The vocabulary of economics, like other specialized vocabularies, is enriched by coinages and borrowings: the Laffer curve, the affluent society, the agency problem. Contrary to a widespread impression among noneconomists, though, understanding the vocabulary of economics is not the same as understanding economics. Indeed, noneconomists come equipped with their own vocabulary for the economy, which dominates their thinking about it. Call it Ersatz Economics. In the Ersatz Economics of the person in the street, prices start by “skyrocketing” (have you ever seen a skyrocket? what price do you know that goes off like that?). When “sellers outnumber buyers,” prices fall from “exorbitant” or “gouging” levels down through “fair” and “just.” If this “vicious cycle” goes on too long, though, they fall to “unfair” and “cutthroat,” the result of “dumping.” Likewise, the person in the street believes she knows that unions and “international corporations” have more “bargaining power” than do their victims, and therefore can “exploit” them. A consumer can “afford” medical care, maybe only “barely afford” it, “needs” housing, and views food as a “basic necessity.” Business people maintain their “profit margins,” probably “obscene” or “unwarranted,” by “passing along” the cost of a higher wage, which causes workers to demand still higher wages, in a “spiral.” The protection of the American worker’s “living wage” from “unfair competition” by “cheap foreign labor” should be high on the nation’s list of “priorities,” as should be the “rebuilding” of our “collapsing” industrial “base.”

No such locutions should pass the lips of a professional economist. Likewise in other fields. To write thoughtfully in economics or sociology or business or government you must clear your mind of such cant, just as to understand astronomy you must stop talking about the sun “rising.”

McCloskey, Deirdre N.. Economical Writing, Third Edition (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) (pp. 90-91). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.