Krugman’s blog, 11/12/15

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Being An Inflation Hawk Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry:”

Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, is worried about inflation unless the Fed tightens quickly, ignoring the worriers. Here’s what he just said:

If we hope to keep inflation in check, we cannot be paralyzed by patches of lingering weakness.

Oh, wait: That’s what he said six years ago. It is, however, pretty much indistinguishable from what he is saying now.

It seems to me that this is a bit of much-needed context.

Yesterday’s second post was “Arguments From Irrelevant Authority:”

One curious aspect of economic debate these past five years or so has been the extent to which people demanding fiscal austerity and/or higher interest rates rely on what I think of as spurious authority figures — people who are well-known for some reason that has nothing at all to do with expertise in the subject at hand. I remember being told that the deficit must be a terrible threat because Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said so; so, are we going to rely on Janet Yellen to set naval strategy?

William Cohan’s latest attack on easy money is another illustration of the genre. (Here’s my reaction to an earlier venture.) Rather than making a coherent argument against Ben Bernanke, Cohan appeals to authority:

[His view] is also shared by, among others, a diverse group of smart people such as David Stockman, the former budget director for President Reagan; Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor whom Mr. Bernanke thanks in his new best-selling memoir “The Courage to Act”; and Stanley Druckenmiller, the billionaire former hedge fund manager.

OK, so we have someone who Ronald Reagan appointed to high office almost 35 years ago, and who has spent recent years incessantly warning against looming hyperinflation (Neil Irwin calls his book “spittle-filled“); someone George W. Bush appointed to the Fed board, with no known track record of insightful pronouncements on economics, but a fairly long history of warning that something bad will happen any day now from loose money; and a very rich investor who got out of the business after making a bad bet on interest rates. This is not what I’d call a particularly diverse group. But more to the point, two out of the three are prominent only because someone appointed them to office, and the third has achieved impressive stuff, but not in an area relevant to this discussion.

Look, in general you should argue based on logic and evidence, not authority figures, whenever possible. Sometimes there is technical detail that forces reliance on experts to summarize the evidence — but in that case you should cite experts in the relevant area, not people who are or were important for reasons that have nothing to do with the subject. Arguments from irrelevant authority are a sign that you don’t have a substantive case, you’re lazy, or both.

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