Economics explained, intentionally or otherwise, in simple quotes:
On the inability to fix entitlement spending: A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul.
-- George Bernard Shaw
On monetary policy: Giving liquidity to bankers is like giving a barrel of beer to a drunk. You know exactly what is going to happen. You just don't know which wall he is going to choose.
-- Nick Sibley
On free markets: Of course, people would like the downturn to be over. Many are counting on it. But Mr. Market doesn't give a hoot. He's got a "Capitalism at Work" t-shirt on and a sledgehammer in his hand. What's he up to? He's demolishing a quarter century's worth of mistakes. There are always mistakes made. Investments go bad. Businesses go under. People go broke. When many mistakes are corrected at once, it's called a "recession." And when an entire economic model goes bad, it's called a "depression."
-- Bill Bonner
On market panics: A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants.
-- Mark Twain
On black swans: Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
-- Michael de Montaigne
On economists trying to be real people: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
-- Yogi Berra
On market bubbles: Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
-- Albert Einstein
On finance outside of Excel spreadsheets: Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
-- Oscar Wilde
On extreme philosophic views: The principle of laissez-faire may be safely trusted to in some things but in many more it is wholly inapplicable.
-- J.R. McCulloch, editor, The Wealth of Nations
On people who shouldn't give investment advice: [Books have] them little words. Plus it makes you think too much. Too confusing. I just don't like to read.
-- Lenny Dykstra, former TheStreet.com advisor
Why you can't raise taxes on private equity managers with 15% tax rates: History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
-- Martin Luther King
On greed: Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.
-- Richard Dawkins
On aligning incentives: Do not let someone making an "incentive bonus" manage a nuclear plant -- or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner of safety to show "profits" while claiming to be "conservative." Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here.
-- Nassim Nicholas Taleb
On moral hazard: When you lose a billion but you still have several hundred million left, then it's your heirs that get hurt, not you.
-- Former Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, two months after Bear was bailed out
On too big to fail: Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.
-- Thomas Jefferson
On the sheer brilliance of short-sellers: When [a mortgage broker] started catapulting Porsche Carrera GTs and he says "What the hell, what are a couple of cars being thrown around,?" I'm thinking, "That's the guy you want to bet against."
-- Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who made $500 million betting against people who destroyed $500,000 cars for kicks
On ethics: Ability without honor is useless.
On thinking you understand complicated things: I'm astounded by people who want to "know" the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.
-- Woody Allen
On street smarts: In the corporate world, if you have analysts, due diligence, and no horse sense, you've just described hell.
-- Berkshire Hathaway
On making sense of things that don't make sense: As homo sapiens, we smugly believe that we are above robotic behavior. When men go off their collective rockers or act in a frenzy, we assume they have more complicated reasons. They must, we imagine, be suffering from some deep-seated maladjustment. Scholars charge off to the archives to look for structural defects in society, for failures in the economy, or even for anomalies in weather conditions. They are sure that some kind of tectonic shift underground must have produced World War I, that it was a change in ocean currents that set off the industrial revolution, and that a virus threat lurked behind the rise of the Pharaohs. Not many of them want to consider so simple a mechanism as an automatic animal response. And fewer of them consider what sort of ideas or events or figures might trigger such automatic responses.
-- Lila Rajiva
On unions: The weight of history on our results has been significant.
-- Former GM CEO Rick Wagoner
On chickens coming home to roost: Over a fifteen-year stretch ending in 2006, GM poured $55 billion into its workers' pension plan, compared to only $13 billion that it paid out in dividends.
-- Roger Lowenstein
On leverage: Lying rides upon debt's back.
-- Benjamin Franklin
On safety in numbers: Crowds, doubtless, are always unconscious, but this very unconsciousness is perhaps one of the secrets of their strength. In the natural world beings exclusively governed by instinct accomplish acts whose marvelous complexity astounds us. Reason is an attribute of humanity of too recent date and still too imperfect to reveal to us the laws of the unconscious, and still more to take its place. The part played by the unconscious in all our acts is immense, and that played by reason very small. The unconscious acts like a force still unknown.
-- Gustave LeBon
On the uselessness of the 24-hour business news cycle:
Jim Cramer: We've been out front and we've made mistakes. We've got 17 hours of live TV a day to do.
Jon Stewart, The Daily Show: Maybe you should cut down on that?
On the thrill of investing: A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the 99 which we had to work for, and the money won ... in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way.
-- Mark Twain
On long-term investing: The best a young person can hope for is to get old before he dies.
On drive: Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
-- Woody Allen
On hyperactive day traders: All man's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.
Economics explained in a nutshell: Critics ask how can it possibly be rational for a society to engineer its own ruin. Can't we see that everybody would be better off if everybody were to grab less of the common resource? The error in such reasoning is elementary. A player in the human game of life isn't some abstract entity called "everybody." We are all separate individuals, each with our own aims and purposes. Even when our capacity for love moves us to make sacrifices for others, we each do so in our own way and for our own reasons. If we pretend otherwise, we have no hope of ever getting to grips with the Tragedy of the Commons.
-- Ken Binmore, renowned game theorist.
That's all I've got. Maybe you can do better? Share away in the comment section below.
Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value and a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, and has a disclosure policy.