Clive Crook Lashes Out in All Directions. This is Good Stuff
I'd been lightly following this Clive Crook story from afar without reading the actual article. Then I saw, via Will Wilkinson , that it's still growing and that Clive's original article even got responses from the two high profile macroeconomists mentioned in the article: Barro and Krugman. **Keep in mind folks that the recent discussions about economics (especially macro) here at Swords Crossed as well as questions about the real value and proper place of economics and economists in politics is a microcosm of what's being discussed in larger and more high profile circles. Read around and you'll see it. So what did Clive say that whipped up a fuss? Well, he expressed a common...though nuanced...sentiment about econ...especially macro...that I agree with. BUT, then he named names. That always gets things more interesting. Basically in a quick Cliff Notes version of the article if you don't like reading:
I used to have no time for the idea that economists never agree, so economics must be a bogus science and a waste of time. Of course economists disagree, I would say. Economics is difficult, and by its nature cannot be as clear-cut as the physical sciences...As long as it remains aware of its own limits, one should not mock the discipline for aiming high. ...Judge them by those standards, I used to say. ...But my earlier confidence that economists are not wasting their own and everybody else’s time is diminishing.... ...Economists are failing to express anything resembling consensus on the most basic questions of economic policy.
Sound familiar? Of course, I would argue as whether some of the issues he mentions are truly "basic". I don't think they are. But that's another matter. Back to the little yellow version. Krugman:
...This impression of disarray – that economics has nothing clear to say on these questions – is not the fault of economics as such. It is a mostly false impression created by some of its leading public intellectuals, Mr Krugman among them. Economics outside the academy has become the continuation of politics by other means. If you wish to know what Mr Krugman thinks on any policy question, do not read his scholarly writings; see which policies are advocated by the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Mr Krugman agrees with liberal Democrats about most things, and for the rest gives as much cover as the discipline of economics can provide – which, given its scientific limitations, is plenty. He does this even on matters where, if his scholarly work is any guide, the economics is firmly against his allies. Liberal Democrats are protectionists. Mr Krugman is not, but politics comes first.
A very, very common critique about Krugman from economic observers who talk about "Two Krugmans". I'm one of them. Then to the Right:
Just as there is a consensus among economists that protectionism should be opposed, most economists believe that a powerful fiscal stimulus is both possible and desirable in present circumstances, and that the best stimulus would include big increases in public spending. Yet recently, Robert Barro, a scholar with conservative sympathies, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that this view was an appeal to “magic”.
I'll say that powerful fiscal stimulus is ambiguous. He continues about the two economists:
...both set the consensus aside so carelessly. In doing so, these stars of the profession destroy the credibility of their own discipline. Mr Krugman gives liberals the economics they want. Mr Barro gives conservatives the same service. They narrow or deny the common ground. Why does this matter? Because the views of readers inclined to one side or the other are further polarised; and in the middle, those of no decided allegiance conclude that economics is bunk. Politics and economics are always difficult to keep apart. But the problem is getting worse...
Both economists answered. Here's Round 2 from Crook . The economists' responses to his article are in the link. And all bias aside, I must say that Krugman exhibits the very nonsensical attitude that contributes to the problem Crook is pointing out.
Clive used to be a reasonable guy; in his mind he probably still is a reasonable guy. But he has misunderstood what it means to be reasonable. He now apparently believes that it means declaring, in all circumstances, that Democrats and Republicans are equally in the wrong, even if the Democrats are talking Econ 101 and the Republicans are being led by the crazy 36.
Krugman also calls Crook's article an hysterical attack. Wow. Crook was dumbfounded by the nastiness.
Each side is usually somewhat wrong, I find, but the proportions do vary according to topic. I am very much in the Democratic camp on the stimulus, for instance. I think it is unreasonable, on the other hand, to regard everything Republicans say as definitionally wicked or stupid or both, which is the organising principle of everything Paul writes in the NYT.
Oh brother. Aside from the obvious, blind arrogance, I'll just point out that stimulus policy and "multipliers" and "pump-priming" is NOT Econ 101 by any stretch. It's more akin to debates in physics about unanswered and disputed mysteries about Earth's long history...or even the Solar System...perhaps the universe. Hardly Physics 101. As for Barro, Clive has the entire email correspondence on display with Barro's permission. The exchange was congenial and rather informative. Apparently, Barro is working on project (not basic stuff) regarding the dependability of the methodology that goes into the multiplier:
Multipliers for other forms of government spending are imprecisely determined but are not significantly different from zero. Actually, I hope that my current long-term empirical project will shed more light, including macro effects from changes in marginal tax rates. You want me to ignore good economic theory and empirical analysis and pretend that a voodoo multiplier above one should be respected as a "consensus?"
The exchange goes on. You can read the rest at at the link. I hope the discussions around the web and in the media continue. Here's Kling . Here's Cowen . Couldn't find an liberal Keynesian responses as of yet. I'll add them if I find them.