Did you hear the one about the economist and the sheep?

August 28, 1998

There is a convention that almost every speech at a conference must begin with a joke. Such jokes can reveal much about the obsessions and bugbears of the delegates.

And just what is it that preoccupies the delegates at the Association of Commonwealth Universities gathering? Answer: economists and vice-chancellors, as the following sample of humourous gems reveals: * An academic conference is a group of people who, individually, can do nothing but, together, decide that nothing can be done.

* To fulfil the role of vice-chancellor, a person will need a head of grey hair to lend a look of authority and a case of haemorrhoids to offer a look of intense concern.

* Two balloonists on a transcontinental voyage ran into low cloud and were blown off course. Drifting near the ground, they spotted a man walking below. One of them asked where they were. The man replied: "In a balloon." The man who had asked the question turned to his fellow traveller and said:

"We must be near a university. I just spoke to a vice-chancellor." "How did you know he was a vice-chancellor?" his companion asked. "Because he spoke with a firm sense of authority and gave us information that was completely accurate and completely useless."

* If you laid all economists end to end, you would not be able to reach a conclusion.

* A World Bank economist is visiting a city experiencing some recent success. The mayor describes how his city has turned itself around: "It has seen a great drop in unemployment, incredible growth in general revenues and an increase in literacy and its standard of living.

"Yes," the economist intoned, "but does it work in theory?" * Old vice-chancellors never die: they simply lose their faculties.

* An economist meets a shepherd with a large flock of sheep and bets him a sheep that he can guess the number in the flock. The shepherd reckons he is on to a winner and agrees. "Three-hundred and forty-seven," says the economist, and picks up his prize. The shepherd suggests double or quits and bets that he can guess the economist's profession. The economist sees a certain winner and agrees, only for the shepherd correctly to identify his job. "How did you know?" the economist asks. "Put down my sheepdog and I'll tell you," the shepherd replies.

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