Friday, August 9, 2013

Manners and the Academy

Rajan has an interesting and polite piece in Project Syndicate, the generally left wing blog for various issues. His discussion is with regards to the "manners" of various economists in dealing with their peers. Now to start, economics is not a science, and there is at this stage in its development no possible way that it can become one. It is a two fold body of intellectual study: first, it is a body of study which collects data and tries to connect parts of the data albeit generally in a tautological manner, second, it is a political voice, which tries to express one's political world view in the way people and the government should act to achieve certain goals.

One cannot do experiments in economics, economics does not allow predictions, it does not permit verification or validation, in essence it is merely a bystander body of ideas where at best we can record the past and hope that we can learn from it, but alas it is a human endeavor subject to the stochastic rhythms of change.

Rajan begins:

Why do high-profile economic tussles turn so quickly to ad hominem attacks? Perhaps the most well-known recent example has been the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s campaign against the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, in which he moved quickly from criticism of an error in one of their papers to charges about their commitment to academic transparency.

 This is the snarky little boy syndrome, and we all too often have seen it before. He ends by saying:

In fairness, given Krugman’s strong and public positions, he has been subject to immense personal criticism by many on the right. Perhaps the paranoid style in public debate, focusing on motives rather than substance, is a useful defensive tactic against rabid critics. Unfortunately, it spills over into countering more reasoned differences of opinion as well. Perhaps respectful debate in economics is possible only in academia. The public discourse is poorer for this.

The  point he seems to be making is that within the walls of the Academy there are rules of debate. Outside the walls there is a free for all. Perhaps Rajan believe that those who participate in the snarky public debate should rethink their motives. Indeed Krugman is a prolific poster on his NY Times blog, snapping here and there against any perceived opponent of his political view. The reality of the situation is that the Romer Plan was a disaster, and the recovery of the Recession has also been a mitigated mess. The FED has stumbled post Bretton Woods to attempt to stabilize world currencies. Yet the FEDs Balance Sheet continues to expand with no real end in sight.