help but overhear a conversation by two men seated behind me. One of them intends to quit his job in search of greener pastures, as the current job brought him little joy. “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush,” his friend discouraged.

I cringe, again. I feel the compulsion to interject, yet I am unsure if it would be rude to do so, or perhaps he would thank me for it. I see that my stop is very close. This provides me an opportunity to interject, then immediately get up and leave the bus. This would create a dramatic event of a mysterious sage dropping off life-impacting wisdom and disappearing afterwards. For years the man may potentially think back at this moment and marvel.

“Actually, if the probability of catching the two birds in the bush is high enough, the effort needed to catch the two birds low enough, and/or if the birds are of sufficiently higher quality than the one in hand, for instance due to greater weight; then the expected utility of going for the two birds in the bush would be positive, making it an optimal choice to do so.”

I speak for a slightly longer time than I’d rehearsed in my mind, and it is not a witty aphorism, but a technically-sounding answer given to an inquisitive economics undergraduate student.

I get up immediately, but discover that my stop hadn’t actually reached. I had mistaken the present one for mine. I begin to sweat, as it now looks, as opposed to my initial conceptualization, that I just rudely interrupted two strangers’ discussion, kept silent afterwards, stood up for no reason, and still maintained silence while breathing heavily and sweating noticeably. Rather than being a mysterious sage, I was a creepy, impolite weirdo seemingly about to have a psychotic attack.

The two men had been staring at me as I explained, and they continue to do so as I stand up apparently for no reason. I am forced to sit down.

I reach my workplace in a somber mood, despite being over twenty minutes late. The faculty meeting is already in progress. I walk into the meeting room, trying to be quiet, but it is impossible. Everyone turns to glare at me.

“My daughter was sick,” I lied.

It’s only a demon that’d contest the sick daughter, single dad excuse. Yet, I know that some, or probably most, of them are visualizing my nose elongating (someone with a messed up imagination may even be seeing it elongating rapidly, like something from a sci-fi horror; growing so large, it blocks all the exits, chases people around and strangles them all).

After the formal faculty meeting ended, we begin the weekly informal Yo Momma battle, economists’ version. It is part of the teambuilding games I suggested to the faculty months ago. Today’s battle is between Dr James – my arch-nemesis – and I. For some reason I keep picturing him stroking a cat and having evil plans to nationalize all industries.

Dr James begins, “yo momma so fat, she represents forty percent of Swedish household consumption.”

There is mild laughter – or more accurately, chuckles.

“Yo momma so big, downward revisions to GDP have to be made repeatedly because she keeps being mistaken for a new industry,” I respond.

More laughter occurs.

“Yo momma so fat, political activists around the country unanimously advocate that she’s a marginalized group and should get more than one electoral vote.”

“Yo momma so poor, when she became a German citizen the World Bank re-classified Germany a developing economy.”

“Yo momma so ugly, in order to attract foreign investors and boost investor confidence, the government covered her face…facial policy.”

“Yo momma so fat, when she travels to Brazil for vacation, Brazilian economists model her as an external shock.”

Everyone explodes (with laughter, that is). My confidence is boosted.

“Yo momma so fat, she has three representatives in legislature,” James returns.

Laughter, but a portion of it may just be ‘residual funniness’ from my joke.

I wonder if it is possible to measure to what extent his joke’s funny effect spills over into mine. One approach could be to design an experiment in which participants rate the funniness of a series of jokes, and then observe if the experimental sample rates a joke more highly – in terms of funniness – if it is preceded by a highly funny joke, on average, than the control sample rates the same joke if preceded by a less funny joke, and vice versa. The empirical estimates of the ‘residual coefficient’ would then be applied to James’ joke to ascertain to what degree it was genuinely funny.

An anticlimax is apparent for James. It’s now or never for me.

“Yo momma so fat, the most efficient way to maximize the benefits of fiscal stimulus is just to give her the entire stimulus package,” I say, fingers crossed under the table.

Another bout of laughter erupts.

I should leave it at that; but what if some did not really understand the underlying mechanics of that joke? Shouldn’t it be clear? Do I explain the joke? Isn’t that a general illegality in comedy, unless the explanation itself is a creatively constructed joke? Yet I have the compulsion to explain.

“As she has the highest marginal propensity to consume, and the greatest money velocity,” I explain.

The laughter is killed. My loss is secured.

“We got it, Richard, there was no need to explain. As a general rule, you never ever explain the joke,” said another faculty member.

“Unless the explanation itself is a creatively constructed joke,” added Dr James.

James’s statement angers me, because I had thought the same exact thing. Perhaps I should be more annoyed with myself for failing to follow my logical advice, and going with my compulsion instead.

Everyone gets up, gloomy. I feel bad, and my head hangs; I stare below, into the abyss of shame and regret. I will be unable to look anyone directly in the eye for the rest of the day. For years to come, every time I think of this battle, I shall cringe; though I’ll probably use my usual technique for dealing with embarrassing memories: taking solace in the fact that at that very moment in time of my reminiscence, there is a high probability that I am the only person thinking back to that event.

I get up from my chair and head for the exit. I feel like there’s a tall old lady in nun’s clothes yelling “shame, shame, shame,” as I walk naked, metaphorically speaking, to my office.

I sit on my chair. My mind wanders away from my shame, and I am now thinking about my research paper and the submission deadlines I have to meet. I am currently writing the literature review, working on the sub-section reviewing the literature on hoes and their theoretical and empirical features. For example, Brown (2014) argues against the loyalty of hoes by stating that ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’. This is further buttressed by Juicy J (2015) who explains that ‘these hoes are for everybody’, and should therefore be passed all around as they ‘ain’t gon be loyal’ nor are they for any one person. I was surprised that a conceptual framework already exists on the concept of hoes – propounded by Dr Dre and Dogg, and named the Unified [insert name for female dog here] Theory (UBT). One of the empirical investigations I have to conduct is estimating the proportion of hoes present within the general population.

Of course I’m only joking. My actual dissertation is less amusing. Besides, economic imperialism is not so extreme as to infiltrate African-American rap culture. My actual dissertation is on the viability of having a Swedish-style social democratic system in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, being the silly man that I am, I do have a few ideas on satirical economics papers and news articles. One such example is a study of the impact of spiritual globalization on Nigerian witchdoctors. With more intense competition from India and the Caribbean region facilitated by the expansion of internet use, I typically imagine that Nigerian witchdoctors are being put out of business or have to adapt drastically. I imagine them employing more appealing marketing tactics such as embedding the sacred dance of the gods into flash mobs to attract passersby; and professionalizing themselves by moving away from the witchdoctor, native doctor, and babalawo titles to more attractive ‘spiritual analyst’ or ‘divine consultant’ titles.

Another study, though not under economics, is of the low relative rate of lightning strikes in Nigeria despite the fact that ‘thunder fire you’ is likely the most used curse in a country with high daily incidence of insults and curses. I recommend that the efficacy of the curse may be optimized simply by correcting the error of mistaking lightning for thunder.

The day went by dryly. I finished off cheerfully, notwithstanding my Yo Momma shame. I could now get back home and attend to my Honey-flavoured Biscuit; and yes I can call her that when I’m alone.

I get a lift from an old lady while on my way to the bus terminal. This is one of the perks of being in Sweden. Unlike in Nigeria, I do not have to worry over whether a person who offers me a free ride has ulterior motives to either use me for money rituals, ransom-based kidnapping, sugar daddy/mummy solicitations, organ harvesting, or whatever other weird motives that haven’t been popularized yet.

The weirdest thing a person – an old man – who gave me a ride in Sweden ever did was to ask me if I knew how to ‘massage’, and whether I was interested in ‘massaging’ him for money, after complementing me about my physique and flattering me by asking if I am into modelling. At least he was polite enough to respect my freedom of choice and offer an economic incentive. In another part of the world I could’ve been drugged, gagged and kidnapped, and this journal entry would’ve been written while I lived as a sex slave in some big man’s secret mansion, while I dramatically sing sad Igbo lamentations like the ones used for Nollywood movies.

The old lady is really sweet. She offers to drop me off at my house even though it isn’t within the route to her own destination. I say there’s no need for that, maintaining an optimal nonverbal cue balance that conveys to the listener that I don’t want to inconvenience her, yet conveys to her that I wouldn’t mind if she insisted. She insisted, and I agreed, visibly hesitantly but internally rejoicing, as it saves me from walking this evening.

I think she just wants someone to talk to. She tells me about her son and grandchildren, her pet puppy which she recently just got, and a host of other things. It is cute and lovely at first, but it eventually becomes suffocating, as she just talks and talks. I begin to wonder if this free ride is actually a blessing or a curse.

Nonetheless, the least I could do to return her favour is to give regular responses to feign attention to her narrations – ‘hmm’, ‘uh huh’, ‘wow’, ‘really?’, and a few other exclamations do the trick, and I have to mix them up so as not to incite suspicion of my inattention. Thankfully, she can’t stop talking, and so there’s no pressure for me to ask questions or answer any from her. My higher order mind may now wander freely while my subtle mind responds to her narrations.

The first thing that pops randomly into my head is a memory of how I used to misinterpret a particular Christian Hausa song as a child. The words were zan yabi Yesu; zan daukaka shi, which means I will praise Jesus; I will lift him up. In Hausa language, there is a difference between daukaka shi and dauka kashi, and I didn’t know the former then; only the latter. So when I sang the song, it was the latter I used to pronounce, and it means I will praise Jesus; I will carry poop.

I initially thought the song was odd, but my childish mind reasoned that it made sense because holding poop in my hands was a big sacrifice, as I was very averse to even looking at poop. And just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac to prove his faith in God, I should be willing to carry poop with my bare hands to prove my faith in God. So when I raised my hands when singing the song in church, unlike others who were doing it to symbolize the lifting up of Jesus, I was busy carrying imaginary poop and raising it to God in sacrifice. I giggle as I remember this childish blunder. It coincides with a ‘funny’ event the old lady is narrating and is chuckling about, and so suspicion of my inattention still hasn’t emerged, fortuitously.

“And that was how I killed my husband.”

“Wait, what?!” I am shocked out of my secret cogitations. The statement emerges so randomly and so suddenly.

Without going into too much detail, the lady had killed her husband ‘accidentally’ a few hours ago and had been scared to report to the police. She then took a drive to clear her head, saw me, and gave me a ride. After feeling comfortable with me, she now tells me about it in order to seek my advice.

I of course advise her to report to the police; but this wasn’t my first impulse. I think, I’m a black African immigrant in a predominantly white European country. What would the police think? Could I be labelled as an accomplice to a homicide? What would happen to my daughter? Why did I accept a free ride from an old lady? I should have known that huge mole on her face beside her lip was a harbinger of doom. Where exactly do moles come from? I’ve had a little one on my own face for years, and a pesky single strand of hair keeps growing out of it. Is there something I can do for it?

Damn it! I forget about the murder.

I advise her to call the police, but ask her to drop me off a few streets away from mine. She does so and zooms off, probably to the police station. I give off a sigh of relief. That was insane.

I then walk a very short distance to my true street and get home just in time to meet my daughter getting off the school bus.

She runs to hug me, teeth flashing behind a wide smile, and hands spread outward even as she struggles to keep her lunchbox in hand. After all the day’s disappointments, shame and weird encounters, she remains one of my two constant sources of joy and fulfilment. I catch her as she jumps into my arms, and it feels like a movie scene in which I spin round and round with her while we stare at each other in laughter and joy.

“Daddy, how was your day?”

I’m excited because there’s a lot to tell her about – Vanessa, work, and the old lady –; though of course it’ll likely be an eight-year-old-friendly story, lest I incur the judgement of whoever’s reading my diary, unpermitted, right now.

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