22 June 2011

The Wonderfulness of Always Being Right

I'm always interested in books that other people like. I don't think it gives any significant insight into someone's soul or anything like that. Perhaps it does a little. But I just like to see what other people are reading, and a little blurb as to why or what they got out of it is always interesting. To me anyway.
And I don't limit this interest only to those with whom I agree. Which brings us to the crux of the post...
Our good friend
Krugman had an interview where he was to name his five favorite books. I already knew about his affinity for Asimov's Foundation books. But it still creeps me out, his rationale. He admires the psychohistorians in the story, which is fine so far as it goes. But then he admits "I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, 'I want to be one of those guys!' Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get."
The study and application of economics can save civilization. Especially if you're Paul Krugman.
But other parts of the interview stood out to me also.

"The purpose is actually to make a better world. So yes, I do feel that I am trying to do something that goes beyond just the analysis." Sorry, bud, but I can't think of anything you have done that has made the world a better place. Your work on international trade was great good stuff. But it hasn't changed the world in any significant way. And considering your articles trade mostly in half-truths, sanctimonious pablum and argumentum ad hominem, how exactly would this make the world a better place?

"Then I read Hume’s Enquiry, this wonderful, humane book saying that nobody has all the answers. What we know is what we have evidence for. We do the best we can, but anybody who claims to be able to deduce or have revelation about The Truth – with both Ts capitalised – is wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The only reasonable way to approach life is with an attitude of humane skepticism." Unless, of course, you are skeptical about Keynesian economics, progressive taxation, government intervention in the market or of the concept that the government is just a big insurance company with an army. Because if you don't agree with any of those things, then you're an idiot or you hate other people or both.

But the best is:

Wouldn’t some people accuse you of having an extremely strong belief system? Isn’t there a sense among liberals that, “We’re in the right so we don’t have to pay too much attention to conservative or Republican arguments”?

In my experience with these things – which I find both within economics and more broadly – is that if you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can’t do it. They can’t get it remotely right. Or if you ask a conservative, “What do liberals want?” You get this bizarre stuff – for example, that liberals want everybody to ride trains, because it makes people more susceptible to collectivism. You just have to look at the realities of the way each side talks and what they know. One side of the picture is open-minded and skeptical. We have views that are different, but they’re arrived at through paying attention. The other side has dogmatic views.

So the people, those presumptuous fools, who don't agree with Krugman and the like, those are the ones who are closed-minded. Progressives, Keynesians, et al. are the reasonable ones. They have perused all of the evidence and know the arguments coming and going, weighing everything carefully and judiciously and come to their convictions honestly. The people that don't agree with us? It is obvious that they haven't done all of the same things that we have because they don't agree with us. You see, we're right. We know we're right because we know what we think and what the others think (or at least have been told to think...dogmatically). We came to our conclusions after thinking.

I can't believe that I can still be surprised by the man's obnoxiousness, but there you have it.

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