[Update: Since writing this post I've gotten a lot of feedback from people who think the earlier post was insulting, and lots from people that did not. That means I've failed as a blogger. If I did my job properly no one should have viewed as as insulting, as that was not my intention. So apologies to Izabella Kaminska.]
Noah Smith recently left a rather perplexing comment at the end of a recent post:
Scott, the first paragraph of this post was distinctly un-civil.
Neither I nor the other commenters could figure out what he was getting at. So he responded:
No, it’s pretty clear Scott is calling Izabella a phony.
This was in reference to the following paragraph:
One amusing sidelight of Nick Rowe’s recent post was all sorts of people agreeing that they can never understand what Izabella Kaminska is talking about (including Nick and I.) The lazy way out would be to assume that Kaminska is a phony. But lots of smart bloggers do find her interesting, as does the Financial Times, which publishes her columns. So she probably has valuable things to say.
Now obviously the literal meaning of the paragraph is not at all what Noah Smith claims, I am criticizing those who would call her a phony. I’m pointing out that lots of smart people do get what she says. But let’s give Noah the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes there really are hidden meanings. Recall Mark Antony’s famous speech in Julius Caesar.
So how do we know that I wasn’t doing something similar? By reading the rest of the post, which is full of paragraphs like the following:
So why is macro so fragmented? Why can’t we talk to each other? It’s not because macro issues are “bigger,” the global oil market is bigger than most GDPs, and economists do have a common language to discuss oil shocks. It’s related to complexity, but even more to the very peculiar type of complexity that one observes in macro. Macro issues can be examined on many different levels, which sort of overlay one another. In that respect macro is like some of the “softer” social sciences, which can also have communications problems.
. . .
Is it any surprise that some people consider the labor market to be the essence of the business cycle? Or that others think it’s aggregate spending. Or safe assets. Or saving imbalances. Or money supply and demand. Or fiscal policy. Or the banking system. Or productivity shocks. They develop their own special language, which is incomprehensible to those with different macro frameworks. In frustration, Nobel Prize winners start calling each other idiots.
My guess is that Noah Smith stopped reading after the first paragraph, as he could hardly have missed the meaning if he had read the entire post.
My advice to young bloggers is to avoid jumping to conclusions. Don’t put a statement by another blogger in the worst possible light; interpret it under the assumption that they were well-intentioned. I’ve been blogging for five years. Thousands of posts. If I was the sort of blogger who made personal insults against other bloggers I am pretty sure it would have showed up by now. And I certainly would never insult someone who had never attacked me in any way.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of others. What makes you think they are any less well-intentioned than you are?
Of course none of this applies to politicians, who are fair game. But the blogosphere debate will be much more civil if we are at least polite to each other.
I was trying to say that the lack of communication came from vastly different macro frameworks, which used different languages. If Ms. Kaminska happened to read the post and interpret it the way Noah Smith did, then my apologies.
PS. Yes, I often attack people’s ideas, but that’s very different from attacking their character. I don’t know of any “phony” economics bloggers, I’m pretty sure that 100% of them believe what they say. And when I say it would be “lazy” to consider someone a “phony,” I mean it.
Update: I regret not saying this:
“One amusing sidelight of Nick Rowe’s recent post was all sorts of people agreeing that they can never understand what Izabella Kaminska is talking about (including Nick and I.) The lazy way out would be to assume that Kaminska is a phony. But that would clearly be wrong. Lots of smart bloggers do find her interesting, as does the Financial Times, which publishes her columns. Even if you think she were faking it, what incentive do these other bright people have to play along? Obviously that’s not what’s going on. So she presumably has valuable things to say.”
I think even Noah Smith would agree that this improved paragraph is not in the slightest way insulting. But he’s convinced that what I actually wrote had a different meaning. Even worse, a different intended meaning. I guess he’s right that people are more likely to misinterpret what I actually wrote, but he’s wrong in assuming the intended meaning was different. Not just wrong, but completely out of line.