There were three posts yesterday. The first was “Anarchy, State, and Dread Pirate Roberts:”
Henry Farrell has a truly brilliant essay on how the evolution of Silk Road, the dark-web trading platform for forbidden transactions, can be viewed as an experiment in political philosophy. I can’t do better than his own blurb:
The Silk Road might have started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings.
It’s an awesome read.
Yesterday’s second post was “The Closed Minds Problem:”
When I was a young economist trying to build a career, I lived — or thought I lived — in a world in which ideas and those who championed them met in relatively open intellectual combat. Of course there were people who clung to their prejudices, of course style sometimes trumped substance. But I believed that by and large better ideas tended to prevail: if your model of trade flows or exchange rate fluctuations tracked the data better than someone else’s, or resolved puzzles that other models couldn’t, you could expect it to be taken up by many if not most researchers in the field.
This is still true in much of economics, I believe. But in the areas that matter most given the state of the world, it’s not true at all. People who declared back in 2009 that Keynesianism was nonsense and that monetary expansion would inevitably cause runaway inflation are still saying exactly the same thing after six years of quiescent inflation and overwhelming evidence that austerity affects economies exactly the way Keynesians said it would.
And we’re not just talking about cranks without credentials; we’re talking about founders of the Shadow Open Market Committee and Nobel laureates.
Obviously this isn’t just a story about economics; it covers everything from climate science and evolution to Bill O’Reilly’s personal history. But that in itself is telling: academic economics, which still has pretenses of being an arena of open intellectual inquiry, appears to be deeply infected with politicization.
So what should those of us who really wanted to be part of what we thought this enterprise was about do? That’s the question Brad DeLong has been asking.
I see three choices:
1. Continue to write and speak as if we were still having a genuine intellectual dialogue, in the hope that politeness and persistence will make the pretense come true. I think that’s one way to understand Olivier Blanchard’s now somewhat infamous 2008 paper on thestate of macro; he was, you could argue, trying to appeal to the better angels of freshwater nature. The trouble with this strategy, however, is that it can end up legitimizing work that doesn’t deserve respect — and there is also a tendency to let your own work get distorted as you try to find common ground where none exists.
2. Point out the wrongness, but quietly and politely. This has the virtue of being honest, and useful to anyone who reads it. But nobody will.
3. Point out the wrongness in ways designed to grab readers’ attention — with ridicule where appropriate, with snark, and with names attached. This will get read; it will get you some devoted followers, and a lot of bitter enemies. One thing it won’t do, however, is change any of those closed minds.
So is there a reason I go for door #3, other than simply telling the truth and having some fun while I’m at it? Yes — because the point is not to convince Rick Santelli or Allan Meltzer that they are wrong, which is never going to happen. It is, instead, to deter other parties from false equivalence. Inflation cultists can’t be moved; but reporters and editors who tend to put out views-differ-on-shape-of-planet stories because they think it’s safe can be, sometimes, deterred if you show that they are lending credence to charlatans. And this in turn can gradually move the terms of discussion, possibly even pushing the nonsense out of the Overton window.
And the inflation-cult story is, I think, a prime example. Yes, you still get coverage treating both sides as equivalent — but not nearly as consistently as in the past. When Paul hyperinflation-in-the-Hamptons Singer complains about the “Krugmanization” of the media, who have the impudence to point out that the inflation he and his friends kept predicting never materialized, that’s a sign that we’re getting somewhere.
It really would be nice not having to do things this way. But that’s the world we live in — and, as I said, there’s some compensation in the fact that one can have a bit of fun doing it.
And the week ended, as usual, with music. Here’s Friday Night Music: Forever Young:”
So what’s with all the mourning of Leonard Nimoy’s death? I mean, I’m sorry to say this, but I believe that Mr. Spock didn’t love Earth — he wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up. [/end Giuliani]
Seriously, it wasn’t until reading some of the commentary that it sank in just how innovative, how progressive in all senses, the persona Nimoy created really was. Interracial in the extreme sense — interspecies! Hyperrational in style, but obviously deeply passionate and a bit tormented under the surface. Brainy but heroic. He was two generations ahead of his time.
Incidentally, as a teenager I liked Star Trek but I loved the original Mission Impossible, and the Nimoy character — who would always dramatically rip off his face at some point, after impersonating a crime lord or dictator — was my favorite.
Meanwhile, intimations of mortality make the music selection I was already planning to post even more appropriate:
It’s gorgeous. It also resonates a bit because I’m personally hitting an important milestone: the next time I take New Jersey Transit, I’ll get the senior discount!
For you young whippersnappers out there, an encouraging word: physically and psychologically, my 60s feel vastly better than I had ever imagined. It’s not 30, but it’s pretty good. Also, you kids get off my lawn.