Commentary

George Bernard Shaw said if all the economists were laid end to end, they’d never reach a conclusion.

I don’t know if he’s right. But all those stretched-out economists sure would look funny.

Otherwise, economists aren’t known for getting laughs. I can’t envision Alan Greenspan doing standup comedy. But I can kind of see Gene Stanaland doing it.

Stanaland is a speaker-circuit favorite. He mixes humor with economics, an unusual confection. He makes people laugh and think, usually in that order.

He recently spoke at the Consumer Bankers Assn.’s 2007 Automobile Conference in Austin, TX. He got laughs from the bankers, a group usually more interested in bottom lines than punch lines.

Stanaland is known as the “Will Rogers of economics.” The CBA billed him as “back by popular demand.”

He looks like an owlish college professor. That’s what he was before becoming president of GSE, an economics and management consulting firm.

He taught economics at Auburn University in Alabama. He graduated from Auburn’s in-state rival, the University of Alabama. He jokes about both schools.

Like: “They don’t serve ice water at the University of Alabama anymore because the guy with the recipe retired.”

And: “You can tell if someone’s from Auburn. He’s the guy who throws a pin and holds a hand grenade in his mouth.”

He also pokes fun at economists.

“An economist is someone who didn’t have the personality to be an accountant,” he tells the bankers, who liked that one.

He kids about economists’ forecasting powers, saying they’ve predicted “seven of the last three recessions.”

That said, Stanaland thinks people should better understand economics. If they did, they wouldn’t ask him odd questions, such as how he thinks the President of the United States is handling the stock market or the economy.

“The president handling the stock market?” he asks incredulously.

And it is a heroic assumption that any presidential administration can handle an $11.5 trillion economy, says Stanaland. “The best they can hope for is to hang on and pray.”

He’s not confident the U.S. government has what it takes to tackle tough economic issues. “In Washington, politics comes first and everything else second.”

Stanaland is one of my favorite economists. For a different reason, so too is Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

Like Stanaland, Taylor looks like an economist. Unlike Stanaland, Taylor acts like an economist when giving sonorous presentations at industry gatherings.

Oh, occasionally Taylor will throw in an animated comment, such as, “I think 1,000 flowers will bloom, as the Chinese say,” when talking about the prospects of Chinese and Indian auto makers selling vehicles in the U.S.

Otherwise, Taylor’s presentations are as dry as pressed flowers.

Yet, his serious demeanor and delivery belie the fact that he played in a rock ‘n’ roll band to help pay for his schooling and he’s a long-time Chevrolet Corvette nut, an automotive avidity inherited from his family.

Taylor also can be unconventional. A lively conversationalist off-stage, he once told me over breakfast that, commuting to NADA offices in McLean, VA, he’d pass by a large parking lot where new vehicles are stored before being shipped to dealers.

Based on how many particular models were there at a given time, he’d forecast which ones would soon carry hefty incentives at the dealerships.

That’s one economic indicator you won’t find in the textbooks. Or the joke books.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com