Noah Smith has “incredible confidence” that he understands my views

Here’s Noah Smith:

Scott Sumner expresses incredible confidence that NGDP targeting is best .  . . .  I think normal people realize that that certitude is basically never warranted.

Well I’m certainly not a normal person, but he’s got it exactly backwards. I think it very unlikely that NGDP targeting is best, and have said so on many occasions.  As far as certitude, I’m not certain of anything.  I’m not certain that I’m not dreaming right now, or that the world won’t end next week.  More seriously, my hunch is that there are other targets that are better than NGDPLT, and that for some developing countries even an inflation target might be better.  There’s also a non-trivial chance that I’m wrong about almost everything, and that Paul Krugman or Bob Murphy is much closer to the truth.

Although I believe absolute certainty is never warranted, my impression is that “most people” believe exactly the opposite. Most people are certain that free will exists, that personal identity exists, etc. Indeed I find most people to be wildly overconfident in their beliefs in all sorts of areas.  I’m an extreme skeptic, out there on the 99.9% end of the skepticism distribution.  In fairness, I probably have occasionally used the term “certain” when I meant fairly sure, but I am quite confident I’ve never even hinted that I’m certain NGDP targeting is best.  It certainly, err, almost certainly is not.



29 Responses to “Noah Smith has “incredible confidence” that he understands my views”

  1. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    22. February 2015 at 10:34


    It’s easy to project more confidence than one has.

    I’m fairly confident that’s the case, anyway.


  2. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    22. February 2015 at 10:41

    You wrote a list with NGDPLT at the top of it here:

    However even the basic structure of the theory requires it to be either right or useless. There aren’t any in-between options where it is e.g. a good approximation. If markets were convinced of Keynesianism then by your arguments, Keynesianism would be the “true” theory. Markets would go up on credible promises of fiscal expansion. The other option is that expectations don’t have much of an effect, but as you’ve said before, the theory is 90% expectations.

    As market monetarism is constructed, the theory is mostly expectations and you’ve said before it is based on rational expectations. A pure expectations theory with model consistent expectations — you are making the claim that the only self-consistent theory of expectations is market monetarism! And you haven’t shown that with any kind of proof, empirical or theoretical. It’s not the kind of thing you can show by treating a few cases, either.

  3. Gravatar of Jason Smith Jason Smith
    22. February 2015 at 11:17

    By a coincidence, I wrote something about theoretical confidence and expectations-based theories last night:

  4. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    22. February 2015 at 11:40

    “I think normal people realize that that certitude is basically never warranted,” he said with certainty.

    There’s certainly a pile of empirical evidence for MM.

  5. Gravatar of rtd rtd
    22. February 2015 at 11:46

    Dr. Summer, you’re better than this. Noah Smith is THE troll of the econ blogosphere. Heck, he even wrote a blog piece about it (it takes one to know one?). He strives for legitimatecy in baiting those he aspires to be – Sumner, Mankiw, the list goes on.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. February 2015 at 12:03

    Thanks Noah.

    Jason, You said;

    “You wrote a list with NGDPLT at the top of it here:”

    Yes, that’s my order of preference among those options, for the US economy.

    I’m not sure I follow the rest of your comment.

    I believe that all good economic theories are merely good approximations, or at least almost all.

    You said:

    “If markets were convinced of Keynesianism then by your arguments, Keynesianism would be the “true” theory.”

    That’s right.

    rtd, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t aspire to be me. To be honest, I’ve never had a clear idea as to what a “troll” is. I’ve seen the term used many times, and sort of have a general idea. But at least when it comes to comment sections, being a troll doesn’t really work, as we recently saw with Ray Lopez. You become your own worst enemy. Smith is too smart to become his own worst enemy like that.

    So while many bloggers can be annoying at times, I wouldn’t lump them in with people who are clearly trying to do nothing more than being annoying.

  7. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    22. February 2015 at 12:05

    I’d say that Noah Smith – and others among the left – have new confidence that too many on the supply side don’t feel responsible for a stable economy and needed structural reform, hence left the matter in Washington’s hands. What a shame. This “new” confidence in Washington may not be as long lived as some imagine…

  8. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    22. February 2015 at 13:33

    Trolling means saying things merely for the purpose of getting a reaction from your target.

    Ray Lopez, being stupid, was doing it rather poorly.

    Noah Smith, being much smarter, is doing it with much more subtlety and effectiveness.

    If you want to try your hand at it, try telling an Austrian (say, Major_Moron) that Mises was a charlatan whose theories were pseudo-scientific at best – and then sit back and watch the free entertainment. (of course, that would be low-level trolling, akin to taking candy from a baby)

  9. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    22. February 2015 at 13:38

    There is no QUESTION, that free will absolutely exists, that personal identity exists, that any smart intelligent peopleor scientists who believe otherwise are only able to function by ignoring the fundamental contradictions in their actions every single day, by making choices , by exercising free will which is said to not exist.

  10. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    22. February 2015 at 14:01

    There is no QUESTION, that free will absolutely exists

    So I take that the universe is not deterministic, in your view ?

    that personal identity exists

    See, this is what trolling looks like.

  11. Gravatar of DanielJ DanielJ
    22. February 2015 at 14:42

    Either way, Noah and Scott challenging each other and having the occasional spar is good for the discussion as a whole.

  12. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    22. February 2015 at 14:52

    “So I take that the universe is not deterministic, in your view ?”

    I thought quantum mechanics killed that rigidly deterministic view of the universe. Apparently old fallacies never die. ”

    “that personal identity exists

    See, this is what trolling looks like.”

    What the hell man?

  13. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    22. February 2015 at 15:56

    OT: the boards of the Philadelphia and Dallas Federal Reserve banks will soon select new presidents. These presidents do rotate on and off of Federal Open Market Committee voting seats. Your readers who live in those two regions may wish to contact those boards and make their views known. Additionally, the national Federal Reserve Board must approve any president of a regional bank. Ergo, Janet Yellen and her cohorts have an opportunity here as well.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. February 2015 at 16:15

    Daniel, Yes, that’s sort of what I thought. But here’s the problem that trolls have. if you say something false it’s easy for the other person to respond by ridiculing what you said. Mocking Ray brought me endless enjoyment. On the other hand there might be cases where the victim doesn’t have a good response because you are correct, in that case is it really trolling?

    I’ve always figured that as long as I’m correct I have nothing to fear from trolls. That’s why I don’t ban them. When people like DeLong delete my very polite comments, I’m pretty sure it’s because they don’t have a good response.

    Edward, Philosophers have debated these issues for centuries, and I can assure you that your one paragraph argument is not going to convince anyone. You might be right, but I suspect you are wrong.

    I’d add that the “many worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics (which is increasingly popular) does not allow for randomness.

    Ben, Maybe we can get a NGDP supporter into one of the positions.

  15. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    22. February 2015 at 16:27

    Why would you EVER want to accept a disempowering belief like hard core determinism or fatalism. I don’t understand people like Sam Harris or BF skinner.
    Part of what attracted me to political and economic libertarianism was metaphysical libertarianism. Besides you night claim to not believe in free will, but you exercise it, or a facsimile of it, every day.

  16. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    22. February 2015 at 20:24

    Scott — probably goes without saying, but banning is always a sign of epistemic closure.

    I’ve seen people argue “well it’s my blog, there’s no free speech argument here.” This is true as a legal matter of course, but resoundingly hollow as an ethical, philosophical or epistemic matter. Free speech is just a particular manifestation of the principle of free inquiry or free debate, and tyrants petty or powerful are identical in nature and effect.

  17. Gravatar of Prakash Prakash
    22. February 2015 at 22:43

    Prof. Sumner, or any of the blog’s regular readers, one small request.

    Could you post the link of the post(s) where the discussion of the suitability of inflation targeting over NGDP targeting for developing economies is discussed? I have followed this blog for a while now and being Indian, am especially interested in developing country relevant econ. I don’t think I would’ve missed this, but looks like I have.

  18. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    22. February 2015 at 22:59


    Like I said – Ray, not being very smart, was easily foiled.

    On the other hand, Noah easily got a reaction from you. That’s trolling done right.


    You must be severely lacking in self-awareness.

    Try this experiment – take some acid or mushrooms, and watch the “self” dissolve away.

    That should cure you of your delusions.

  19. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    22. February 2015 at 23:16

    Sumner wrote:

    “As far as certitude, I’m not certain of anything.”


    “I believe absolute certainty is never warranted.”

    If you believe absolute certainty is never warranted, then you are actually eliciting a claim of certainty regarding the ability, or rather the inability, of all human minds. Namely, that you are absolutely certain that our minds are so constituted do as to lack the ability to know anything as absolutely true.

    You may not realize it, but that is itself a claim of absolute certainty regarding the ability of our minds!

    That is what “never” entails.

    Now if you are consistent, then you would be obligated to think that you are not absolutely sure that absolute certainty is never warranted. In other words, a skeptical mindset such as yours (Haha! You don’t fool me for a second!) would logically require you to leave open the possibility that maybe, just maybe, absolute certainty is occasionally and in specific circumstances warranted after all.

    What you call “extreme skepticism”, when taken to its logical conclusion, invariably leads to self-contradiction. In a sentence, it leads to being absolute certain about something, where that something is the efficacy of the human mind.

    Being absolutely certain is actually a necessary condition of being human. You cannot but think in absolutely certain terms, even when you try not to. Just read what you said. In your attempt to not be absolutely certain of anything, you ended up typing your absolutely certain thought about the way we humans ought to think, which of course presupposes absolute certainty about the ability of our minds.

    Skeptics can never say never. Never as a predicate makes the subject absolutely certain.

    I call that brand of skepticism involuntary shysterism.

  20. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    22. February 2015 at 23:36


    “Try this experiment – take some acid or mushrooms, and watch the “self” dissolve away.”

    The self dissolves with or without LSD and psilocybin. The dissolving self is what the Ego is. It consumes itself. Egos are mortal, finite, and corporeal.

    With personal experience, the experience of “Ego Death” does not prove that the self is a delusion. It no more proves it than killing oneself, or going into a coma proves it. All it does is alter the chemistry of your brain which may in some people result in a temporary absence of self-representation. This can happen with or without hallucinogenics. For example, when I am focused very intently on a task (other than self-reflection), I temporarily do not even think of myself in a self-representational manner. This doesn’t mean the self is a delusion.

    If we had no way of NOT thinking self-representationally, then we would not even be a self to speak of. The self has the freedom to think or not think of oneself in self-representation.

    Taking hallucinogens may in some people block their ability to think self-representationally.

    For me, I used to experience Ego death, but I took those experiences as something to learn from and utilize, not to bow under like some passive minded yahoo who needs an excuse not to think self-representationally because of some emotional baggage.

    All you’re doing is mystifying acid and mushrooms like some hipster douchebag who read something in a magazine. Remind me never to trip with you. Yikes. Each person is different. Encourage and allow each individual to find their true selves, don’t treat them like absent minded sheep who are deluded until they trip.

  21. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    23. February 2015 at 10:10

    Edward, I’m not quite sure what metaphysical libertarianism is. Pragmatism is the philosophy that draws me to libertarianism. I have no interest in behaviorism. I don’t believe that a lack of free will has any implications for how I live my life. If you think it does, then perhaps we mean something different by “free will.” Indeed when others tell me they believe in free will, I often get the impression they are talking about something very different from what I am talking about.

    TallDave, That’s often the case.

    Daniel, Yes, Noah got a reaction from me, but surely not the reaction he wanted. My response made him look sloppy, which he was in this case. Or am I missing something?

    Prakash, Sorry, I can almost never find these old posts. I think it would work fine for India, but not for a developing countries with just a few commodity exports. In that case I’d focus on total labor compensation.

  22. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    23. February 2015 at 14:13


    Trolling is not about being right, but about being “cooler”.

    If the other guy stings you with a one-liner, and you respond with a technical explanation of why you’re right – you lost the game.

    Either you ignore the troll, or you best him at his own game – pithy one-liners.

    And I’m pretty sure Noah did indeed get the reaction he wanted.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. February 2015 at 06:17

    Daniel, You may be right, but I obviously don’t see it (maybe my problem.) He was 180 degrees off, which makes him look sloppy. In addition, his observation about me wasn’t at all witty or humorous, just an observation about my beliefs. No one would have read that and thought it was funny. On the other hand in the past he has had witty observations about me, which were also wrong. So in those cases I could see your argument having some force, but not in this case.

    Indeed I’ll go further, I think my retort was slightly less technical and slightly more funny that Smith’s post. Or at least I tried to make it slightly funny. On the other hand he has a much better sense of humor than I do.

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  26. Gravatar of Martin-2 Martin-2
    24. February 2015 at 20:18

    Looks to me like Noah is making a fully general argument, specifically #4 on this list: “Argument From My Opponent Believes Something, Which Is Kinda Like Believing It Blindly With 100% Certainty”.

    And now I cutely point out that I’m not 100% certain my criticism is valid, though without making a general habit of it since that would be annoying.

  27. Gravatar of Maurizio Maurizio
    25. February 2015 at 02:01

    Am I the only one to think that this attitude is totally at odds with the general tone of the rest of this blog?

  28. Gravatar of Gene Callahan Gene Callahan
    25. February 2015 at 05:30

    @TallDave: “Scott “” probably goes without saying, but banning is always a sign of epistemic closure.”

    What complete nonsense! Human life is limited, and time is a precious resource. If someone shows up at my blog who is a complete waste of my time, I stop posting their comments. Just like Socrates, sometimes you have to realize when it is your opponent who is “epistemically closed” and stop frittering away your valuable time.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. February 2015 at 06:30

    Martin, You nailed him.

    Maurizio, I think the main problem is that people are not careful readers. They confuse the statement “policy X is better than current policy” with “policy X is optimal.”

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