Tarot card reading and Economic forecasting

So I’ve started reading the moral philosophy and economics book I was discussing, and on the eighth page I found this quote:

The idea that studying ethics could help people do economics or policy analysis may seem far-fetched.  Why not consult tarot cards instead?

Now I do not agree with the first part of the above paragraph – policy analysis requires value judgments to reach conclusions, and understanding ethics helps to inform value judgments.

But my focus is on the second part of the paragraph.  Why the dig at tarot card reading?

My impression that his focus is on the broader form of economics that requires value judgments in order to reach conclusions – however, if this is what he is focused on tarot card reading is virtually equivalent.  Let’s discuss why:

What the hell does tarot card reading have to do with anything

I believe that anyone who writes tarot card reading off in this way does not actually know anything about it.

Although many tarot card readers may run around pretending to be mystical and magical, the idea behind tarot cards is acutally an extremely useful psychological device.  As Wikipedia says:

(Jung) may have regarded the tarot cards as representing archetypes: fundamental types of persons or situations embedded in the subconscious of all human beings.

Tarot cards represent typical social and individual elements involving human society.

Now, the cards by themselves don’t really mean anything – each card could be intrepeted in a myriad of different ways.  However, the cards provide a framework which a reader can apply value judgments to in order to provide explanations, descriptions, and predictions.

Is it me – or does the role of Tarot cards seem similar to the role of the economic method when people are looking at creating economic forecasts.


The role of Tarot cards is to place explicit discipline on what the reader can do and say – they are forced to describe things within the archetypes represented by the cards.

In the same way, economic forecasters are forced to work within the general economic framework when they make their predictions.  This discipline requires them to recognise that there are scarce resources, there are trade-offs, and that individuals are going to act in their self-interest.

Both sets of forecasters are also rewarded based on their predictive accuracy and their ability to explain their predictions – as both groups need to build up reputational capital.


Tarot card readers and economic forecasters have incredibly similar “meta-methods” (there has to be a better term) – at some abstract level the skills required by these disciplines match.

This is not an insult about either discipline – when it comes to applying value judgments both these groups are forcing themselves to stick to a certain “model” of the what they are explaining, a model that has been analysed and discussed by people over time.

5 replies
  1. agnitio
    agnitio says:

    Given how often you have told me in the past that taro cards are a load of crap and that you just make stuff up I find this comparison slightly concerning!

    disclaimer: I have only skimmed your post

  2. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    I believe I’ve said that the belief that putting down cards will magically create knowledge is a load of crap.

    However, given that they provide a framework which allows you to inform your value judgments they do have value – in the same way that economic forecasts come from applying value judgments to an economic framework.

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