Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Landsburg/Fluke Post

I've deleted the Landsburg/Fluke post that Noah Smith got up in arms about. Why? Because after a conversation with Noah over email, rather than showing any interest in acknowledging that I was making the same point that he was (that "thinking like an economist" is no excuse for offensive attacks) he wants to continue to insist that I was actually defending a position that I said was vile from the beginning.

The link doesn't need to stand as fodder for people who would rather invent enemies than show common support for Sandra Fluke and a progressive, functional health care system in this country.

I did say (and I'll continue to suggest) that Steve Landsburg is probably in a somewhat different class than Rush Limbaugh. That's not a defense of Steve Landsburg. It's simply pointing out that he approached this from a different angle. My whole point in differentiating the two was to highlight that the Landsburg post was an example "thinking like an economist", recklessly applied.

There is a place for this sort of detached way of approaching things that we call "thinking like an economist" - it can be used very effectively - but that appropriate application was not exhibited by Landsburg.

In the future, if you're wondering what I think about something, just ask me.

14 comments:

  1. I should clarify - I think he's insisting on this because he sincerely thinks he's right. I don't think he's deliberately trying to misrepresent me.

    I just don't feel like continually explaining myself on this or having a link associated with this blog that anyone can misconstrue as defending someone that would treat women like that. I've wasted enough time trying to do that already. This is a fluid medium - I might as well just lay it out there in plain English exactly what I was communicating.

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  2. Your response to disagreement about the meaning of your post is to delete it. This is not a credibility enchaining choice. If someone can misconstrue your meaning without deliberately trying to misrepresent you, I'd say that's just a badly written post. Why not just cop to that and be done? Deleting the post seems a worse retreat than just admitting that you weren't as clear as you should have been.

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    1. Ya - might have been a mistake. Who knows.

      I thought it was a clear post - none of the commenters seemed to have trouble with it initially. No one's characterize me as being on Landsburg's side of all this until Noah. I had a little nuance in there because I was arguing that "thinking like an economist" had it's place but could be poorly applied, but in the end - THAT argument is a lot less important than being clear on the Fluke thing.

      Plus I don't have the energy to continue clarifying. Better a post that I think is fine that doesn't need clarifying than a post that I think is fine that apparently does need clarifying.

      Delete
  3. Hmmm... I think the simple problem was that you made a rather general point starting from a special case to which (according to Noah) it didin't apply. Noah had specifically focused on showing that Landsburg did not do a proper economic analysis. So when reading your post he probably fathomed that you made a somehow contrary observation (pertaining to his own point), saying that Landsburg indeed did do something like an economic analysis, but failing to demonstrate it. As I understood it, that was not your point - but I can see where Noah comes from. What I find astonishing is that you apparently coudln't clear that up. I sense that this is rather a communication problem than a diagreement...

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    1. I think that's exactly right Martin - Noah had gotten into analytic details I never had any interest in bothering with, which I think was why he took my post a lot differently than I intended it.

      Like I said to K. Campbell - what it boils down to is that I'd rather have a post up that I think is fine that doesn't need clarifying than a post that I think is fine which apparently does need clarifying.

      Delete
  4. Seems like you and Noah got into a classic blogger dustup - you're both trying to arrive at the same point, but somehow end up arguing about it. For what it's worth, I don't begrudge you the point about "thinking like an economist", but I think the Landsburg post is probably a poor example of it. Landsburg's problem is that he doesn't approach the flouting of social norms with (from what I can tell) even the slightest nod towards humor or irony, language cues that help establish that someone is making an academic point rather than staking out in seriousness what seems to be a rather cruel position on the issue. Including little social cues like that can go a long way towards putting you on the right side of "credible rational person doing thought experiments" vs "mean-spirited guy with an agenda", especially to those who aren't personally acquainted with you. That post isn't the only example, read some of his replies to comments.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts.

      What's amazing about this point: "but I think the Landsburg post is probably a poor example of it" is that's exactly what I was trying to say! I mentioned Steve Levitt in the post too. Steve has some creative (maybe right, maybe not) ways of thinking about abortion. But I've never known Levitt to attack people who go to get abortions! Being detached when you approach human social behavior scientifically can be very good. That's Steve Levitt. Letting that give you an excuse for making offensive statements is not good. That's Steve Landsburg, in my opinion.

      re: "he doesn't approach the flouting of social norms with (from what I can tell) even the slightest nod towards humor or irony, language cues that help establish that someone is making an academic point rather than staking out in seriousness what seems to be a rather cruel position"

      Based on Bob Murphy's account, I'm not sure he was joking. If I want to be taken fairly, I should probably return the favor and not say any more than that. Landsburg can speak for himself - but my understanding is he wasn't joking.

      If he intended it as a joke, I don't think it's very funny at all.

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  5. Agreed, and good point about Steve Levitt.

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  6. Economists are jerks.

    Landsberg is an economist.

    Therefore Landsberg is a jerk.



    What is there to disagree over?

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  7. I think you're also misreading Noah. You make a valid point in general, i.e. that "thinking (and talking) like and economist" can be a bad idea in many situations when you're dealing with real people with real feelings.
    But you chose a terrible example, because by picking the Landsburg post, you're granting that Landsburg was indeed "thinking like an economist" - which I think Noah has pretty clearly shown he didn't. He makes a particularly bad version of a libertarian moral argument and claims the mantel of "logic" and "economics" for it.

    You're also wrong about Landsburg not being a jerk. This isn't the first time he's done this. Here is Will Wilkinson (I'm not going to link to Landsburg) on Landsburg's earlier "smack-down" of an Iowa College student standing up for his gay moms during a legislative hearing: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/02/rhetoric_and_rationality
    So there is a pattern of Landsburg using shoddy arguments and appealing to "logic," "science," and "economics," to put down young people standing up for progressive goals (which he clearly doesn't share - lest you think this is somehow neutral or dispassionate, try to find similar examples of him criticizing the logic of legislative testimony in favor of conservative or libertarian goals.) This is in many ways much more pernicious than what Limbaugh does - Limbaugh is being an ass in the open. Landsburg is being an ass while hiding behind the mantle of "science". You're doing your discipline a disservice by accepting that Landsburg is approaching this from any other angle than that of a mean-spirited conservative with an academic cloak.

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    1. You and Noah seem to be talking about "doing a good job at thinking about an economist". Fine. Talk about that. Don't superimpose that on me.

      Like I said elsewhere - if I thought Landsburg made a convincing argument, I'd be agreeing with Landsburg. Obviously I didn't find Landsburg convincing. Noah Smith wants to say "he made a bad argument and Kuehn is saying he made a good argument". No. I'm saying Landsburg made an economist's style of argument.

      re: "He makes a particularly bad version of a libertarian moral argument and claims the mantel of "logic" and "economics" for it."

      Ummmm - right. That's my whole point.

      re: "You're doing your discipline a disservice by accepting that Landsburg is approaching this from any other angle than that of a mean-spirited conservative with an academic cloak."

      I'm sorry you think that, but I'd suggest you're completely missing my point.

      Strange - no one seemed to have trouble with this until Noah came along...

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  8. The reason you have more people disagreeing with/misreading? you is that you're bound to get a more critical readership when you get a lot of outside traffic. That's not Noah's fault.

    I believe you that you support progressive goals, I have no intention of impugning your political goals and motives etc. But let me point to what I think really is the core of the disagreement. Even in this, your third post on the matter, the second one trying to clarify this, you write: "It's simply pointing out that he approached this from a different angle." And I want to know - what do you think that angle is? I think his angle is he hates progressives. What do you think it is?

    Or right here in your reply to me: "I'm saying Landsburg made an economist's style of argument." Again - what besides the fact that he's being obnoxious makes this an economist's argument? Or in other words, how, apart from some detachment in language, is Landsburg's actual argument any different from Limbaugh's? I think you might be onto something by saying "economist's style of argument." That's more like it - he is using some rhetorical devices that make him _sound_ like an economist, but he isn't actually doing anything with any resemblance of economics I can recognize. Why are you so insistent in granting him that he is?

    This isn't about the fact that he is making a bad argument (though he is, as we clearly agree). It's about the fact that Noah and I don't think he's making an economist's argument at all. That distinction matters. We allow a certain amount of leeway for economist and academics in general to make and try out arguments - even bad ones, even ones violating societal norms, and we do that for good reasons (academic liberty, yadda yadda). But because we do that, it's important to distinguish between someone being an economist - e.g. Levitt saying that abortion reduces crime, even though it looks like this may have been a bad argument in the sense that replications have shown a lot of problems with the orig. analysis - and someone being a jerk and hiding behind rhetoric somewhat resembling things that economists might say.

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    1. re: "That's not Noah's fault."

      "Fault" is strong. My only point was that if Noah Smith had written a post linking to me an example of a criticism of Landsburg - a post that said that "thinking like an economist" is no excuse for being offensive - which is exactly what it was, the reaction would be much different.

      re: "And I want to know - what do you think that angle is? I think his angle is he hates progressives. What do you think it is?"

      You don't know Landsburg well enough to say that and neither do I. I have serious doubts that Landsburg "hates progressives". I think that's pretty dumb to assert. What I said was that Landsburg tried to lay out an economic argument for his position, where as Limbaugh really didn't. That's the different angle. I didn't ever say it was a good argument.

      This is getting tiring adam.smith. I'm not interested in arguing for the sake of arguing. You clearly didn't like Landsburg's post. Good. Neither did I. Done.

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    2. Look - tell me you would have written a different post adam.smith, but please don't presume to tell me what I was saying about Landsburg. I know what I was saying about Landsburg.

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