I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ll be discussing tonight at both Virtually Speaking A-Z and at Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. Source material is here. Comments on audio tonight. Posts to come later.

Brad DeLong:

Is Economics a Discipline?

What Have We Unlearned from the Great Recession?

Paul Krugman

Asymmetrical Ignorance

Nobodies of Macroeconomics

Err.. Me.

at Eschaton


There’s more. But if you want to read before the discussion, or shortly after, the key issues are here.

4 Responses to Yikes

  1. The Raven says:

    (Cross-posted from my own blog, here.)

    My understanding of part of what was said was that Prof Delong and the other saltwater economists for a long time believed that they were engaged in an intellectual dispute with the moderate conservatives. The freshwater economists, however, believed that they had The Truth, and that Keynsianism would fall as surely as the Soviet Union did; that analogy may even have figured in their thinking. They believed that they were wise adults willing to face hard truths, the saltwater economists were foolish, weak children, and events would prove them right. Delong’s description of what what Prof. Robert Lucas thought of Prof. Christine Romer’s support of the stimulus was chilling in its contempt for Romer: by Delong’s account Lucas believed Romer was lying when she supported the stimulus.

    I wonder if the thought processes of the freshwater school were not an elevated version of those the hardcore tea partiers: a threatened sense of privilege and contempt for the weakness of their opponents. It is hard for me not to see this as fitting into a pattern of threatened male privilege, though in some cases sexism was not the core of the belief.

    The freshwater economists are now faced with incontrovertible proof that they were wrong and the saltwater school was right. Their reactions, it seems to me, are no different than what anyone wedded to an inflated idea of their self-worth. Not only were they wrong, they have lost the argument to people they feel are their intellectual inferiors and to women. They are angry and denying, denying, denying.

    The saltwater school, on the other hand, is having to reevaluate a great many of their ideas, not the least about collegiality and scientific epistemology. The recognition of the contempt in which their colleagues held them has to be a shock to many; I think I detect traces of it in Delong’s writing, and in Prof. Krugman’s. Likewise, the recognition that many freshwater economists were not thinking scientifically at all, but rather bound by prejudice and intellectual rigidity seems to have come as a shock. It is very much to Prof. Delong’s credit that he is willing to consider these realities.

    There is also a practical problem, if economics as a discipline is to survive. There is a huge amount of junk in the peer-reviewed economics literature–the reviewing process is no protection when the reviewers themselves are prejudiced. A comparison that comes to mind is the collapse of “scientific” eugenics. There were vast amounts of that written, and now it is only read as an object example of the capture of a social science by prejudice and authoritarianism. For economists, meantime, there is a huge task ahead: the garbage must be taken out; removed from the field’s teaching, textbooks, and policy advice. It will be a generation at least before this is set right, if indeed it can be set right at all.

  2. The Raven says:

    A further thought: President Obama spent many years associated with the University of Chicago. To what extent did the arrogance and elitism of the Chicago-school economists influence his thinking, and to what extent does their current despair and anger influence his governing?

  3. Sherry Reson says:

    Not surprisingly, economics uses what seem to be commonly understood terms in very particular ways. Your conversation with Brad DeLong sent me looking for the freshwater|saltwater metaphors. Wiki to the rescue.

  4. The Raven says:

    I learned about the freshwater and saltwater schools from the blogs of Delong, Krugman, and the late, lamented Maxine Udall (aka Dr. Alison Snow Jones.) BTW, the Wikipedia article seems to me far too centrist. Note the date on the Mankiw quote!

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