Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm at my wit's end.

How does one respond to this or this? I am clawing for substance here but I have no concept of exactly what the critique is in either case. To many "what is wrong with X" critiques are like this.

I think criticisms should (1.) be as specific as possible, as (2.) err on the side of over-qualifying and caveating the critique, and (3.) present a version of the criticized position that others at least recognize.

Oh well - I gave it a shot.


  1. Man-

    They should have called it 'the shrill science'.

    in reply I can only offer some rules of the road that I try to live by. You write and comment much more than I do so I don't know what my advice is worth, but my air conditioner is working and I'm feeling talkative.

    1. If possible, rubbish an argument based on alleged facts first, because people respect them, but thanks to confirmation bias mostly don't do research before making a blog post or comment; thus there are easy pickings to be had. This might seem petty compared to addressing the deeper issues at hand, but I'll always prefer to argue first that "monkeys don't have wings" rather than "flying monkeys would be aerodynamically incapable of lifting above their own weight, assuming that gravity and the density of air are the same in OZ as on earth." It's less confusing for everyone. Plus you can focus on genuine disagreements. And even if the facts check out, you learn something new about the world.

    2. Focus on one line of attack that you understand perfectly. It focuses your own thoughts, and if you know your stuff, forces sparring partners to sharpen their arguments in specific ways that should also make sense to you. For instance in your discussion with Jonathan, the discussion dissolved into DSGE models, and ERE. Reading the debate, I'm not sure either one of you really understands DSGE too well, and pretty sure you don't know ERE like the back of your hand. Thus inter-subjectivity breaks down and the discussion loses vigor and interest.

    3. if it's not worth reading, it's not worth writing- or writing in.. I'm thinking of cafe' hayek here. The comment threads there are so poor compared to their length it's just not worth even skimming, for the most part. It seems like you put in a fair bit of time there so I guess you must find it worthwhile.

    4. Cast not pearls before swine, just as steel sharpens steel..., a man is well judged by his enemies..., etc, etc.. Some of the people on any blog are not worth a single sentence. There are enough serious sparring partners on "Coordinatin Problem" that you should never address the comments of the likes of Troy Camplin, for instance-- even when directly addressed by them.. To address them as equals is to lower yourself in the eyes of all onlookers. Sometimes PhD's are measly punks who are willing to lie at length and in public. Such should be defeated by a manly bearing, and not by reason, which is above them. Which leads to..

    5. If you must go ad hominem, only do so when you are absolutely sure you can make them cry or at least feel ashamed.


  2. On 2. - part of what's striking to me is that I don't even always see it as a "line of attack". Often I'm on the defensive and thus feel somewhat better about not knowing everything. For example, on the DSGE issue - I had offered that simply as a reason to second guess what Jonathan said about mainstream models being "static equilibrium models". I know enough of DSGE to know that Jonathan was blowing hot air there. He responds - of all things - by saying that "Hayek is more dynamic than DSGE" or something like that. Now again - I'm no DSGE expert and I'm pretty sure he's not which makes me wonder how he can write something like that. So I ask him. And the answer? Still waiting on it, really. If you simply ask questions for why they make claims that they do, I think you can often punch above your height. I'm still not sure if Jonathan had anything in mind when he said that except that he felt like it was true - otherwise he would have shared it!

    3. I actually like to think I'm fairly selective on what I comment on Cafe Hayek about now - and I have a rule I try to follow not to comment again on a post there after the first day.

  3. Now that this has turned into something like a "how to make criticisms" post, there's one insight I've had that I think is worth sharing.

    I've learned that making small arguments that are manageable is much more successful than making grand arguments.

    For example - take Bob Murphy's recent post on who did a better job predicting what would happen with the Great Recession, and my response to it:

    Bob made some bold claims - not just that the Austrians got things right, but that Keynesians got things wrong. My response wasn't to grandiosly reverse that situation. I'm not sure how I could justify proclaiming that the Austrians are wrong because I don't see any evidence for that. But demonstrating where his points are weak on Keynesianism is easier and effective.

    The same is true of my 1920-21 paper (if you're familiar with that). Notice he and Tom Woods were the ones making fairly extraordinary claims. My response was much more measured.

    If you don't bite off more than you can chew you usually do a better job making your argument.

  4. DSGE; it's correct to bring up subjects where you have a relative superiority. But these debates are conducted in public and (forgive me) just as you've cast Bowser into his own moat of fire, some better informed spectator may tell you that your princess is in another castle.

    1921 recession paper: well played.


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