Unless you’ve been hiding in a bunker for last decades and have only now joined the internet (as the world didn’t end today), you must have heard the bear “joke”, which, in one of its variations, goes like this:
Two fellows are walking along in the woods when they spot a grizzly bear coming over the horizon. Terrified, the two fellows break into a cold sweat and start to run as quickly as they can, with the bear in hot pursuit. The bear, being a faster runner, keeps gaining on them.
After running for awhile, one of the two fellows suddenly stops dead in his tracks and begins to change out of his loafers and into the running shoes he has been carrying with him in his backpack.
His companion can’t believe how stupid a move such a shoe change is. The companion yells, “You must be crazy. Even with running shoes you can’t possibly outrun a bear!”
The fellow who has stopped to change shoes replies, “I don’t need to outrun the grizzly. I just need to outrun you.” Source
<insert polite laughter here>
Consultants and economists love to use this analogy for all sorts of situations. You might have recently heard it with a lion (representing inflation) instead of a bear. The message is always the same: “Outrun the other guy, and you’ll be fine (while he gets eaten)”.
Unfortunately, the bear analogy is problematic on every level:
- Practical level: You stop to put on your running shoes? Yeah, you’re dead.
- Moral level: Don’t worry about leaving someone behind to save yourself. That’s how economic benefits are maximized. You survived because you won in a fair competition.
- Model level: “It’s a bear! OMG! Good thing I know what to do (take my knife and stab my buddy in the leg, then run away faster than him)”. Except that the bear might not even be interested in you (or the backpack that you refuse to drop). To stay with the theme of the day, I suggest that he’s running away. From a giant avalanche. Which won’t stop just because you run a bit faster than some other poor soul.