Thursday, January 10, 2013

Yglesias Responds

I always like to highlight when higher profile people comment on the blog. Yglesias writes:
"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."
I considered the point in the first paragraph when I was writing the post, but I don't have the impression that any Nobel laureate I know of is overrated. Maybe they are overrated relative to each other - to take two I like as an example I think Krugman gets more attention relative to Stiglitz than he deserves. But I have a harder time coming up with one who is clearly overrated. I don't know, I don't generally think in these terms about them.

But as for the second paragraph I want to make clear that I do not, in fact, agree with Yglesias on Buchanan. If anything Buchanan is underrated and not as widely read as he ought to be. Maybe I am "roughly similar" to Yglesias in where I find faults in Buchanan's ideas, but I really don't have the sense at all that his work is overrated so I can't imagine how I'm "roughly similar" on that count. We could narrow this down considerably and say something like "among the people who affiliate with public choice theory and who regularly accuse anyone who disagrees with them of romanticizing politicians, I think Buchanan's work is overrated in its significance". But: (1.) that's so narrow a claim it's not really notable, and (2.) that's more of a statement about that narrow group of people than it is a statement about James Buchanan.


  1. Thinking about my narrower claim - it's very possible that Buchanan is in that camp and Buchanan overrated himself. But I couldn't really say, and I don't really care, and I'm definitely not interested in speculating beyond noting the possibility at this point.

  2. The idea that no Nobel Prize winners are overrated strikes me as eccentric. Perhaps you and I are using some incommensurable concepts of what it means to be overrated. At any rate, I'm sorry you think I'm an asshole and I enjoy the blog.

    1. I'm sorry - I should probably have said that you were being an asshole in that instance. I shouldn't generalize. I enjoy a lot of your output too.

      Any thoughts on the sales tax point? Something like this was proposed under Warner too. I do think it makes a lot more sense given the special dynamics of transportation spending in Virginia.

  3. "But I have a harder time coming up with one who is clearly overrated. "


    *runs away*

    1. :)

      You know Hayek and Buchanan are in a lot of ways in the same boat.

      Yes, I agree, some of what each said is not all that good. A lot of what each said is tremendously insightful, though! But in the end the profession doesn't read or use either of them extensively. Hayek and Buchanan are not Coase. Coase did things in a fundamentally different way than everyone else, but he is actually cited out the wazoo! Hayek and Buchanan aren't so it's very hard for me to think of them as overrated when they are ignored in a lot of cases.

      Anyway, I think talking about who is overrated is a stupid question in the first place that is far too concerned with personalities than is really useful. And beyond all that, on the day of the man's death it's just plain mean.

    2. Anyway, we all know it's Rothbard, not Hayek.

    3. So says the guy that has never read any of Rothbard's biggest works. I realize that this goes both ways in many cases, but you're pretty explicit about it, and it's mostly related to your experience with "Rothbardians". This process of attempting to prove validity will always be a skewed measure, it is an entirely human determinate within the social sphere of information and individuality. You're listening to what some dude said about some dude who said something.

    4. It was a joke :)

      I genuinely don't like these "this guy was overrated" discussions. I prefer to talk about ideas rather than personalities.

      It is true that my experience with Rothbardians especially and my selected experience with Rothbard himself (it's not like I've never read anything the man wrote! And I actually do like his economic history) is not encouraging me to prioritize him on my reading list (a list I work through way too slowly to begin with).

  4. Of course, I understand that it was a joke, but it was also serious in a way. We both realize that this is true and undeniable.

    I completely empathize with your notion of limited time and interest, especially given a certain atmosphere created by the adherents of a certain set of ideas. However, like I said, this goes both ways, I know many libertarians that hate Keynes but have never read his most important works. It's unfortunate that the flow of ideas operates in this way, but that is just how we humans operate. Sometimes we're just playing a good old game of "Telephone" in order form our judgements. We're social creatures, so this is almost unavoidable in a way.

    However, in the course of intellectual pursuits, I think that the bar must be raised much higher. I am a man of much lesser intellect, training, and practical knowledge in this sphere than most, but I do at least attempt to understand the other side's position. I do read the other side in order to get a feel of what they mean. I don't always fully understand everything I read, sometimes it comes to me much later, but I do find it strange that somebody as insignificant as me would spend all of this time to understand my supposed opponents, yet those that are the cream of the crop on the other side don't even grant the same courtesy.

    In order to understand Rothbard, and indeed "Rothbardians", there is only one book and that is 'Man, Economy, and State'. It's this treatise-- almost all Rothbardian arguments will be based upon it-- that gives an insight into almost all of his other works. Considering how many arguments you have with Austro-libertarians, it seems that you would have read it by now.


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