Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two tweets of note from Yglesias: one makes him wrong, and one makes him is him being an asshole

I noticed the first one earlier today, but with two it's worth a post.

UPDATE: Note an adjustment of the title. I think that's more fair to Matt.

First he's criticizing Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's decision to fund transportation with a sales tax to replace the gas tax. Yglesias calls it the worst idea he's heard in a long time. Yglesias likes things like gas taxes because they promote things like high-density land use and of course they have their environmental benefits. He says the sales tax is more regressive. Regressivity is easy to solve with things like EITCs, but he's wrong to point to the fact that the carless population is largely poorer as a source of regressivity, because McDonnell is also proposing raising vehicle registration fees to make up for the lost gas revenue.

When I first heard it I thought it was a good idea because I assume a sales tax would raise proportionally more revenue from the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads area where a lot of the transportation budget is going. This is the intuition of Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation too. That's a good idea, and it's fair in my book and it's not going to keep getting eroded like the nominal gas tax is. I'm not sure Yglesias take on this is cognizant of the circumstances in the state.

Second, he's an asshole for what he said about James Buchanan. Certainly I've always contended that Buchanan has arguments that are overrated. Even though I like public choice theory, its stronger affiliates overstate the extent to which these insights were new for the rest of the profession. And the value of what he had to say about Keynes was definitely overstated. Being a decent human being does not obligate us to wildly praise everything the man ever did (and to be fair, a lot of the blame for the overselling of public choice doesn't belong with Buchanan anyway). I hope to write more about Buchanan over the next couple days (including more on some of these criticisms) and commenters are welcome to both praise and criticize Buchanan's work as you see fit. But here's a word of advice: if you find yourself second guessing the Nobel committee and the general opinion of the economics profession it's very likely that you have overrated yourself.

13 comments:

  1. The second tweet doesn't just make an asshole, it makes him an ignorant asshole. Maybe some of Buchanan's arguments are overrated, I don't know, but he certainly isn't even close to being the *most* overrated economist. I can think of an overrated blogger, though, and his last name starts with a Y.

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    1. Yeah I intermittently try to follow Yglesias on twitter but I can never manage it.

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  2. Despite your reservations of some of James Buchanan works, your comments on Buchanan’s passing was gracious and respectful.

    The Yglesias comment was disgraceful and he’s a “journalist”?

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  3. What's up with you lately? I understand your arguments and all, but it seems like you're in some sort of attack mode. What I really mean to say is that you're no stranger to dishing out malicious verbal attacks (word choice and usage), but over the course of the past month or so this has increased. Something's changed. It's like I can feel that you're pissed off about something, you're just reserved in sharing it openly, instead letting it pour through your words.

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    1. I don't feel like anything has changed (in my life or in my blogging), but then again perhaps I wouldn't know.

      In this particular case the second Yglesias tweet did make me very angry. I think it's a terrible way for a person to react to Buchanan's death. But even then my initial reaction to the first tweet was a pretty analytic one (i.e. - I think Yglesias is missing something), and I think it was communicated that way.

      As for other posts, I dunno.

      I'm not afraid to be sharp on the blog. I try to keep it proportional to the harshness of whoever I'm responding to. There have been a few nasty blog flare-ups in the last couple weeks I guess.

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    2. Well except the accusations around the drones... I can't bring myself to say proportional things on that one. That would be too mean.

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  4. It's very possible that I am overrated or that I am overrating myself. But it seems to me that the title of "most overrated living economist" would almost have to belong to a Nobel Prize winner. After all, to become overrated one must be highly rated in the first place!

    I recognize that a lot of people have strong feelings about the norm against saying bad things about dead people. But it sounds to me like you agree that Buchanan's work is overrated. So in the grand scheme of things, I'd say that you and are have a roughly similar opinion of this matter (to wit: Buchanan is overrated) and it would be wiser to spend the day objecting to the people who were lauding his (overrated) work yesterday than to my tweet.

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    1. "So in the grand scheme of things..." I, Matthew Yglesias, am a giant douchebag.

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  5. From Marginal Revolution: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/01/very-sad-news.html#comments

    "Brad DeLong January 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm
    Overrated."

    Doesn't this comment (if genuine) make DeLong something of an asshole as well?

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    1. I feel like suggesting someone is overrated is considerably different from calling them the most overrated living economist.

      The former is a judgement of the significance of their work, and we do that all the time. The latter is really getting into an attack on the quality of the scholar himself.

      In some ways, Buchanan is overrated. A lot of famous economists are. A lot of famous thinkers are, period.

      I do agree, though, that it is not an admirable thing for Brad to say. He says a lot of things I don't think he should have said. This isn't news - people know that and Brad does too. It feels more reasonable than what Matt said.

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    2. Matt's comment was incredibly inappropriate, Brad's slightly less so.

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    3. Right. Anyone who takes the DAY of a person's death to take a dump on him is an asshole, as Daniel notes.

      And really, it's not like Yglesias is in any position to evaluate the relative merits of Nobel Prize winners: is there any evidence he gets economics beyond about the micro I level?

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  6. Fair enough. What do you think the odds are that Krugman posts a generally disparaging obit soon? I'd say at least 4:1.

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