We seem to be living in the age of the one weird trick. The phrase is now frequently encountered in advertisements, which promise one weird trick that will do almost everything from reducing belly fat to increasing penis size to providing a steady income stream, while the concept seems to be popping up everywhere.
The one weird trick for reviving an ailing economy, for instance, has been to print gazillions of additional dollars. This is called “quantitative easing” in the modern parlance, but it is an old weird trick that has been frequently attempted over the years. It didn’t work out well for the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe or countless other countries inclined to such weird tricks, but this time around it is credited with keeping America from sliding into third-world poverty and the earth from hurtling into the sun. Future historians will adjudge these claims better than we can, but it already seems clear that after more than five years of unprecedented money-printing the program has worked well enough that for the time being the Federal Reserve will slow down to pumping a mere $65 billion of bond purchases into the economy every month. This one weird trick is called “tapering,” and is prompted by the fact that enough Americans have at last given up any hope of finding a job to reduce the unemployment rate to below 7 percent, which is the one weird trick the government uses to make the economy look rosy.
The stock markets are supposed to be reassured by the optimistic rationale behind the tapering, but thus far investors seemed more concerned about the suddenly missing billions of newly-printed money that wouldn’t have had anywhere to go in a zero-interest environment other than the irrationally exuberant stock markets. Aside from the phony baloney unemployment numbers the stock markets’ recent unaccountable record highs were the only reasons for the Fed’s optimism, so a steep dive in stock values might cause a perception or a slumping economy which leads inevitably to the reality of a slumping economy and thus forces a return to the quantitative easing that created the perception of a booming economy, so there might be hope for your 401-K yet. The one weird trick then becomes even weirder, and thus all the more brilliant.
Anyone who contemplated economics back in the days of Ronald Reagan or Calvin Coolidge or Adam Smith would probably prefer unleashing the entrepreneurial energies of a free people from the heavy hand of taxation and government regulation and subsidization of sloth, in which case they would almost certainly find the current supply of dollars quite sufficient to meet demand, and they might have a point. We would be tempted to use weird tricks to flatten our bellies and swell our endowments and thereby earn a steady income stream in the gigolo trade, thus contributing a far greater share to the gross domestic product, and there’s no telling what weird tricks more imaginative and industrious fellows might come up with, but apparently free market capitalism is a bit too weird a trick in a the age of the one weird trick.
That “one weird trick” catchphrase always seemed a strange marketing ploy, as “weird” had previously implied a troublesome sort of strangeness and “trick” had negative connotations in almost every sense of the word. Tricks are what cheesy nightclub magicians do to make an audience think they’re witnessing something extraordinary, or what prostitutes do with their clients, or what the devious pull on the trusting and gullible. In its most modern incarnation the word seems to hold out the promise of a short-cut to success that doesn’t entail hard work or actual accomplishment. We’re still trying to figure out what weird trick Justin Beiber used to become famous, or Barack Obama used to be elected and re-elected, or how we arrived at this age of the one weird trick, but we are not happy to be here or at all confident that it is a sound economic policy.
— Bud Norman