Why won’t those &$*%#@ bloggers go away?

In a recent essay Kartik Athreya suggests that almost all economics bloggers are basically quacks, hardly worth paying attention to.  OK, take a deep breath and don’t get defensive Sumner; constructive criticism is always welcome:

In summary,  what  I’d like to convince the public that  economics is far, far, more complicated than most commentators seem to recognize.  Because if they did, they could not honestly write the way they  now do.  Everything “depends”,  and this  is just  the  way it is.  And learning  what  “it” depends on, exactly,  takes enormous effort.  Moreover, just below the surface of all the chatter that appears  in blogs and op-ed pages, there is a vibrant, highly competitive, and transparent scientific enterprise  hard  at work.  At this point, the public remains  largely unaware  of this work.  In part,  it is because  few of the economists  engaged in serious science spend any  of their  time connecting to the outer  world (Greg Mankiw and Steve Williamson  are two counterexamples that essentially prove the rule), leaving that to a group almost defined by its willingness to make exaggerated claims about  economics and overrepresent its ability  to determine  clear answers.

That’s right; no need to pay attention to Gary Becker, John Taylor, Paul Krugman, and all the other quacks who lack Athreya’s sophisticated understanding of the “science” of economics.  BTW, any time someone wields the term ‘science’ as a weapon, you pretty much know they are an intellectual philistine.  Am I being defensive yet?

To get serious for a moment, in this essay Athreya is confusing a bunch of unrelated issues:

1.  The style of bloggers; are they polite or not?

2.  The ideology of bloggers

3.  The views of bloggers on methodological issues

4.  Are bloggers competent to opine on important public policy issues?

I don’t recall ever reading a Greg Mankiw post that I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to write.  On the other hand I’ve read lots of Mankiw posts that I didn’t feel clever enough to write.  That’s an important distinction.  Mankiw is a great economist in the “scientific” tradition, and he’s a great blogger—but for completely different reasons.  He’s a great blogger for the same reason he is a great textbook writer.  There are other bloggers who are also very clever; Krugman, Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Steve Landsburg, Nick Rowe, etc, etc.  Several on that list also wrote textbooks.

I don’t know if Krugman has done a lot of recent research on macro, but he knows enough about the literature to offer an informed opinion.  I often disagree with the views of Krugman, DeLong, Thoma, et al, on fiscal policy, but they can cite highly “scientific” papers by people like Woodford and Eggertsson for all of their fiscal policy views.  There must be dozens of economics bloggers who either teach at elite schools, or have a PhD from elite schools, and who are qualified to comment on current policy issues.

Athreya also takes on those who (he claims) lack formal qualifications in economics.  Here’s how he opens his essay:

The  following is a  letter   to open-minded   consumers  of the  economics  blogosphere.      In  the wake of the  recent financial  crisis, bloggers seem unable  to resist  commentating  routinely  about  economic  events.  It may  always have been thus,  but in recent  times,  the manifold  dimensions  of the  financial  crisis  and  associated  recession  have given fillip to something  bigger  than a cottage  industry. Examples  include Matt  Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson,  and Robert  Reich.  In what follows I will argue that it is exceedingly unlikely that these authors  have anything  interesting to say about  economic policy. This sounds mean-spirited, but it’s not meant to be, and I’ll explain why.

Before I continue,  here’s who I am:  The  relevant fact  is that  I work as a rank-and-file  PhD economist operating  within a central banking  system.  I have contributed no earth-shaking ideas to Economics and work fundamentally as a worker bee chipping  away  with known tools  at portions  of larger problems.   

Where do I begin?  Yes, bloggers who address important public policy issues sometimes “seem unable to resist” commenting on the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.  Unlike Athreya, I don’t judge people by their credentials, but rather by the quality of their arguments.  Yglesias is the only person listed above that I read routinely.  Although he is much more liberal than I, and we differ on many public policy issues, I find his reasoning ability on economic issues to be superior to the majority of professional economists that I have met or read.

I guess no one will accuse me of being one of those “worker bees” who churn out ever more macro studies that follow accepted scientific methods.  I notice that those economists had little or no useful advice to offer the Fed when the current crisis hit in 2008.  I may be incorrect in my policy views, but at least I am trying to offer pragmatic policy suggestions. 

But maybe it’s not the fault of economists.  Maybe there is nothing that could have been done to prevent this crisis:

I find the  comparison  between  the response  of writers  to  the  financial  crisis and  the  silence that followed two cataclysmic  events in another sphere of human  life telling.  These are, of course, the Tsunami  in East  Asia, and the recent earthquake in Haiti.  These two events collectively took the lives of  approximately half a million people, and disrupted many  more.  Each  of these events alone,  and  certainly  when combined,  had  larger consequences  for human  well-being than  a crisis whose most  palpable  effect  has  been to lower employment to a rate  that, at  worst,  still employs fully  85% of the  total workforce  of most  developed  nations.    However,  neither  of these  events was met  by (i) a widespread  condemnation of seismology, the  organized  scientific  endeavor  most closely “responsible”  for our understanding of these events or (ii) a flurry of auto-didacts rushing to  offer their  own diagnosis  for what  had  happened,  and  advice  for how to avoid  the  next  big one.  Everyone understands that seismology is probably  hard  enough that  one probably  has little useful to say without  first  getting a PhD  in it.  The  key is that  macroeconomics, which involves aggregating the actions  of millions to generate outcomes,  where the constituents pieces are human beings, is probably  every bit as hard.  This is a message that  would-be commentators just have to learn  to accept.  For my part,  seventeen years after  my first PhD coursework,  I still feel ill at ease with my grasp of many issues, and I am fairly confident that  this is not just a question  of limited intellect.

This confuses two unrelated issues, the ability to predict a crisis and the ability to prevent a crisis.  In 1932 no one could have predicted the rapid inflation that occurred during 1933.  But we know exactly what policy choices caused that inflation, the sharp depreciation of the dollar that began in April 1933.  We could have easily prevented the inflation.   (Thank God we didn’t.)  We knew how to prevent the sharp fall in NGDP after mid-2008; we simply chose not to do so.  In contrast, we do not know how to prevent earthquakes and tsunamis.

Athreya ignores the role of the medium of account, and the importance of nominal shocks.  Yes, the economy is incredibly complex, but nominal aggregates are relatively simple.  The Fed has a monopoly on the supply of the medium of account.  It’s their job to target some sort variable linked to aggregate demand (prices, NGDP, etc.)  The tsunami of falling AD all around the world that occurred in late 2008 was not some sort of mysterious event, but rather reflected the loss of monetary policy credibility.  The Fed has the tools to prevent something like that from occurring.  Bernanke explained to the Japanese how to use those tools in 2003.  The fact that he refused to use them in 2008, and never explained why, is certainly grounds for criticism.

A lot of the more scientific economists have a very limited understanding of economic history.  Many do not realize that in the Great Depression some of the most promising ideas came from those on the fringes, like George Warren and Irving Fisher, and that most “respected” economists were peddling snake oil.  Today it is bloggers who are offering ideas on how to boost AD, the sort of ideas that almost everyone now agrees should have been tried in the 1930s, and it is respected economists who are often recommending that no further effort be made to boost AD.  One example in the latter category is Athreya’s boss, the president of the Richmond Fed.  According to press reports he is pressing for tighter money (as if money isn’t already tight.)  Perhaps he’s not convinced that models linking nominal GDP growth with unemployment are sufficiently “scientific.” 

In the 1930s many “respected” economists warned that inflation was just around the corner, even as prices kept falling.  Today, many of the more conservative respected economists are issuing the same warning, despite the fact that the markets are signaling lower that target inflation and despite the fact that conservative economists (claim to) believe that markets are efficient.  It seems to me that it is mostly bloggers (on both the left and the right) who insist that the real problem is disinflation.  So who’s right Mr. Scientific Economist, the bloggers with their market signals, or the scientists with their abstract models that were completely unable to predict the current crisis, are unable to explain 16 years of deflation in Japan, but are somehow able to tell us that inflation is the real long term threat?

I don’t think the real problem is that bloggers oversimplify.  If you disagree with someone their views will always seems simplistic.  No, the real problem here is that Athreya likes some simplistic models more than others:

The punchline  to all this is that  when a professional  research  economist  thinks or talks about social insurance,  unemployment, taxes, budget  deficits, or sovereign debt, among other things, they almost  always have a very precisely articulated model that has been vetted  repeatedly  for internal coherence.  Critically,  it is one whose constituent assumptions and parts  are visible to all present, and can be fought over.  And what I certainly  know is that  to even begin to talk about  the effects of unemployment, debt,  deficits,  or taxes,  one  has to think  very hard  about  many,  many  things. Examples  of this  approach  done right  in the  context  of  some of the  topics  mentioned  above  are recent papers by Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, Jonathan Heathcote  of the Minneapolis Fed,  or Dirk Kreuger  and his co-authors.

When you combine this passage with his previous praise for Steve Williamson’s blog, it becomes pretty clear what sort of research Athreya considers scientific.  What would be an example of non-scientific research?  How about Milton Friedman’s partial equilibrium approach to monetary economics and business cycle theory?  I am a big fan of Lucas’ work on rational expectations, especially the Lucas Critique.  Those were genuine improvements over Friedman’s macro theory.  But that is all.  Lucas’s insistence that good macro can only be done by carefully embedding all the assumptions in general equilibrium models with micro foundations turned out to be an intellectual dead end.  There is not a single idea in monetary economics of use to policymakers that can’t be explained in partial equilibrium terms on the back of an envelope.

If blogs had been around in the 1960s and 1970s, Friedman would have been the world’s best economics blogger.  Here’s what Friedman said about the Japanese crisis in 1998:

The governor of the Bank of Japan, in a speech on June 27, 1997, referred to the “drastic monetary measures” that the bank took in 1995 as evidence of “the easy stance of monetary policy.” He too did not mention the quantity of money. Judged by the discount rate, which was reduced from 1.75 percent to 0.5 percent, the measures were drastic. Judged by monetary growth, they were too little too late, raising monetary growth from 1.5 percent a year in the prior three and a half years to only 3.25 percent in the next two and a half.

After the U.S. experience during the Great Depression, and after inflation and rising interest rates in the 1970s and disinflation and falling interest rates in the 1980s, I thought the fallacy of identifying tight money with high interest rates and easy money with low interest rates was dead. Apparently, old fallacies never die.

The same point is made in Mishkin’s textbook.  And Mishkin is a respected “scientific economist” by anyone’s standards.  So why is it that 90% of the respected scientific macroeconomists don’t understand this?  Why do most keep insisting that the Fed has conducted an “accommodative” or “easy” money policy since 2008?  Maybe they think that doubling the base is easy money, and are unaware that the Fed started paying interest on base money in October 2008.  As Cochrane pointed out, this means that reserves are now effectively bonds, not money. 

My claim is that despite all these fancy mathematical models, most scientific economists lack Milton Friedman’s intuitive grasp on what is really important, what is really going on below the swirling mass of data with which we are constantly bombarded.  And I don’t pick Friedman merely because I happen to agree with his politics, Krugman is also very good at looking below the surface (when he doesn’t let ideology get in the way.)

I’m afraid that we won’t get the answers we need from “worker bees.”  Matt Yglesias may not have an economics PhD, but he has a sure grasp of the importance of preventing a sharp break in NGDP growth, something that some much more distinguished economists seemed to overlook in the turmoil of the recent financial crisis.

If Athreya really thinks we are so shallow, then I encourage him to enter the fray, start his own blog.  I’d love to debate monetary policy with him.  He might find out that bloggers know a bit more than he imagined.

HT:  David Beckworth


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61 Responses to “Why won’t those &$*%#@ bloggers go away?”

  1. Gravatar of Ram Ram
    27. June 2010 at 17:03

    I think that Athreya’s complaints make more sense when applied to columnists like David Brooks, or economic pundits on TV. These people routinely attempt to reinvent the wheel, as if no valuable work has ever been done on the subject of discussion by smart people competing with other smart people over long periods of time. Brooks, for example, often writes off the entire output of the economics profession by complaining that it’s too “individualistic”.

    What distinguishes a Matt Yglesias from a David Brooks, in my opinion, is that while neither has a Ph.D. in economics, Matt usually cites his sources, and they tend to be credible. He may draw inferences and make connections not stated in the work cited, but his starting point for analysis is reasonably contemporary mainstream theory. There’s real value there, as economists can specialize in fine-tuning the basic theory for logical consistency and empirical adequacy, while informed commentators can offer ideas about how to apply the theory to real world problems on a day to day basis. Some economists, (yourself, Krugman, Mankiw, & DeLong included) have the ability to do a bit of both, but not every economist can do that.

    With TV pundits and columnists, you just get a bunch of random assertions presented in a rhetorically sophisticated manner. Where sources are cited, they’re routinely misrepresented. That sort of thing doesn’t have much value, and Athreya makes some good points about that species of commentary, even though he doesn’t mention it specifically.

  2. Gravatar of William William
    27. June 2010 at 17:53

    There’s real value there, as economists can specialize in fine-tuning the basic theory for logical consistency and empirical adequacy, while informed commentators can offer ideas about how to apply the theory to real world problems on a day to day basis.

    I would add it is entirely possible to understand much of economics without needing the ability to do rigorous economics research (aka having a PhD.) You do not need to be solving new problems or exploring new areas of study in order to have a solid grasp of the presently accepted literature(s), nor to recognize when those in power fail to act or even speak in a manner consistent with this literature (which is what Yglesias mostly does, really.)

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. June 2010 at 18:06

    Ram, Good points. If Athreya had gone after columnists like Brooks, instead of calling every blogger but two a quack, then I would have found his essay less objectionable. Bloggers tend to offer better than average commentary. I obviously disagree with my fellow bloggers on many issues, but I find their views more informative than almost any other type of commentary on current events.

    I believe that the current economic crisis was mostly caused by a fall in NGDP. I believe the Fed has the tools necessary to prevent that from happening. I believe they have the duty to prevent that from happening. I believe that if an overwhelming consensus of economists felt this way the Fed would have acted appropriately. In fact, it seems almost no economists agree with me. Therefore I believe the incompetence of the economics profession caused the crisis. I’m sure these views make be very unpopular among my fellow economists. But if I am right then it is no surprise that economists are held in low repute by the public, and that they turn to people like Brooks for information. Why should we hold ourselves up as some sort of “science”, when half the economists are demanding bigger budget deficits and the other half insist it would only make things worse. The public notices these things and draws the appropriate conclusions.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. June 2010 at 18:07

    William, Good points.

  5. Gravatar of Indy Indy
    27. June 2010 at 18:26

    This puts me in a strange and awkward position, because I both very much enjoy and appreciate this and many other econoblogs, and I also agreed with a lot of Athreya had to say. He leaves a lot implicit, however, and I think it depends on what you read (or over-read) between his lines. I don’t think Athreya is really addressing the entire econoblogosphere at all.

    I read his essay as targeting the tendency of intellectual non-professionals to confirm their biases if an “expert” (or a favorite blogger) makes a confident but simplistic assertion that is sympathetic with their preexisting beliefs, or one which provides a kind of authoritative justification for the enactment of their political preferences (and for the contempt in which they hold their clearly intellectually inferior opponents). Many blogs, wittingly or not (and it’s often hard to tell if they’re written cleverly enough), serve this function all too well.

    All professions have this problem of the large gap between expert knowledge and lay knowledge, and they likewise all have groups of people who worry and fuss about the accuracy or consequences of those lay public perceptions, others who see opportunity in the potential for influencing these perceptions for political reasons, and still others who worry about the identity and ideology and perhaps ulterior motives of the particular folks currently doing much of the influencing. I think Athreya is in the third category, but his concern is justified. It’s a real problem.

    You can see the same thing happen with global warming blogging – for example. Long-Term Climatology is an intricate, difficult science which cannot even be “understood” in the conventional sense, since most of the results derive from the output of supercomputer simulations. There are active debates, subtleties to learn, non-obvious nuances and feedbacks to appreciate, and so forth. Nevertheless, many lay people merely choose between alarmist and denialist camps, and many blogs, and some written by prominent PhD’s encourage them to.

    Before long you get some meteorologist come along and write an essay asserting that “Climatology is hard!” and encouraging those people to keep an open mind and not be so eager to think they’ve heard all they need to and now understand it all.

    Perhaps the problem is really cultural – a lack of humility and a lack of respect (or popularity) for those who write with humility. I can tell you, having swam in both the law school and econ school rivers simultaneously, that the things people in each subject confidently believe about the other are truly frightening.

  6. Gravatar of Ram Ram
    27. June 2010 at 18:41

    Cosma Shalizi proposes that professional bloviators in the press be replaced with stochastic context free grammars:

    http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/662.html

    Here’s a classic example of what he has in mind:

    http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

    I agree with William. Moreover I sometimes wonder how well certain economists understand contemporary economics. I recall reading or watching an interview with a respectable right-wing economist, where he was arguing against stimulus on the grounds that for it to work, people have to be systematically fooled, and that in fact people have rational or approximately rational expectations. This is a pretty useless argument given that the Woodford model for example features rational expectations and still makes sense of stimulus (monetary or fiscal). As many economists have observed, the key to the efficacy of stimulus is price stickiness, not irrational expectations. And yet that argument continues to be made.

    Which is not to say that you can’t argue against stimulus. Just that I hear a lot of arguments made in public by otherwise respectable economists which may be persuasive to some non-economists but which are unresponsive to somewhat more recent developments in economics. Of course you see the same with some respectable left-wing economists.

    My theory is that one group of economists learned a lot of stuff in grad school, later specialized in some other area, and simply didn’t keep up with or resisted changing their view in light of later research in the area of interest. Another group made a major contribution by developing, for example, various new classical models, and then even though they followed later developments, they had trouble letting go of the theory they themselves propounded. So they come up with whatever half-baked explanation rescues the old theory.

    Both groups unfortunately give the public the impression that there is a lot of disagreement. In fact, if you focus just on the current contributors to the literature that are highly cited (relative to other current work), I suspect there’s more consensus than it seems from all the bickering among non-specialists and great economists of decades past.

  7. Gravatar of Ted Ted
    27. June 2010 at 18:56

    I’ve never really been a fan of self-important essays, this is no different.

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. June 2010 at 19:35

    I think bloggers are great.

    I follow two econ-Wall Streety blogs, two energy blogs, and now Money Illusion. I also follow a rather well-done real estate blog in Los Angeles. There is simply no way an reasonably intelligent observer could have gotten so much information, timely, just a few short years ago.

    I can even ask questions of the bloggers, something that was a chore, or nearly an unwelcome intrusion, in the old print-only days. On rare days, I even take polite issue with my favorite bloggers, and often receive thoughtful replies. How is this not way better than the print-only days?

    I am sure there are bad bloggers, those who put ideology, or rather party politics, before all else. It’s a wonderful world; you do not have to read those bloggers.

    Scott-Could you refer me to your blogs that state what policy actions you would take now, or in the recent past? Or sum up?

  9. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    27. June 2010 at 20:45

    A paper from the 80s on the “old” monetarism of Milton Friedman (Marshallian, partial-equilibrium) vs “new monetarism” of Lucas & co (Walrasian, general equilibrium):
    http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu:8080/dspace/bitstream/10161/1921/1/Hoover_two_types_of_monetarism.pdf

  10. Gravatar of aloa5 aloa5
    27. June 2010 at 22:17

    In the wake of the recent financial crisis, bloggers seem unable to resist commentating routinely about economic events.

    Just laughing about this. Just thought he wrote “journalists” instead of “bloggers”.

    Regards
    ALOA

  11. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    27. June 2010 at 22:27

    I agree with Indy. While I think Scott is right on as far as many actual economist-bloggers are concerned, there are a lot of prognosticators in the blogosphere who don’t even bother to familiarise themselves with basic economics before commenting on an economic issue.

    I don’t think Arthreya’s criticisms apply that much to Yglesias or Krugman, say, but they definitely apply to a lot of the people who read Yglesias and Krugman. It’s often clear that their readers are more interested in boiling economics down to simple black and white ideas than thinking about the issues. (The right-wing counterpart would be LewRockwell.com readers, I suppose.)

    The third paragraph Scott quotes from Arthreya hits the nail on the head, if you ask me. A lot of people who frequent the blogosphere, from both right and left, enjoy denouncing economics as pointless, and cite the economic crisis as proof that the field has nothing useful to offer the world.

    While I think Scott is right to reply that the economics profession needs to get its own house in order too, that doesn’t change the fact that the people who think the economic crisis somehow proves that all of economics is wrong are just…wrong.

  12. Gravatar of aloa5 aloa5
    27. June 2010 at 22:39

    I don’t think Arthreya’s criticisms apply that much to Yglesias or Krugman, say, but they definitely apply to a lot of the people who read Yglesias and Krugman.

    And that´s positive. Yglesias and Krugman write e.g. not only for informing but interesting people (ecomnomical issues). Very much people are talking … an blogging… about global warming and other things they have to do with or they have in mind. It is very important that people talk about such issues. The more the better. The more blogger are blogging about this issues the more people will read Krugman or Yglesias and think (care) about economy.

    Regards
    ALOA

  13. Gravatar of Jimmy Jimmy
    27. June 2010 at 23:06

    Professor Sumner,

    I rarely agree with you. But you are 100% right and Athreya is 100% wrong. Reading your post, I thought this clown was just worth laughing off. Reading his letter and coming across the random snipe at Elizabeth Warren, however, infuriated me.

    Athreya’s appeal to authority and refusal to address a single substantive argument reveals nothing but his own intellectual cowardice (or perhaps he just lacks the intellectual prowess of which he goes at great lengths to convince us). I hope that a week from now he will be known as the idiot economist who got destroyed by the economics blogosphere and two weeks from now no one will remember his name.

  14. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    27. June 2010 at 23:42

    This essay is utterly pointless. You can’t really make a general point like this without examples, and Arthreya doesn’t provide a single example – he just mentions a few people by name as responsible for the examples he has in mind. So he knows what those examples are, but we can only guess. For example:

    “They are the patron saints of the “Macroeconomic Policy is Easy: Only Idiots Don’t Think So” movement: Paul Krugman and Brad Delong. Either of these men will assure their readers that it’s all really very simple (and may even be found in Keynes’ writings). … The main problem is that economics, and certainly macroeconomics is not, by any reasonable
    measure, simple.”

    Macroeconomics is not simple, but the structure of debate is simple, isn’t it? If Krugman or Delong (or whoever) said something that should be refuted, tell us what it is and provide the refutation – don’t just hint at what (“Keynesian” thing) they said and what form (too “simple”) the refuation might take. (As Tuco says in the bathtub in TGTBATUgly, if you’re gonna refute, refute – don’t talk).

    I think a general rule for a good essay is that the substance should not be left as an exercise for the reader.

  15. Gravatar of Richard H. Serlin Richard H. Serlin
    28. June 2010 at 00:31

    “So far, I’ve claimed something a bit obnoxious-sounding: that writers who have not taken
    a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying
    exams) cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy.” – Arthreya

    I have passed the PhD qualifying exam (for finance, which was almost identical to the econ one) and all other exams and course work (my dissertation is an unusually large project that I may not finish for many years given other involvements). I’ve studied many top models in finance and economics in a lot of depth, including state of the art mathematics and statistics (see for example here: http://works.bepress.com/richard_serlin/4/ ). And for two decades I’ve put a great deal of thought into economics, finance, and business (a lot of which is like micro-microeconomics). I think I know academic economics – generally what it has to offer – the good, the bad, and the ugly – well. So I’m not talking as someone who doesn’t know academic economics and finance.

    That said, let me give you an analogy:

    The human body, like economics, is immensely complex. I have no Ph.D. in human biology and no M.D., but does that mean I can’t tell people that eating a diet high in unprocessed or little processed plant foods over decades substantially reduces their risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease?

    If politicians are saying no, people should eat cheeseburgers and fried chicken and avoid exercise if they want to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, I shouldn’t say publicly that the overwhelming consensus of scientists and their research says no?

    Let me give you another example:

    Climatology, like economics, is immensely complex. I have no Ph.D. in climatology, but suppose politicians are saying there’s no risk of manmade global warming and climate change, and a snow storm in Washington proves that. I shouldn’t say publicly that close to every top climate scientist in the world thinks man made global warming is a serious risk, and cite the major studies and evidence that they cite? I should just be silent and not confront what these politicians say?

    You don’t have to be a scientist to know the consensus of scientists. You don’t have to be a researcher in an field of science to know what the applied conclusions of that research are. Few M.D.s are research scientists, but they can learn what the research scientists think is best for treating a disease and then prescribe it. They may not understand at a deep intricate level how antibiotics work, but they can read that the consensus of researchers is that prescribing them greatly increases the odds of survival for pneumonia, and people saying you should treat pneumonia with leaches instead are wrong.
    This is why a well studied and highly intelligent layperson like Ezra Klein can give very good advice on some economics and finance issues. As Paul Krugman said (he has some knowledge of academic economics I think, unless it’s really easy to get tenure at MIT and Princeton, a John Bates Clarke Medal, and a Nobel Prize):

    As an economist in good standing, I am quite capable of writing things nobody can read. Indeed, unreadable writing– my own and others’– played a key role in helping me arrive at the views presented here. But what the world needs now is informed action; and to get that kind of action, ideas must be presented in a way that is accessible to concerned people at large, not just those with economics Ph.D.’s. Anyway, the equations and diagrams of formal economics are, more often than not, no more than a scaffolding used to help construct an intellectual edifice. Once that edifice has been built to a certain point, the scaffolding can be stripped away, leaving only plain English behind.

    – The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, Norton Publishing, page 6.

    Now, in economics sometimes you don’t have a great consensus among the economists of respected universities. So which camp do you chose to support? And you often have to choose one when you vote. In economics, I look at what are the possible intentions and end motives. You have some economists with strong libertarian preferences, economists who will prefer a course of action that may result in a great deal of suffering and loss, much less total societal utility, lower economic, scientific, and medical growth, if it will avoid taking away what I consider a small amount of economic freedom. These economists have a strong incentive to mislead the public to get them to support their libertarian ends.

    Other economists, like Paul Krugman, are like myself. It’s clear from what they say and support that they are very concerned with total societal utils, with preventing loss and suffering, even if it means little bits of economic freedom get restricted (higher taxes on the wealthy, more regulation, etc.). An economist like Krugman could mislead too, but at least if he does it will be for ends I support. So, if it’s in an area I don’t have specialized expertise in, and there’s not a strong consensus among economists, then I will side with economists like Krugman, who I know have values like my own. And I think very smart laypeople like Ezra Klein and Mathew Yglesias do the same.

  16. Gravatar of Tim Worstall Tim Worstall
    28. June 2010 at 00:39

    I’m one of those non-economists who regularly blog about economics and thus presumably one of those the diatribe is aimed at. Or perhaps because I’m English I don’t count…..certainly I’m not part of the American conversation while I am part of the UK one.

    To the extent that I’ve seen critiques that I’ve made (for example, of a paper from the TUC, our trade union organisation) quoted word for word in Parliament as a refutation of the argument made in the paper (fortunately, I was actually correct in my critique as well which sorta helps).

    This isn’t trumpet blowing either: rather, an observation that even those not trained in the secrets of the art can have useful things to say.

    Sure, macro is hard. But there are still useful things that the non-specialist can say: for example, the last couple of years has seen a mass outbreak of Keynesianism in the UK. We must have fiscal expansion!

    Great, OK, so where were all of you three and five and 7 years ago, when exactly the same Keynesian economics would have been calling for fiscal contraction at the top of the UK’s longest economic expansion of modern times?

    There are other examples of just the application of simple math: there’s outrage at the moment over “25% cuts in government spending”. Calculations are being done about how a 25% cut from current cash spending levels will cause mayhem. But cash spending is still predicted to rise 9% from current levels over the next 5 years. The cuts are not from the current level of spending: they are from formerly predicted future levels of spending.

    That I don’t know the details of various macro models simply does not mean that I might not have something interesting to say about matters economic.

    As an example, we hear about the “evisceration of manufacturing industry” endlessly in the UK political debate. Yet manufacturing output peaked in 2005, not the 80s when that evisceration is supposed to have happened.

    To turn the whole thing around for a moment: I see politicians and economists getting things horribly wrong in those areas where I really am an expert (rare and rare earth metals). Motes and beams rather come to mind.

  17. Gravatar of afinetheorem afinetheorem
    28. June 2010 at 01:09

    (Caveat: I know and have worked with Athreya…)

    I don’t think the essay is intended at comments from Scott, nor intended to say that bloggers like Tim have nothing useful to say. I think Athreya would completely agree that the average blogger knows more about economics than the average politician!

    The critique is more about the “why doesn’t the government/Fed/etc. just do obvious thing A” school of blogging, which is widespread. I think it is safe to assume that any argument with which an average blogger is familiar is not unknown, say, to Ben Bernanke, or Kacherlakota, or Yellen, or other Fed decisionmakers. In my experience, making even *minor* contribution to the state of economic knowledge is very difficult once ideas are written down formally.

    Someone above mentioned doctors, and that even without being an MD, you know enough to tell someone to eat healthy. Sure. Athreya is saying something more along of the lines of: if there was an outbreak of bird flu, and the NIH appeared to have difficulty stopping the outbreak, then since the people are NIH are competent doctors and researchers, the reason the outbreak remains is because stopping it is difficult, not because the NIH doctors are missing some trivial argument.

  18. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    28. June 2010 at 02:13

    A blog is just self-published opinion pieces. Unless one has some strong belief in the positive gate-keeping properties of opinion page editors, any criticism of blogs equally applies to newspaper and lay journal opinion pieces.

    Now, consider all the great economists who have contributed opinion pieces to newspapers and lay-audience magazines and journal over the last couple of centuries. Would we dismiss them just because they are newspaper, etc opinion pieces?

    Athreya’s essay is moral panic over a new technology coupled with insistence on guild membership being respected (by excluding those outside the guild and ostracising those within the guild who step outside the reservation).

    Yes, of course informed comment is better than uninformed comment, but that is true regardless of whether something is blogged or not.

    As for putting such tickets on macro-economics, please. Micro has reasonable status as scientific claims: macro has pretensions to scientific status, at some future stage (not yet reached).

  19. Gravatar of Mattias Mattias
    28. June 2010 at 03:10

    I think the economist “worker bees” in the Fed could have asked to be left alone if they had continued to produce the honey after 2008.

  20. Gravatar of scott sumner scott sumner
    28. June 2010 at 05:06

    Indy, You said;

    “I don’t think Athreya is really addressing the entire econoblogosphere at all.”

    I agree, he made it very clear that Mankiw and Williamson were the exceptions that prove the rule.

    Of course there is silliness in any arena. In that sense I agree. Where Athreya is wrong is in suggesting that bloggers are less qualified to discuss public policy issues than “scientific economists.” Scientific economists often have shockingly uninformed opinions on many economic policy issues. A non-economist like Matt Yglesias is more qualified to discuss most public policy issues that are most “scientific economists.”

    Ram, You said;

    “My theory is that one group of economists learned a lot of stuff in grad school, later specialized in some other area, and simply didn’t keep up with or resisted changing their view in light of later research in the area of interest.”

    Yes, and even worse, it is often undergraduate ideas that are remembered. I was taught about liquidity traps as a undergraduate, not grad student. When the crisis hit I was shocked to find that many economists believe that nonsense. I had assumed it was a relic of the past, but I am constantly talking with economists who ask me “well what can the Fed do once rates hit zero?”

    Ted, Me neither.

    Benjamin, You might google my “open letter to Paul Krugman.”

    TGGP, Thanks.

    aloa5, Yeah, imagine that!

    johnleemk, You said;

    “While I think Scott is right to reply that the economics profession needs to get its own house in order too, that doesn’t change the fact that the people who think the economic crisis somehow proves that all of economics is wrong are just…wrong.”

    Almost no one believes all economics is bunk, rather they believe that all economics EXCEPT THE ECONOMICS THEY PERSONALLY BELIEVE IN is bunk. And I’d include Athreya in that group of skeptics. He seems to think everything that doesn’t use his approved method is bunk. By implication, that includes the research of Milton Friedman. Why else cite Williamson? It’s not like Williamson is the first respected blogger that would pop into someone’s mind–you’d expect a Gary Becker, or a John Taylor to be mentioned.

    You said;

    “I don’t think Arthreya’s criticisms apply that much to Yglesias or Krugman, say, but they definitely apply to a lot of the people who read Yglesias and Krugman.”

    Yes, but 99.999% of his readers aren’t bloggers. And his essay is criticizing bloggers.

    Aloa5#2, I agree. Blogging has dramatically raised the level of intellectual discourse in economics. Blog posts are (on average) more knowledgeable than discussions among scientific economists at conferences.

    Jimmy, Yes, he doesn’t provide a single example to support argument. Perhaps he was afraid of being wrong. After all, his Tsunami analogy turned out to be very weak, not at all applicable to the current crisis. Blogging’s not as easy as it seems.

    anon/portly, Good point. His criticism of Krugman and DeLong confuses two issues.

    1. They both say those who disagree with them are idiots.

    (I also have a problem with their attitude.)

    2. They confidently assert that more deficit spending is needed.

    Why shouldn’t they do the second, if they believe it? I confidently assert that more monetary ease is needed.

    Richard, Good points. BTW, next month I hope to convince you that people with your values should not agree with Krugman on taxes. I don’t see any difference between Krugman’s values and mine–I think we are both basically utilitarians. He has written essays defending sweatshops in third world countries on basically utilitarian grounds.

    Tim, Yes, I think non-economists often have useful things to say about economics.

    afinetheorem; You said;

    “I don’t think the essay is intended at comments from Scott, nor intended to say that bloggers like Tim have nothing useful to say. I think Athreya would completely agree that the average blogger knows more about economics than the average politician!

    The critique is more about the “why doesn’t the government/Fed/etc. just do obvious thing A” school of blogging, which is widespread. I think it is safe to assume that any argument with which an average blogger is familiar is not unknown, say, to Ben Bernanke, or Kacherlakota, or Yellen, or other Fed decisionmakers.”

    If you are a blogger, you quickly learn that if you intend to say “A” and actually say “B”, which is completely different, you will get into trouble. Athreya hasn’t yet learned how to express his ideas clearly (if he believes what you claim he believes.)

    I am someone who thinks “the Fed obviously needs to be more expansionary, after all, NGDP fell 8% below trend.” So I have no problem with simplistic solutions.

    No, Fed officials do not always know what bloggers know. Yellen stated the Fed can’t do anything more once rates hit zero, If she read my blog she’d find out that that statement is very inaccurate. I don’t know about Kacherlakota, but I doubt he knows what I know about interest on reserves, for instance. Bernanke is another story. He does know almost everything I know.

    You said;

    “In my experience, making even *minor* contribution to the state of economic knowledge is very difficult once ideas are written down formally.”

    This is a very good point, and I am glad you mentioned it. Bloggers are not primarily concerned with advancing economic knowledge at the frontier of theory {although they do so on occasion.) But where Athreya errs is in assuming that scientific economists understand the “state of economic knowledge.” For instance, it has been known for decades that low interest rates do not mean easy money. That fact appears in the number one money and banking textbook. But somehow most economists do not seem to have absorbed that fact. That’s why bloggers like me must keep hitting people over the head with it. I won’t stop until economists stop referring to the Fed’s current “accommodative” policy.

    You said;

    “I think Athreya would completely agree that the average blogger knows more about economics than the average politician!”

    I think the average (serious) economics blogger knows as much economics that the average economist. Here is an example. Take the 6 or 8 GMU professors who blog. Now take a random sample of economics professors at GMU-level institutions. Who are more knowledgeable on average? I think you know what my answer would be.

    Lorenzo, I completely agree about blogs and news columns. The column Friedman and Samuelson wrote years ago was like a blog.

    I disagree about science. There is no real distinction between “hard” sciences and social sciences. For instance, climate science is actually physics, it’s just that most physicists don’t seem to understand that. And climate science is about as rigorous as macro, precisely because it deals with an equally complex system. Science is about what you are doing, not how well you do it. The status of “Science” is not some goal to be obtained, because science is not better than non-science. Non-sciences like law and literature aren’t worse than science, just different.

    Mattias, Touche.

  21. Gravatar of aloa5 aloa5
    28. June 2010 at 05:15

    I agree. Blogging has dramatically raised the level of intellectual discourse in economics. Blog posts are (on average) more knowledgeable than discussions among scientific economists at conferences.

    Not only this. Blogging (informing) puts more pressure on the economists (in and behind the scenes). And this pressure was perhaps the reason for Ahtreya.

    Scientists don´t like to be criticised.

    Regards
    ALOA

  22. Gravatar of Sean Abbott Sean Abbott
    28. June 2010 at 05:16

    Wait, economics is a science?

    I don’t need a PhD in seismology to write that earthquakes are caused by tectonic activity. As to the underlying cause, Paul Krugman would argue for sticky tectonic plates, Scott Sumner for a shortage of magma.

  23. Gravatar of Sean Abbott Sean Abbott
    28. June 2010 at 05:56

    Sorry for the double post, but I realized I wanted to make a serious point.

    I had just 18 hours of economics in college, but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot, especially in the upper level courses. I honestly believe that a few econ classes ought to be the bare minimum requirement to vote (or perhaps an equivalency test). Nowadays I read blogs like this one, and am learning more, the explosion of information available these days really is phenomenal.

    Athreya talks about the lay public self-selecting blogs that agree with their viewpoint and I’m sure a lot of that does go on (I for one, don’t even try to read Krugman any more). So what? If people delve into economic theory because it was featured on Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann or whatever, good for them. At least understand who Keynes was before you vote for a New Keynesian politician.

    It wasn’t that long ago that a guy working at a patent office could turn physics on its ear, and I consider economics to be less developed than physics (ok Einstein did have a PhD). There’s probably somebody blogging right now from a Starbucks who will be recognized as a genius by historians. I find this scenario more likely than that this hypothetical genius was working for the Fed and telling the lay public what they shouldn’t be reading.

  24. Gravatar of Matthew Yglesias » Do I Have Anything Interesting to Say? Matthew Yglesias » Do I Have Anything Interesting to Say?
    28. June 2010 at 05:59

    [...] think there’s a lot that’s wrong about Athreya’s essay, much of it explained by Scott Sumner, but most of all I think his argument hinges on two category errors, one about what I’m doing [...]

  25. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    28. June 2010 at 06:04

    Wow, I’ve FINALLY found something that the Fed has done that you and ZeroHedge agree on!

    http://www.zerohedge.com/article/fed-has-lost-it-publishes-essay-bashing-bloggers-tells-general-public-broadly-ignore-those-w

    Kartik had better hope he keeps his job at the Fed. He’s going to have a tough time in the outside world after this nonsense.

  26. Gravatar of Paul Paul
    28. June 2010 at 08:12

    My first reaction was that this guy was working with data one day when he realized how pointless it was to try to mathematically predict human behavior in the confines of today’s society, when in fact our “decision making process” is hardwired into our DNA and really has nothing to do with the borders in which we live or how we “rationally” choose to maximize utility. However since he has devoted his whole life to economics he decided to take out his frustration on the people in the blogosphere, who at least have the freedom to discuss what they think and not have it subjected to peer review.

    More information about his personal life would also be illuminating. Does he have kids? Is he married? Divorced? Because lets face it, no one is totally objective.

  27. Gravatar of Brautigan Brautigan
    28. June 2010 at 08:19

    and I am fairly confident that this is not just a question of limited intellect.

    I am not so sanguine.

  28. Gravatar of Liberal Roman Liberal Roman
    28. June 2010 at 08:28

    I think Athreya would include you Scott Sumner in the group of intelligent econ bloggers. The problem is that eventhough there are a lot of smart, insightful econ bloggers, the ones that get attention are the ones that make the most noise and make the most absurd statements (see ZeroHedge).

    So, Athreya took a brief glance at the economic blogosphere and he probably just shook his head in dismay. Something that I would have done too. In the econ blogosphere, at least 85% of it is pure garbage ranging from populist nonsense to Austrian economics/goldbugs. But that nonsense dominates the debate and I am not surprised Athreya came to this conclusion.

    It’s just a sad state of things.

  29. Gravatar of Economists behaving foolishly – Economics - Economists behaving foolishly - Economics -
    28. June 2010 at 08:48

    [...] crowd probably can’t either.Mr Athreya has already provoked a number of responses, including this one from Scott Sumner, and this, from Matt Yglesias. I'll just make a few short comments. First, [...]

  30. Gravatar of Monday links: feedback cycles Abnormal Returns Monday links: feedback cycles Abnormal Returns
    28. June 2010 at 08:53

    [...] economist thinks economic bloggers generate more noise than signal.  (FT Alphaville, Zero Hedge, The Money Illusion, EconLog, Free [...]

  31. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. June 2010 at 09:10

    Scott-

    I just read your open letter to Krugman, and also brushed up on “qualitative easing.”

    I just hope someone at the Fed is also reading. Great ideas–and what we need now.

    To the fore, bloggers!

  32. Gravatar of dieter dieter
    28. June 2010 at 12:19

    Bloggers subject themselves to constant review from us pesky commenters (and other bloggers) who present counterfactuals, question your logic and advance alternative hypothesis. The fact that bloggers are willing to put up with this is admirable and seems almost masochistic.

    The professional scientific debate in contrast mostly takes place in a close circle of acquaintances compared to what would be possible, now that we have the internet. This is rather suspicious. The problem with peer review is that your peers, while having a superior understanding of the school of thought in question, have an interest in sustaining and aggrandize said school of thought.

    I haven’t studied economics, but so far I had no difficulty in understanding the macro papers Tyler Cowen and various others link to from time to time. And those papers have left me utterly unimpressed. (Maybe I haven’t seen any good ones).
    I am not awed by fancy calculus and statistics. Those are just science and assumption neutral techniques.

    I didn’t have any confidence that the papers I looked at were just an economics version of a sophisticated application of flat earth or ether theory or humoralism.

  33. Gravatar of Thomas Dolby Thomas Dolby
    28. June 2010 at 12:58

    I seriously doubt that you know anything about interest on reserves that Narayana does not.

  34. Gravatar of Thomas DOlby Thomas DOlby
    28. June 2010 at 13:06

    “I’ve studied many top models in finance and economics in a lot of depth, including state of the art mathematics and statistics (see for example here: http://works.bepress.com/richard_serlin/4/ ).”

    Simulated annealing is state of the art? Man, your art is fifty years old, time to update.

  35. Gravatar of monximus monximus
    28. June 2010 at 17:29

    scott sumner: “They confidently assert that more deficit spending is needed. Why shouldn’t they do the second, if they believe it? I confidently assert that more monetary ease is needed.”

    Liberal Roman: “In the econ blogosphere, at least 85% of it is pure garbage ranging from populist nonsense to Austrian economics/goldbugs.”

    I hope you don’t think the government forcing people to buy crap they are not voluntarily willing to pay for = “spending”. Keynesians only pretend to be empiricists. They ignore all data that shows people to do not want to buy the stuff that government forces them to “buy”.

    If I offer you $1 for all of your stuff and you decline that is irrefutable empirical data that you value all of your stuff more than $1. If you offer to sell your $100K house for $500K and there are no takers that is empirical data that the market values your house less than $500K. One of the biggest laughable con scandals was the notion that Keynesians are empiricists.

    This is precisely why Keynesians demonstrably do not know what supply and demand is, do not know what trade is (hint: it consists of voluntary mutual exchange), do not know the difference between want and not want, do not know the difference between want more and want less, and therefore do not know what a market is, and thus do not know any basic economics whatsoever. And this is precisely because they ignore empirical data, precisely because they pretend the preferences of others are what they are demonstrably empirically not.

    When a Keynesian references the term “spending” you know they are full of it. You can now go back to your regular religious posting. Just don’t pretend for a second you people are empirical or scientists.

  36. Gravatar of Tom Waye Tom Waye
    28. June 2010 at 17:46

    I’m not sure where that essay fits in to scientific economics, but I think Indy makes a good point about the trustworthiness of sources being cultural. Climatology is a much better example than economics. In a democracy we need to strike a balance between letting everyone have their say and at the same time taking the right action regardless of whether the average person thinks it’s a good idea. A while ago I read some pundit’s blog on climate change; he seriously began with something like “Now honestly I don’t understand any of this mumbo jumbo” then a paragraph later attacked scientists for their supposed elitism. The paper is obviously wrong about economics blogs, but I don’t think the sentiment is really that awful, for some issues a top-down approach is required, even if that means surrendering the right to be critical and make a political issue out of everything.

  37. Gravatar of Phil Rothman Phil Rothman
    28. June 2010 at 21:09

    I read Athreya’s piece following the link from Greg Mankiw’s
    blog, and found myself both in sympathy with a key part of its
    message and in disagreement with another: (1) I think he
    correctly issues a caveat emptor plea with respect to many
    confidently-asserted claims in the economics blogosphere, esp.
    with respect to some coming from eminent scholars who know that
    far more nuance is called for if the goal is to try to advance
    understanding; but (2) he did not use this clarion call to
    wonder, even just a little bit, if the dominant direction
    academic macroeconomic research has taken over the past 30
    years has provided useful tools for analyzing and/or combatting
    the recent macro mess.

    Despite having to work around lots of silly noise, I have
    learned a great deal from the economics blogosphere. Partially
    in the spirit of Athreya’s piece, almost all of what’s been
    worthwhile for me has been written by economists; I pay
    attention to everything Jim Hamilton writes, and I have found
    Scott’s commentary on the state of monetary policy in the
    post-Lehman-collapse era to be highly enlightening (Scott’s
    stuff serially reminds me that I have failed to properly digest
    the corpus of Milton Friedman’s monetary insights).

    Back to Athreya’s musings: (1) I agree strongly with what
    Arnold Kling has to say
    (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/06/signal_and_nois.html);
    and (2) the link to the piece now comes up empty, leading us to
    conclude that Athreya has removed it (on his own?).

  38. Gravatar of Two Ends of the Spectrum : Invest My Money Two Ends of the Spectrum : Invest My Money
    28. June 2010 at 23:13

    [...] Two Ends of the Spectrum June 29th, 2010 | Posted in Macro & Other Market Via Brad DeLong I found this piece by James Morely. In it Morely provides a thoughtful but thorough smackdown on some of the claims made by proponents of “modern” macro. It was an interesting read throughout and just the fix I needed after reading this Fed economist’s pejorative and arrogant take on economic bloggers. This Fed economist recieved his just due from Scott Sumner. [...]

  39. Gravatar of A Rebuttal for Kartik Athreya | Paul Legato A Rebuttal for Kartik Athreya | Paul Legato
    29. June 2010 at 03:21

    [...] daring to have an opinion about his area of expertise is making the rounds, predictably being slammed by those of us with the audacity to hold an opinion about some subject in which we lack a [...]

  40. Gravatar of Economics is hard – the empire strikes back « Economics Intelligence Economics is hard – the empire strikes back « Economics Intelligence
    29. June 2010 at 04:44

    [...] The Money Illusion If Athreya really thinks we are so shallow, then I encourage him to enter the fray, start his own blog.  I’d love to debate monetary policy with him.  He might find out that bloggers know a bit more than he imagined. [...]

  41. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    29. June 2010 at 04:50

    A blogger who is not an economist but has worked in the IMF and elsewhere thinks the problem is that economists do not understand fiat currency. That would make her the anti-Athreya in just about every way.

  42. Gravatar of scott sumner scott sumner
    29. June 2010 at 06:10

    Aloa5, Yes, indeed NOBODY likes to be criticized.

    Sean, Good point about self-selection. Of course even economists with PhDs often self-select into certain types of programs (Minnesota teaches a different econ from University of Massachusetts.)

    No one science is better than another. Physics should be able to forecast the weather, but it can’t. It all depends on the complexity of the problem. Science is what we do, not how well we do it.

    Statsguy, In all seriousness, if Athreya lost his job I’d be outraged. I’d write a post accusing the Fed of being a bunch of fascists. It would have a chilling effect on discourse. He has the right to criticize us, and we have the right to hammer him back.

    Paul, I’m not going there, I’ve already been pretty tough on him. I think that right now, if anything, the danger is overreaction. It wasn’t even written on any sort of official Fed outlet, just his personal gripes about bloggers. If Lacker had written that I’d have been even more outraged, and would have hit back even harder.

    Liberal Roman, It’s very possible you are right. There are really two issues here.

    1. What did he say
    2. What did he mean to say.

    When I mentioned Becker, Taylor, et al, it wasn’t because I thought he’d disagree with me, but to show he’d been sloppy; painting all of us (except 2) with a broad brush. I’m sure his actual complaints are more focused on certain individuals, and he should have called them out with specific examples, not gone after the whole profession. My other complaints was the misuse of “science”. The general equilibrium modeling approach is not the only scientific approach.

    Thanks Benjamin.

    dieter, I am also unimpressed by most scientific papers. But to be honest, even the good ones might leave non-scientists unimpressed. If you want to test yourself read Coase’s two classic papers. If you are not impressed by his originality, then economics just isn’t your field. But I agree that non-economists can read the literature and get a pretty good idea as to what is going on. One of the few areas I agree with him is that economists often have a better understanding of accounting identities. Why current account deficits imply capital account surpluses, etc.

    Thomas, I censored part of your comment. Regarding IOR; when the policy was announced a very influential figure contacted many of the regional bank presidents to ask what was going on. They mostly said they had no idea. (Sorry, I can’t name the individual, but I trust my source.)

    Regarding Narayana, This post by DeLong provides a quotation that just makes me cringe:

    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2010/06/attempted-delong-smackdown-watch-unsuccessful-attempt-by-kartik-malibu-barbie-athreya.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BradDelongsSemi-dailyJournal+%28Brad+DeLong%27s+Semi-Daily+Journal%29

    It would perhaps be accurate if Minnesota were the only economics department in the world.

    monximus, I also regard 85% of journal articles as crap. So we are no worse than the “scientists”

    And no, I’m not a Keynesian.

    Tom, This confuses two issues. Do people have a right to be critical? Yes. Is it wise to spout off about an issue where you are ill-informed? No.

    Phil, Athreya’s mistake was to argue that most of the economics bloggers weren’t worth reading (except 2.) He wasn’t saying caveat emptor, he was saying don’t bother with bloggers, they don’t know what they are talking about. Does he really believe that? Probably his views are more nuanced. I doubt his attack was directed at people like James Hamilton.

    Lorenzo, You said;

    “A blogger who is not an economist but has worked in the IMF and elsewhere thinks the problem is that economists do not understand fiat currency. That would make her the anti-Athreya in just about every way.”

    I suppose you could say the same about my blog, that I am arguing that many economists don’t understand fiat currency.

  43. Gravatar of Phil Rothman Phil Rothman
    29. June 2010 at 06:49

    Scott: Regarding your reply to the comment I posted, I also doubt his attack was directed against people like JDH, as I doubt it was directed against you; I ‘strongly doubt’ in both cases. My reference to the two of you were meant to imply that yours are examples of blogs I believe his filter would certainly deem worthwhile (even though they weren’t explicitly mentioned by him); it appears I wasn’t successful in conveying this idea. Further, I’m 100% in favor of nuance, and more of it from Athreya would have helped.

    Thanks for continuing to share your insights.

  44. Gravatar of Blogging and the Economics Profession « Rortybomb Blogging and the Economics Profession « Rortybomb
    29. June 2010 at 07:03

    [...] willing to discuss economics in the public sphere without having an economics PhD. I’d note Scott Sumner, Yglesias, and Mark Thoma. I’m largely in agreement with them, so I’m actually going to [...]

  45. Gravatar of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Unloads Both Barrels at the Fed Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Unloads Both Barrels at the Fed
    29. June 2010 at 07:14

    [...] His latest piece doesn’t disappoint. It is a reply to Kartik Athreya’s now infamous essay that tells readers to ignore economic commentators on matters of monetary policy and only listen to [...]

  46. Gravatar of Learning by avoiding the mistakes of others « Frakonomics Learning by avoiding the mistakes of others « Frakonomics
    29. June 2010 at 08:16

    [...] in Uncategorized Yesterday, the economics blogosphere rose up in unity against a one-off essay by Kartik Athreya. Kartik is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank [...]

  47. Gravatar of Jabba-walky Jabba-walky
    29. June 2010 at 13:05

    Typical — shitty blogger defends other shitty bloggers against people who know what they are doing.

  48. Gravatar of Tom Hartman Tom Hartman
    29. June 2010 at 15:14

    Mr. Athreya’s problem is that he is young. I am a thermodynamist by training. I read several of Mr. Athreya’s published papers, and they remind me of my published academic literature. I have had thirty years since then to recover, and take a more nuanced view of things. So will he with some more time.

  49. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    29. June 2010 at 16:23

    Scott: well, yes. I was rather hoping to draw a comment from you about Reclusive Leftist’s spray :)

    In posting a response to Athreya at my own blog, it occurred to me that, in the end, Athreya is complaining about an arena with low transactions costs and few limits to entry: a very odd thing for an economist to be complaining about. Usually, when people complain about low transaction costs and ease of entry, it is because they want to preserve some sort of privilege and/or sense of status. Which does seem to be what Athreya is actually about, at bottom.

  50. Gravatar of dwr dwr
    29. June 2010 at 17:09

    First of all, I think Athreya misinterprets Krugman and Delong. I think what those two are saying is that many economists today are making fundamental errors that they should not be making. Which is true, in my opinion. Fama and Cochrane and even Lucas(!) have made some pretty silly errs following the financial crisis.

    (Although the fact that Athreya misinterpret Krugman/Delong does bring into question whether those two are disseminating their thoughts fairly and honestly. For example, it’s way too easy to walk away from Krugman’s writings with the mistaken impression that UChicago is an intellectually depraved hell-hole, and I don’t think that’s true in the slightest.)

    Anyway, my issues with many bloggers sans credentials are:

    (1) They are largely unaware of real economic research.

    (2) They are often too quick opine about positive economics.

    With that said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with merely discussing economics and disseminating information like journalists if we cite reputable sources. And I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with opining about normative economics. (I do think positive economics should be left to the experts.)

    I think about 97% of the PhD-lacking blogosphere is an absolutely terrible place to read up on econ. But every once in a blue moon, you come across a Matthew Yglesias, or an Ezra Klein, or a James Surowiecki.

    I am very sympathetic to Athreya’s frustration, but I think he should be a little more realistic: there are a handful of sound and intellectually honest economic bloggers sans credentials, even if the vast majority of them are bumbling idiots. Heck, I’ve been reading serious academic econ papers since my junior year of high school. (“The Market for Lemons,” what a great place to start my intellectual journey!)

  51. Gravatar of More Sniping at Sumner (and Cochrane) More Sniping at Sumner (and Cochrane)
    29. June 2010 at 21:06

    [...] I grapple with Scott on technical matters, or on his interpretation of historical events. But today I caught him making (what sure seems to be) a silly error, goaded by John Cochrane: The same point [that you can't [...]

  52. Gravatar of scott sumner scott sumner
    30. June 2010 at 05:38

    Phil, I did understand your comment, and agree. My response was that I try to respond to what people write, and don’t speculate as to what they really meant. When I try to speculate what Krugman really meant, I got into trouble.

    Tom, I should probably read some of his things. Does he line up with the RBC model school?

    Lorenzo, Yes, and the ease of entry is what I like about blogging–it is a meritocracy.

    I glanced at your link, but could see that it would take me a while to figure out where they are coming from. And I was pressed for time.

    dwr, Yes, Athreya may have misrepresented Krugman and DeLong, but then Krugman and DeLong misrepresented me, so who am I to complain. I also think Krugman misrepresented Cochrane. I don’t agree with Cochrane’s view of monetary economics, but it isn’t as silly as Krugman made it out to be. He just doesn’t buy into the Keynesian model.

    You said;

    For example, it’s way too easy to walk away from Krugman’s writings with the mistaken impression that UChicago is an intellectually depraved hell-hole, and I don’t think that’s true in the slightest.)

    When I was at Chicago in the late 1970s it was a very intellectually stimulating place–hardly a hellhole. Full of future Nobel laureates

  53. Gravatar of k k
    30. June 2010 at 06:38

    A talks to B, B understands what A said differently from what A intended…B talks to C, now the misinformation regarding A’s intent is layered with another mis-informed belief of C over B’s statement.

    And so on.

    When you factor in the notion that A/B/C/etc themselves may not always say what they mean to say, you have a serious problem of who knows who’s saying what.

  54. Gravatar of On Bloggers’ Supposed Economic Ignorance and Other Links | Credit Writedowns On Bloggers’ Supposed Economic Ignorance and Other Links | Credit Writedowns
    30. June 2010 at 06:59

    [...] TheMoneyIllusion » Why won’t those &$*%#@ bloggers go away? [...]

  55. Gravatar of Other Alpha Sources | Credit Writedowns Other Alpha Sources | Credit Writedowns
    30. June 2010 at 10:01

    [...] for econbloggers to understand (the original link to the essay is gone, but FT Alphaville and Scott Sumner provide good coverage and quotes). Now, I don’t even know where to begin here, but, as both [...]

  56. Gravatar of Daily Data Dump – Wednesday | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine Daily Data Dump – Wednesday | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine
    30. June 2010 at 13:46

    [...] Why won’t those &$*%#@ bloggers go away? Scott Sumner’s response to a criticism of the “econosphere” from a professional economist. I doubt that engineers worry about engineering bloggers talking about stuff they don’t know about. Economics is hard, but many of us who are not averse to giving due respect to professionals who have a real understanding of how the world works have shifted our assessment on the empirics of late. The econosphere would disappear in its current critical form if economists either toned down their pretensions, or actually showed us the money. [...]

  57. Gravatar of PPP Lusofonia PPP Lusofonia
    1. July 2010 at 01:17

    Now that we find ourselves up the economic creek without a paddle, academic economists and econoblogers are turning on each other?

    Reminds me of a popular Portuguese saying, “casa onde não há pão, todos ralham e ninguém tem razão” (in a home without bread, everyone scolds but no one is right).

    For really pithy economics, try the proverbs, which distill centuries of experience.
    Mariana Abrantes, economist and econobloger in PPP Lusofonia

  58. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    1. July 2010 at 10:42

    k, I agree, unless I misunderstood you. :)

    PPP Lusofonia, I enjoyed by visit to Portugal, and recently have been greatly enjoy a Portuguese writer named Pessoa.

    I agree that proverbs contain a lot of wisdom, and that economists would benefit from reading more of them.

  59. Gravatar of Weekend reading: Some other fools who think the market is cheap Weekend reading: Some other fools who think the market is cheap
    3. July 2010 at 02:54

    [...] by Sumner, Yglesias, Salmon, Evans-Pritchard, and [...]

  60. Gravatar of Economics Is Hard And Then You Die « Around The Sphere Economics Is Hard And Then You Die « Around The Sphere
    3. July 2010 at 06:38

    [...] Scott Sumner: That’s right; no need to pay attention to Gary Becker, John Taylor, Paul Krugman, and all the other quacks who lack Athreya’s sophisticated understanding of the “science” of economics.  BTW, any time someone wields the term ’science’ as a weapon, you pretty much know they are an intellectual philistine.  Am I being defensive yet? [...]

  61. Gravatar of Performance Car Insurance : : Why Am I Blogging? – Insurance Today Performance Car Insurance : : Why Am I Blogging? - Insurance Today
    14. July 2010 at 12:02

    [...] Scott Sumner [...]

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