Sunday, March 18, 2012

Some thoughts on an Arnold Kling post

This is a gripe post (about this post), I know, but it brings together several things that bug me. (The one that bugs me most is the third).

First, I read the Atlantic article on Bernanke and I never got this out of it: "In The Atlantic, Roger Lowenstein makes the case for bowing to the authority of Ben Bernanke. This a cover story, and the cover photo of Bernanke makes him look like a serene, benevolent emperor." I got that Lowenstein covered strengths and weaknesses - and praise and criticism of Bernanke. On net I thought it was a positive review certainly (one I agreed with) but what in the world is Kling talking about with "bowing to the authority"? (Gripe #1: Kling regularly hyperbolizes people he disagrees with. If you're positively disposed to someone you "worship" them, etc.).

Second, this sentence: "There is no substantive argument to justify this beatification, other than the usual "things would have been much worse" mantra." OK, so decades of work trying very hard to move forward in macroeconometrics and provide identified multiplier estimates and microfounded models is just "a mantra" to Kling, while talking about how beautiful specialization and patterns of exchange are (while claiming no one else thinks about things this way, despite the fact that this is how the discipline has been thinking about the economy for centuries), is what - not a mantra? What's most ironic about this is that he doesn't consider "it would have been worse" well defended, and then he completely fails to provide any justifications for arguing that! And don't point me to his Critical Review article. It was interesting, but it was primarily a criticism of very old modeling techniques. The only criticism of modern techniques in that article and subsequent things I've seen from him are to (1.) criticize "add factors" and forecasting techniques, which I agree with - but criticizing a forecast is very different from criticizing a multiplier estimate, something he glosses over, and (2.) pointing out that CBO and other estimates of what "would have happened" just apply multipliers ex post to the actual data series. Everyone that reads about this stuff already knew that and sees nothing wrong with it (if it's a viable multiplier estimate, it's reasonable to use in this way to gets an expected counterfactual). (Gripe #2 dismissing solid methods as a "mantra" because you know people that already agree with you won't challenge you on it).

Third, this post is easily as bad as what you get out of Paul Krugman in terms of being unprofessional and insulting. "If you didn't know better, you would think that liberal progressives take their moral stands solely on the basis of tribal loyalty and reverence for authority." (and in that link in the text, he doesn't provide an example of why you should know better than to say that - he defends the idea!). Also this: "But do not try to tell the readers of The Atlantic that the benign emperor lacks clothing.". And the thing is - he's been doing this since I started reading Econlib. This is why I don't take people who whine about Paul Krugman seriously at all. None of you seem a bit concerned when other bloggers do the same sort of trash talk. (Gripe #3: completely disproporationate obsession with Paul Krugman when there are some very mean bloggers out there that aren't even identified as such). Cause really - what's so different about this and what you guys complain about with Krugman. Liberals aren't genuine and make decisions based on tribal loyalty and they're deep love for authority, and they just can't stand people challenging them with facts and their well thought out arguments are just a "mantra" that isn't well justified. Guys - this is EXACTLY what you complain about with Krugman.

Anyway - this started with an "is Kling reading the same Lowenstein article as me" reaction, but in the end I thought it was a perfect illustration why I think you Krugman-haters are largely full of hot air. Sure there are things in blogosphere I wish were written differently, including on my side. But Krugman is not some deeply or uniquely unprofessional blogger that is no longer a reputable economist or anything like that. The blogosphere is just a little more rough and tumble, that's all.

1 comment:

  1. I don't like Krugman or Kling (as pundits, I'm not bashing New Geography or anything!). I'm banned from commenting at EconLog, but I occasionally email Kling. I didn't do it this time because I had already complained fairly recently and was actually in the wrong about something.

    The most obvious problem with his "tribal loyalty" claim is that Bernanke is a Republican appointed by GWB! But Kling is irritated by liberals, so he has to tag them with that.


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