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Economist attacks Krugman as superficial and partisan.
September 28, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Paul Krugman attacked professional macroeconomists (previously). John Cochrane, an economist at the University of Chicago, returns the favor, arguing that Krugman deeply misrepresents current economic ideas because he's abandoned economics as a "quest for understanding" in favor of trying to be the "Rush Limbaugh of the Left."
posted by shivohum (77 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that's inflammatory and a pretty silly comparison.
I don't always agree with Krugman, and sometimes think he's dead wrong. Yeah, he nailed the coming of the current crisis before most others. But that in-of-itself would only makes him an impressive one trick pony. He is, of course, more than that. But, he is hardly infallible. I do however think Krugman is sincere in most of what he writes and honest about it. Limbaugh on the other hand is just an entertainer. I've a hard time believing Limbaugh believes everything that comes out of Limbaugh's mouth.
posted by edgeways at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Krugman wants to be Rush Limbaugh of the Left" is a stupid thing to say, and either he knows he's using disingenuous hyperbole, or he holds Rush Limbaugh in suspiciously high esteem.
posted by diogenes at 10:01 AM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


The biggest difference between Limbaugh and Krugman is of course that Limbaugh has one a Nobel Prize twice.

(And a University of Chicago economist thinks he has credibility, especially on matters "since the 1960s"? Did Milton Friedman die in vain?)
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has there ever been such a nasty fight between opposing schools of thought in an academic subject? I don't recall ever hearing paleontologists or geologists publicly call each other names.
posted by diogenes at 10:05 AM on September 28, 2009


Someone is gonna beat me to this but.

I don't recall ever hearing paleontologists or geologists publicly call each other names.

The Great Bone War


Careers were *ruined* because of this.
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 AM on September 28, 2009 [13 favorites]


Imagine this weren’t economics for a moment. Imagine this were a respected scientist turned popular writer, who says, most basically, that everything everyone has done in his field since the mid 1960s is a complete waste of time. Everything that fills its academic journals, is taught in its PhD programs, presented at its conferences, summarized in its graduate textbooks, and rewarded with the accolades a profession can bestow, including multiple Nobel prizes, is totally wrong.

Translation: "Imagine if, instead of attacking us, he'd attacked someone who didn't suck — wouldn't that be, like, totally mean?"
posted by enn at 10:07 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Krugman commented on the backlash on his blog.
posted by diogenes at 10:09 AM on September 28, 2009


I think we need a Limbaugh-based corollary for Godwin's Law.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


The Great Bone War

Okay, I concede that paleontologists have called each other names :)

I'm sure there have been public feuds in every subject, but this one seems unique in how much it is spilling out of the academic arena and into the popular media.
posted by diogenes at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2009


Reading or listening to Krugman, it's easy to tell that he's more interested in selling papers and generating media hype than actually trying to truly investigate the issues, which is lamentable.

Then again, selling newspapers is really what writing a newspaper column is all about. If you take everything Krugman says with a grain of salt, you'll sleep better at night.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on September 28, 2009


In other words, Krugman may be an asshole, but he's our asshole.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


this one seems unique in how much it is spilling out of the academic arena and into the popular media.

It's only unique because it (economics) effects most people's actual lives. The majority of people will never be touched by passionate arguments about palentology, geology, quantum physics, etc. Doesn't mean there aren't just as passionate feuds every day in those fields.
posted by spicynuts at 10:21 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, pretty much when someone trots out the Limbaugh/Coulter equivalency argument, I stop listening to them.

If someone thinks there is anyone who appears on NPR from time to time or gets national airtime for the left who is as obscenely foul as those jackasses, they are not dealing with what we commonly call reality.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:21 AM on September 28, 2009 [12 favorites]


This would be a better article if it didn't read like it was written by a totally peevish dick.
posted by The Straightener at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Tangentially, have you noticed that Coulter, Limbaugh, and Beck become disreputable when right wingers use them as points of comparison with lefites. Like, when they go after Michael Moore, they're all like, he's your Ann Coulter, he's your Glen Beck, he's your Limbaugh?

Really, because your complaint about Moore is that he is a partisan liar. You've just admitted that you know that Coulter, Beck, and Limbaugh are partisan liars! How come this only comes out when you have a complain about a lefty, and otherwise, as far as you are concerned, they are moderate and reasonable voices from the Conservative side?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [23 favorites]


All these damn professors - Why take advice from people who don't have to compete in the real job market because they are tenured? How can they really understand the economy? It's like taking marital advice from a priest.

I kid. Sort of.
posted by spicynuts at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember the old Bloom County strip where the scariest thing to ever come out of Milo Binkley's anxiety closet were two economists debating the economy?

No, don't say it!
What, the economy? Oh, it's getting better.
No it isn't.
But what of the deficit?
Oh, phooey, the deficit!
AIYEEE!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


KokuRyu-- What has Krugman written that you think is wrong and/or evidence that "he's more interested in selling papers and generating media hype"? He can be snarky, but I can't recall, off the top of my head, anything by him that crosses that line into "look at me" type stuff.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Has there ever been such a nasty fight between opposing schools of thought in an academic subject? I don't recall ever hearing paleontologists or geologists publicly call each other names.

There was the Leibniz-Clarke(psssst...it was really Newton) debate in physics. Actually, speaking of Newton and Leibniz, there's the fight over the discovery of the calculus in which it was not enough for Newton to simply win, he had to have Leibniz trashed publicly in the process. (A summary of that debate: Leibniz brought a knife to a gunfight.)

Those two leapt to mind when you said that. Others probably know more such examples.
posted by el_lupino at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2009


Has there ever been such a nasty fight between opposing schools of thought in an academic subject?

The more specialized an academic field, the smaller the stakes may seem to become, yet the harsher the fights are. Everywhere. All over the academic world.

Apart from that, the main problem with Cochran vs Krugman is not that one of them may be right and the other not. But it is simply that economics isn't science enough to make unmistakably clear who is right or who is not. The truth may be completely different yet again.

Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification, as Popper said.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2009


KokuRyu/imbcginty---

I'm totally open to the idea that Krugman posesses a degree of disingenuousness, but a counter-example would be that he espoused opposition to the Iraq war from the very beginning, when such positions were getting people like Phil Donahue fired.
posted by HotPants at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2009


I won't claim to know enough about macroeconomics to truly speak as an expert on the subject, but this guy's comparison of Krugman with "an AIDS-HIV disbeliever" is such bullshit. Dear sir, you believe in the efficient market HYPOTHESIS. I'm fairly certain they don't call it the AIDS hypothesis. Good job invalidating your subsequent arguments via vast hyperbole.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


A fine example of highly publicized professional competition would, of course, be Tesla/Edison.
posted by HotPants at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, so no one actually read the article:
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Krugman isn’t trying to be an economist, he is trying to be a partisan, political opinion writer. This is not an insult. I read George Will, Charles Krauthnammer and Frank Rich with equal pleasure even when I disagree with them. Krugman wants to be Rush Limbaugh of the Left.

Is there any dispute that Krugman is trying to be a partisan political opinion writer?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Imagine this were a respected scientist turned popular writer,

Economists often imagine themselves to be scientists. Always amusing.
posted by atrazine at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2009 [12 favorites]


Is there any dispute that Krugman is trying to be a partisan political opinion writer?

Is that what Limbaugh is? And all this time I thought he was demagogue.
posted by diogenes at 10:42 AM on September 28, 2009


Has there ever been such a nasty fight between opposing schools of thought in an academic subject?

I retract this question!
posted by diogenes at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there have been public feuds in every subject, but this one seems unique in how much it is spilling out of the academic arena and into the popular media.

Because like philosophy and political science, everyone thinks themselves an expert in economics.

(even Chicago School grads, bizarrely)
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:46 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is there any dispute that Krugman is trying to be a partisan political opinion writer?

The point he is making is that Krugman's assertions are not built on sound economics, but rather a desire to make a partisant point. And that is false. Krugman's whole point is that the only reason the freshwater schools treat Keynesianism as AIDS denial is that they wrote it out of their curriculum for ideological reasons. And now you have a whole generation of Friendmanites who don't even know half the story, because it was expunged.

The most valid comparison to willful ignorance here is that Keynes got Gallileo'd out of Freshwater Neoclassical Economics departments.

also...how do you "try" to be a partisan political opinion writer? Aren't you one or not?
posted by HotPants at 10:48 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


partisan*

Friedmanites*
posted by HotPants at 10:49 AM on September 28, 2009


It’s annoying to the victims
Pathetic - you have a political position (since that's what subscribing to certain positions on economics implies) and someone disagrees with you in a public forum. This does not make you a victim.
the central empirical prediction of the efficient markets hypothesis is precisely that nobody can tell where markets are going
But we do know they're taking us there efficiently!
posted by Abiezer at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2009


Pastabagel: When he says "This is not an insult." in accusing him of "trying to be a partisan, political opinion writer" he is being disingenuous. He may not mean it as an insult precisely, but he DOES mean it to discredit him. It may be factually correct but I think people were reacting to his intent rather than the factual content.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2009


a totally peevish dick

That pretty much sums up John Cochrane. He was on a panel discussion about the economic crisis I attended last year. The other four panelists, if I recall, were another U of C econ professor, the head of the Chicago Fed, the head of the Chicago mercantile exchange, and some big businessman--so not exactly a left-leaning group. Yet Cochrane was clearly the only totally peevish dick in the bunch--he's probably 30 years old or so, everyone else was at least 50, and they were making serious, measured comments about the crisis, admitting that more regulation was necessary, that the markets had failed, that credit default swaps maybe weren't that great of an idea... Cochrane, on the other hand, interrupted them every few minutes or so to say, with total condescension and mock-incredulity, "Are you crazy? Have you forgotten that free markets can't fail?! What we need is less regulation, not more!" and so on. He was clearly getting a kick out of being the brash young professor taking it to these clueless adults.

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why he was in academia, when he acted like a perfect caricature of the type of investment bankers who perpetrated much of the crisis--it's like they all got together in their secret meeting, and the head peevish dick i-banker asked for someone to go be their representitive in academia, and Cochrane, for whatever reason, volunteered.
posted by notswedish at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2009 [17 favorites]


Krugman's original column (which sparked Cochrane's irked response). The Economist has published two articles, a rebuttal, and observed the debate on the state of macroeconomics, all of which might serve as useful context to the increasingly personal spat between Krugman and the Chicago school.

While I think 'Rush Limbaugh of the Left' is uncalled-for, I do agree with Cochrane that Krugman has descended into economic populism and his arguments are increasingly characterized by rhetoric rather than rigor. I'm unqualified to judge the current economic argument - both sides seem to have some good points - but I've been trying to find the Keynesian arguments from someone other than Krugman, whose dislike of the Austrian school seems to verge on the irrational (from 1998, but seemingly consistent with his current views):

Here's the problem: As a matter of simple arithmetic, total spending in the economy is necessarily equal to total income (every sale is also a purchase, and vice versa). So if people decide to spend less on investment goods, doesn't that mean that they must be deciding to spend more on consumption goods—implying that an investment slump should always be accompanied by a corresponding consumption boom? And if so why should there be a rise in unemployment?

Surely Paul Krugman cannot believe this; it would only be true in an economy where credit and debt did not exist, and is as foolish as the libertarian bedtime story about the man who comes to a hotel with a $100 bill (recently). The alternative is that he's dumbing things down for his readership, which to my mind is even worse. I really wonder whether he's an honest disputant: his arguments about the economics of healthcare during the Democratic primaries in 2008 seemed deeply contorted.

The NYT editorial department offers an interesting clue.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Krugman was wrong; while Greenspan was printing money furiously in 2002, 2003, and 2004 sending real interest rates into negative territory, Krugman was calling for a more aggressive monetary policy than even Greenspan thought was right.

Nouriel Roubini, Marc Faber, Stephen Roach, Doug Noland and Robert Schiller, among many others, all knew disaster was looming and were arguing for tighter monetary policy at the same time Krugman was telling Greenspan to keep the presses rolling.
posted by otto42 at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


But it is simply that economics isn't science

That needed to be repeated.

Given its not 'science' - how does one 'prove' something...something like one is wrong and the other is right?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2009


All these damn professors - Why take advice from people who don't have to compete in the real job market because they are tenured? How can they really understand the economy? It's like taking marital advice from a priest.

Which was exactly the point I made to my tenured-at-the-same-university-for-his-entire-working-life father when he started giving me pointed advice about how to manage my (admittedly pathetic) career path. That would have been the trigger for the FIRST time he stopped speaking to me, but it was a good point to which he had no response.
posted by hippybear at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2009


Now, I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Krugmaniac by any stretch, but this still seems like an unfair charge to me. See, to me this:

Paul Krugman attacked professional macroeconomists (previously). John Cochrane, an economist at the University of Chicago, returns the favor...

...misrepresents things a bit.

What Krugman did was to attack the ideas held by certain professional macroeconomists, and to criticize the professional culture that had fostered those ideas. What Cochrane seems to be doing here is responding with a personal attack on Krugman. You'd think a career academic of all people would realize why that's a wrong-headed approach.

Also this bit (my emphasis) is revealing to me:
Paul Krugman has no interesting ideas whatsoever about what caused our current financial and economic problems
Cochrane obviously can't claim that Krugman offers no ideas, because he does. The Krugman article in contention offers plenty of suggestions about what went wrong. For example:
Unfortunately, this romanticized and sanitized vision of the economy led most economists to ignore all the things that can go wrong. They turned a blind eye to the limitations of human rationality that often lead to bubbles and busts; to the problems of institutions that run amok; to the imperfections of markets — especially financial markets — that can cause the economy’s operating system to undergo sudden, unpredictable crashes; and to the dangers created when regulators don’t believe in regulation.
But apparently those ideas--that, among other things, Great Depression era economic lessons are still just as relevant today as they ever were--aren't "interesting" enough for Cochrane.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Shorter Cochrane: Having accused my opponent of personal attacks and discounting an entire field of economics, I will now proceed to do exactly the same.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2009


...economics as a "quest for understanding"

Ah! That explains the past umpteen decades of Chicago School economists using us and our economy as highly expendable lab rats. It's all merely been about the "quest for understanding." I feel much better about the job losses and pay cuts now, thanks.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Beat you by 16 days shivohum! Though I guess the proper way to get discussion on Metafilter is to pose the issue as a new partisan fight.

A thorough collection of different reactions is at Economist's View.

Also, can anyone here actually claim to be more enlightened in economics by reading Krugman's articles? I think that's a significant point of Cochrane's.
posted by FuManchu at 11:15 AM on September 28, 2009


Also, can anyone here actually claim to be more enlightened in economics by reading Krugman's articles?

*Raises hand*
posted by diogenes at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am more enlightened in economics by reading Krugman's articles, although possibly not to John Cochrane's satisfaction.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2009


Can you really read something like this and not think there's any economic information being conveyed?
posted by diogenes at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2009


That Bone Wars thing looks like great FPP material.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2009


... Cochrane, on the other hand, interrupted them every few minutes or so to say, with total condescension and mock-incredulity, "Are you crazy? Have you forgotten that free markets can't fail?! What we need is less regulation, not more!" and so on. He was clearly getting a kick out of being the brash young professor taking it to these clueless adults.

Which I think lends some weight to Krugman's criticism, that Cochrane returned to twice in his rebuttal, once calling Krugman a "luddite," of Chicago-schoolers having taken beauty for truth. Or, that certain members of the Chicago school concluded that there was some implicit infalibity in their ideas no matter how they co-opted and distorted by power they became in practice because of the amount of mathematics that went into devising them. I went to Chicago, I feel that this is a problem in most departments there, this idea that theory is purity, practice is low and dirty, and so who cares how the policies your ideas fuel pan out for the average person. This was the exact problem in the political science department there that had Chicago neocons like Wolfowitz thinking Freedom (capital "F," always with the capitals) would flourish like daisies throughout the Middle East once we were so generous as to bestow it upon them. Chicago is an institution that is possessed by Platonic ideals, often to its detriment.

I think that's all Krugman was really saying in his article, and I think he was right.
posted by The Straightener at 11:30 AM on September 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


What has Krugman written that you think is wrong and/or evidence that "he's more interested in selling papers and generating media hype"? He can be snarky, but I can't recall, off the top of my head, anything by him that crosses that line into "look at me" type stuff.

I just think there's a big difference in style between writing an opinion column and creating an economic paper.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2009


Astro Zombie: "Tangentially, have you noticed that Coulter, Limbaugh, and Beck become disreputable when right wingers use them as points of comparison with lefites. Like, when they go after Michael Moore, they're all like, he's your Ann Coulter, he's your Glen Beck, he's your Limbaugh?

Really, because your complaint about Moore is that he is a partisan liar. You've just admitted that you know that Coulter, Beck, and Limbaugh are partisan liars! How come this only comes out when you have a complain about a lefty, and otherwise, as far as you are concerned, they are moderate and reasonable voices from the Conservative side?
"

Essential to the Christian Right-wing mindset is a persecution complex. They actually recognize (if only subconsciously) that Limbaugh and company are not centered commentators. They view them as counterweights on the other side of an implied teetertotter of media opinion, to even out liberal media bias. They don't see them as centrist at all; the populist right views them as the reverse of the "liberal media."

But then they go and get all their news from them. And they'd scream and moan if one suggested that the problem has been solved, or doesn't exist, and thus the need for Limbaugh and company has passed. They don't actually view the perceived problem as one that can be solved: they view the mainstream media with the same kind of kneejerk prejudice with which they view politicians, as representative of the crookedness of the world, crookedness they they see as part of the essential nature of the "fallen world*." Because they consider the system to be hopelessly corrupt, instead of trying to "fix" it, they are trying to end-run around it by creating a separate-but-equal conservative version, which should do until Jesus returns**.

They are able to persist in believing this despite available evidence because they don't read enough real news to tell otherwise, and when they are exposed to it they've been so indoctrinated to the existence of media bias that they'd see it in a weather report. ("Hurricane Katrina hates our freedom!")

So: They view the media, in general, as out to get them. They present Limbaugh, to the world, as a counter to that. But they themselves get their own information solely from the counter, and the talk radio/Fox News segment of the media perpetuates this misconception because it helps their ratings.

* "Fallen world": the Christian Right basically sees Satan as in charge of the Earth, and all non-Christian human institutions as corrupt. If you identify yourself as not a Christian, then basically you can't ever make an argument any of them will accept, because they'll mentally impose Satan's visage over your face while you talk.

** This is a major weakness in Christian Right political planning; since they literally think Jesus will be coming back any day now, they tend to cash their chips in early, not planning, politically, for the long-term. Anyone on their side who does so plan is probably pandering to them by faking it.
posted by JHarris at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Economics Is Not Natural Science
posted by dragonsi55 at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu, an economics paper *is* an opinion column. There's not one ounce of science in an economics paper, just bad maths to obfuscate and make it seem like it deserves a Nobel Prize.
posted by vivelame at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


diogenes, nice. That's exactly what I think readers should expect from him. I don't regularly read his blog, so maybe he has a lot more of that in there. I get annoyed by Krugman leaving that out, while still finding space to insult his opponents, in his regular column.

Also, guys, the argument is not as clear cut as Krugman or Cochrane make it. Read through the articles I linkesd to at Economists's View. There's plenty of New Keynesianism taught, as I understand it. There's also a tendency to create admittedly imperfect models in all the fields. Otherwise you're stuck having to listen to gurus make hand-wavy arguments about The Way Things Are.
posted by FuManchu at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2009


Diogenes, the answer is "yeah, but it's read (and understood!!) by the masses, so it's worthless."
posted by vivelame at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2009


Yet Cochrane was clearly the only totally peevish dick in the bunch--he's probably 30 years old or so, everyone else was at least 50

Not that this is a crucial point, but he's more like 50. He graduated from MIT in 1979.
posted by Perplexity at 11:51 AM on September 28, 2009


If anybody makes a Bone Wars FPP, be sure to include a link to Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards.
posted by box at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2009


"If you lined up all the economists in the world end to end ... no two of them would agree."

(Personally, I respect both Krugman's writing and his honesty, while reading widely.)
posted by namasaya at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2009


Economics Is Not Natural Science

Economics is more like Science Fiction, and this is like a debate between hard core Trekkies and Jedis. No, wait, Krugman's more of a Firefly/Serenity Browncoat, right? Or one is Cory Doctorow and the other John Scalzi, yeah, that's the ticket.
posted by wendell at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


All these damn professors - Why take advice from people who don't have to compete in the real job market because they are tenured?

Cuts close to the bone. I'll attempt a rebuttal.

a) to move from tenure-track assistant professor to tenured full professor at a major research university takes at least 12 years of highly competitive work (top journals often reject 90% of submitted articles and NSF and NIH funding levels often dip below 10% of submitted proposals).
b) those traders in the investment banks and the financial products guys in AIG? They were competing for a career. Really worked out well for the rest of us.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2009


There's also a tendency to create admittedly imperfect models in all the fields.

And my oft-repeated mantra, due to GEP Box: All models are wrong, but some are useful.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2009


All these damn professors - Why take advice from people who don't have to compete in the real job market because they are tenured?

Macroeconomics is not microeconomics.
posted by callmejay at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2009


Bone Wars sounds like a battle between drug manufacturers over whose pill makes the most stupendous boner. Paging Mr. Moore. Paging Mr. Michael Moore.
posted by jamstigator at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2009


KokuRyu, an economics paper *is* an opinion column. There's not one ounce of science in an economics paper, just bad maths to obfuscate and make it seem like it deserves a Nobel Prize.

=

Your favorite academic department sucks.
posted by HotPants at 12:34 PM on September 28, 2009


I read Krugman and find him informative. Having an economics undergrad helps, I think. Brad DeLong has chimed in on this too.

I have researched in another entirely unrelated field that has had a similar issue where new researchers came along and committed fallacies that had been well diagnosed historically, but they were willfully unaware of. Krugman's analysis rings true. I suspect that the growth of knowledge and total accumulation of knowledge in many fields has made this kind of mistake much more likely to happen.
posted by idb at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


So a lot of "soft" things can be quantifiable. For instance:

How many people will meet the love of their life in the next ten minutes?

Well, there are six billion people on earth. More than one.
Well, there are six billion people on earth. Less than six billion.

OK, the answer is somewhere in there.

Economics has something of the same root. What policies will keep the economy moving?

No money? No, that fails.
Free money? No, that fails too.

So we know the answer is somewhere in the middle as well.

The problem is that, to answer the question of how many people will fall in love, we know we're going to be handwaving because we just don't have that much data to go on and the problem is visibly ill-posed. Economics has more data to work from, and is frankly so much more important, that it's tempting to think we aren't still waving our hands.

Doesn't mean we aren't. Also doesn't mean there isn't information to be found.

The biggest problem economists have, is taking into account how long people will fund an obviously bad situation because it remains in their perceived interest to do so. Crashes happen when the music stops, and predicting that is like predicting earthquakes.
posted by effugas at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, there are six billion people on earth. More than one.
Bzzzt.
It's possible that absolutely no one will meet the love of their life in the next 10 minutes.
Estimating is hard. Let's go shopping.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:56 PM on September 28, 2009


Diogenes, the answer is "yeah, but it's read (and understood!!) by the masses, so it's worthless."

School textbooks are read and understood by the masses. So are popular science books, magazines, etc. Are you saying that these are worthless as well?

Hey, let me answer that myself. To a theoretical physicist, A Brief History of Time is probably worthless, as while it's probably nicely written, it doesn't translate well back into theorems, formulas, etc. Furthermore, it presents Hawking's own ideas as the truth, which they might not be. I guess the same thing can be said about Krugman's columns as well - they present ideas that are inevitably condensed and simplified versions of other ideas (which don't translate that well into "real" economic science); obviously, Krugman presents the economic situation from his point of view, which other economists may find disputable. This doesn't mean he's wrong, but it doesn't mean he's necessarily right, either.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


How many people will meet the love of their life in the next ten minutes?

Well, there are six billion people on earth. More than one.
Well, there are six billion people on earth. Less than six billion.


It's possible that absolutely no one will meet the love of their life in the next 10 minutes.
Estimating is hard. Let's go shopping.


Sure, it's possible, but highly unlikely. There are 6 billion people in the world. Let's assume, roughly, only half will ever meet the love of their life. That's 3 billion people who will meet the love of their life at some point in their life. Let's further assume that most people who do meet the love of their life do so between the ages of 15 and 40--a 25 year period. I'd guess, conservatively, that there are 2 billion people on earth in this age range. Since if one person meets the love of their life, this must be true for the other person, we divide by 2 to get 1 billion. Say 1/2 of these people already have met the love of their life and are therefore ineligible, so we divide by 2 again to get 500 million people.

Now we can assume that the chance that someone will meet the love of their life is uniform at any given moment throughout the 25 year period. There are about 1,315,000 10-minute intervals in 25 years. That means that during each 10 minute period, each of these 500 million people have a 1 in 1,315,000 chance of meeting the love of their life.

So in order for NOBODY on earth to meet the love of their life in the next ten minutes, the 1 in 1,315,000 jackpot would have to come up empty 500 million times in a row. The odds of that happening are (1,314,999/1,315,000)^500,000,000, which is unfortunaly too much for my computer to compute, but I can assure you it is exceedingly small.

So I'm pretty sure that in the 10 minutes it took me to write this comment, someone on earth has met the love of their life for the first time.
posted by notswedish at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


At least Krugman is not from those youngsters "economists" that collapsed the world economy now. Don't know much about Cochrane...
posted by Incense Man at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2009


notswedish--

You assume everybody has a chance of meeting the love of their life, that there is only one love, and that -- well, it's symmetrical. The process you describe is accurate, but has a bunch of hand-waviness in it -- hand-waviness that is OK and even necessary, as long as one admits it's there.
posted by effugas at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2009


You assume everybody has a chance of meeting the love of their life

actually, doesn't this line from notswedish's comment contradict your point:

Let's assume, roughly, only half will ever meet the love of their life.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2009


Ooh, a tussel!
posted by moonbiter at 2:20 PM on September 28, 2009


saul--

Whoops :) Sorry about that, swedish :) Still a hand-wavey statement. Again, that's OK!
posted by effugas at 2:37 PM on September 28, 2009


Yes, of course it's hand-wavey--do you have a precise way to determine how many people have just met the love of their life? I just thought it was assumed that any such rough method of estimation was by definition hand-wavey... but still useful for getting a rough estimate.
posted by notswedish at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2009


anigbrowl: I really wonder whether he's an honest disputant: his arguments about the economics of healthcare during the Democratic primaries in 2008 seemed deeply contorted.

Contorted? As it turns out that column you link to turns out to be absolutely correct. He stated that the most important difference between Clinton's and Obama's health plans is that the former included an insurance mandate and the latter did not. He also explained the economics of why insurance reform would not work without a mandate. And it turns out he was right. All of the plans currently on the table, including Obama's, now include a mandate. Obama has done a complete flip-flop on the issue. There's no way of knowing if Obama has simply seen the logic of the argument and changed his mind or was previously pandering to the right in order to win an election, but there is no doubt that Krugman's analysis of the issue was correct at the time.
posted by JackFlash at 3:00 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


How I Became a Keynesian by Richard Posner
"We have learned since September that the present generation of economists has not figured out how the economy works... Not having believed that what has happened could happen, the profession had not thought carefully about what should be done if it did happen. Baffled by the profession's disarray, I decided I had better read The General Theory. Having done so, I have concluded that, despite its antiquity, it is the best guide we have to the crisis."

There Is Still Good In Him. I've Felt It.
Posner is one of the most important Chicago School figures of the 20th Century. Currently a federal judge, he was law-and-econish before it was cool. Accordingly, this essay is roughly equivalent to Glenn Beck embracing ACORN because "they help poor people." Or maybe Mr. Burns opening a public hospital. Or the Kagan family joining MoveOn. [also btw: Did Palin Make Posner A Keynesian?]

and fwiw...
-Wall Street's Growth: Like a Big Tumor
-Derivatives datapoint of the day
-Derivatives Self-Regulation? No Thanks
-Why the Fed can’t protect consumers
-*Too Big to Save*, by Robert Pozen
-Meet the Hazzards
-Rational irrationality and crash-prone capitalism
posted by kliuless at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the major problems with macroeconomics is that its problems and solutions can't be summed up in a few articles, let alone in a pithy comment on metafilter.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:32 PM on September 28, 2009


They actually recognize (if only subconsciously) that Limbaugh and company are not centered commentators. They view them as counterweights on the other side of an implied teetertotter of media opinion, to even out liberal media bias.

Indeed, Limbaugh has frequently stated (crowed), "I am the balance!"

It was pretty easy to believe when he really tipped the scales, hear me.
posted by dhartung at 8:37 PM on September 28, 2009


notswedish--

Badly posed questions with badly defined answers can get huge amounts of highly technical math built around them. Welcome to economics :)
posted by effugas at 11:18 PM on September 28, 2009


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