Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The difference between life and sums

Just caught a bit of a Panorama about Ireland's economic problems. The banks, they say, "got it wrong". The government also "got it wrong". Thousands of citizens also "got it wrong" when they bought houses that they couldn't afford even when they had jobs. "Got it wrong" seems such an inadequate expression when you're trying to describe human behaviour in general and human folly in particular. I can see how a child might have "got it wrong" when failing to carry ten in a simple sum. But "got it wrong" seems to suggest that somewhere is a Big Book Of Human Affairs which you can consult for the right and the wrong answers to every question in the adult world.

"Got it wrong" seems to have grown in popularity in the last ten years. It's particularly popular with media commentators who apply it to everything from Gordon Brown's tax plans to a football team playing three at the back. What they fail to take into account is that in most cases where people have "got it wrong" they've been aware of the possibility that they might have "got it wrong" but were hoping that over time events would work out in such a way as to make it appear that they had actually "got it right". They were guilty of hoping for the best, which is what most of us do every morning. Let's hope all the media organisations that those commentators work for don't turn out to have "got it wrong" themselves.


  1. But isn't there something refreshingly honest about a politician, football manager or company boss who, instead of blaming unforseeen circumstances, the weather or a misinterpretation of his previous statements, puts his hands up and says "I got it wrong"?

  2. @CJ and PK: Yes it is refreshing to see people admit their failures. But what we expect of our leaders is a bit more than betting on red, and saying "I got it wrong" when the ball lands on black.

    The problem with the "Irish situation" is that "sensible behaviour" (only buying houses that you can afford) means that you get left behind if the bubble doesn't burst. Sometimes I think that CGT on income from residential property wasn't a bad idea...

  3. 488 million results for "Got it wrong" on Google. For this one, I think the photographer "got it wrong" on the lighting a bit as well ...

  4. There are people half our age making fortunes giggling at all this. As ever, it is best illustrated in a joke, but one few will find funny:

    Young Chuck in Montana bought a horse from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the horse the next day.

    The next day he drove up and said, 'Sorry son, but I have some bad news, the horse died.'

    Chuck replied, 'Well, then just give me my money back.'

    The farmer said, 'Can't do that. I went and spent it already'

    Chuck said, 'Ok, then, just bring me the dead horse.'

    The farmer asked, 'What ya gonna do with him?

    Chuck said, 'I'm going to raffle him off..'

    The farmer said, 'You can't raffle off a dead horse!'

    Chuck said, 'Sure I can, Watch me. I just won't tell any body he's dead.'

    A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, 'What happened with that dead horse?'

    Chuck said, 'I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars a piece and made a profit of $898.'

    The farmer said, 'Didn't anyone complain?'

    Chuck said, 'Just the guy who won.

    So I gave him his two dollars back.'

    Chuck grew up and works now for the government.

    He was the one who figured out how to 'bail us out'.