Apparently I’m not the only one to notice the rise of economists in cartoons during financial crises. As a related aside, this paper has some fabulous old crisis cartoons.
Economists have occasionally noticed the appearance of economists in cartoons produced for public amusement during crises. Yet the message behind such images has been less than fully appreciated. This paper provides evidence of such inattention in the context of the eighteenth century speculation known as the Mississippi Bubble. A cartoon in The Great Mirror of Folly imagines John Law in a cart that flies through the air drawn by a pair of beasts, reportedly chickens. The cart is not drawn by chickens, however, but by a Biblical beast whose forefather spoke to Eve about the consequences of eating from the tree of the knowledge. The religious image signifies the danger associated with knowledge. The paper thus demonstrates how images of the Mississippi Bubble focused on the hierarchy of knowledge induced by non-transparency. Many of the images show madness caused by alchemy, the hidden or "occult."