ECONOMISTS' reports seem to be the cultural icon of our time. Hong Kong is perhaps the place where economists are feted, venerated and listened to more than anywhere else. Yet it is questionable whether they tell us anything. This is not entirely their fault. The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and their counterparts in other NATO member countries, with huge resources, were unable to work out in 40 years that the Soviet system was gradually collapsing and near bankrupt. So what chance do half a dozen economists have of passing on particularly useful information? But economists' reports are a rule unto themselves. They are less hard-hitting than a broker's ''buy'' notice on HSBC Holdings, more nebulous than a campaign promise and not so easy to read. Yet the economic report is a great cultural icon for Hong Kong - quick to produce, cheap and quickly overtaken. An economist for a financial institution has an odd job which mostly revolves around keeping up with the news by reading the papers and watching the television. Articles that prove interesting - and which affect the market - are researched with phone calls. With a little background information, a little enlarging of the picture, the economist puts together a 2,000-word report with a broad-brush recommendation thrown in. But it's voodoo, as former US president George Bush once said. For example, one recent report says that North Korea is likely to pose the biggest security risk to Asia in 1994. Now, a few people may find that revelatory, but not those bothering to read economists' reports. They, like the economists, have cleverly spotted that a mad dictator who may have nuclear weapons is probably bad news for stability. The same report warns that ''external risks will dominate 1994'' in Hong Kong. The economists seem worried about the Sino-British relationship and its effect on Hong Kong. They are also concerned about the increasing linkage between Hong Kong's economy and that of the mainland. In their analysis, more linkage exposes Hong Kong to greater effects from any jarring of China's economy. Marvellous. There is more: more facts, more opinion, more out-of-date information about changes to the Chinese tax system as they affect expatriate workers in Special Economic Zones, but excluding those in Guangdong. And there is some excellent analysis of what may be ahead for China. Apparently, those who have been waking up at night worrying about the succession over the border need grind their teeth no longer, as it seems that any successor to Deng Xiaoping is certain to come from within the ruling Communist Party. Everyone can stop worrying about a year of vicious in-fighting followed by national fragmentation and a return to warlordism. Of course, economists do more than produce banal reports full of tips such as ''avoid stock-market investments on days beginning Black-''. They are always on hand to help journalists or investors with questions. For instance, without Hong Kong's local Corps Economique we would never have known that inflation in the territory was linked to vegetable price rises in Guangdong. What economists tell us is not untrue, just rather obvious, and we would not expect them to change their ways having read this article. But we can at least offer them an alternative reason for blips in the territory's monthly inflation chart. ''Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited . . . When modes of music change, the fundamental laws of state change with them.'' So said Plato, writing when there was not enough political economy to support political economists. And as a different explanation for inflation, it beats the price of sprouts in Shenzhen.