What Economists Really Care About

According to my college transcript, I’m am an economist, meaning that I majored in economics. My father used to ask me what exactly an economist did and I never could answer him. I had no idea at the time and I have never had a job with the title “economist”. I choose economics as a major because I had a professor in an entry-level economics class tell us that economics was useful because the concepts could be applied to anything. If I had had more foresight in the early nineties then I would have figured out how to use my knowledge to try and explain baseball, before Fangraphs and other sites beat me to it.

These days there are plenty of economists weighing in on what is going on in the US and in Europe. Economics is excellent because no one can every be definitively right or definitively wrong. There are no ways to hold everything else constant to test a hypothesis. The stimulus enacted by presidents Bush and Obama were either successful or unsuccessful depending on your preexisting ideology. However, there can be areas of agreement. For example, a number of economists agree that tacos from food trucks are delicious.

Felix Salmon at Reuters started this off by posing a few theories about why food truck tacos are better than restaurant tacos. His preferred theory is that food trucks reduce the time between taking a tortilla off the stove and putting it in your mouth.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones agrees with Salmon’s theory and mentions that while his favorite taco is from a restaurant, it is still hot when it gets to his plate. However, Drum loses credibility when he mentions “shells” which implies hard tacos instead of soft tacos. I can’t imagine any taco lover would prefer hard tacos.

Matthew Yglesias at Moneybox (at Slate) has a more economically-based theory that the only competitive advantage that food trucks have over traditional restaurants is to make the food good. Yglesias also generously posts a link to a book by Tyler Cowen (at Marginal Revolution) who has also pondered the food experience. (This was one of the rare recent posts in which Yglesias did not pimp his own book.)

With all due respect to these eminent (or at least prominent, or at least read) economists, I have a different theory. Going along with my idea that we love to feel like we discovered things, I think that eating from a food truck and then recommending it makes us feel like we are in on something before other people. After all, no one devotes space in their blog to the latest burger iteration from Burger King or McDonald’s (at least not among the liberal elite).

I’m not sure if tacos from food trucks are actually better than tacos in restaurants or not. Drum suggests a blind taste test but I’d rather not know for sure. I’d rather just get the psychic pleasure along with the gustatory pleasure. I’d rather continue to talk up places like the vendors at the Red Hook ball fields and Smorgasburg, where the food is as satisfying as the feeling that you know something that not everybody else knows.