Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Boudreaux writes to Krugman

A few days ago I noted that John Cochrane had asked How did Paul Krugman get it so wrong? Now Don Boudreaux writes an Open Letter to Paul Krugman. Boudreaux writes,
Interviewed recently in “The Browser,” you said 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 sceptical. We have views that are different, but they’re arrived at through paying attention. The other side has dogmatic views.
Let’s overlook your failure to distinguish conservatives from libertarians – a failure that, for the point I’m about to make, is unimportant.

You’re able to conclude that “liberals” are open-minded thinkers while “conservatives” are dumb-as-dung dogmatists only because you compare the works of “liberal” scholars to the pronouncements of conservative popular pundits. However valid or invalid is the artistic license used by conservative celebrities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (and, for that matter, by “liberal” celebrities such as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann) to entertain large popular audiences, you’re wrong to equate the pronouncements of conservative media stars with the knowledge and works of conservative (and libertarian) scholars.

Because, as you claim, you study carefully the works of non-”liberal” scholars, you surely know that the late Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman – influential economists whom you would classify as “conservative” – were all steeped in and treated seriously the writings of Keynes, Marx, Veblen, Galbraith, and other “liberal” thinkers.

The same is true for still-living influential non-”liberal” scholars.

I’d be obliged to conclude that you in fact, contrary your claim, do not carefully engage the works of non-”liberal” scholars if you insist that “liberal” scholarship is ignored by conservative and libertarian thinkers such as James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Ronald Coase, Armen Alchian, Harold Demsetz, Anna Schwartz, Gary Becker, Vernon Smith, Leland Yeager, Henry Manne, Deirdre McCloskey, Allan Meltzer, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, Arnold Kling, George Selgin, Lawrence H. White, and James Q. Wilson, to name only a few.

You do a disservice to scholars such as these, as well as to scholarship generally, to assert that serious thinking is done only by you and your ideological cohorts.
When I first read the Krugman interview something I thought odd was his use of the term "saltwater economist". I thought it showed just how out of touch Krugman is. I mean given the mixing of the waters that has taken place over the years I don't see the "freshwater/saltwater" divide having any real meaning today. Certainly not the meaning it has back in the days of Samuelson and Friedman.

1 comment:

David Friedman said...

For some evidence of which side understands and engages with which, let me point interested reader at my extended exchange last year with Robert Frank, an original and interesting economist of whom my opinion was higher before the exchange than after, since he spent much of it playing games with the distinction between absolute and relative outcomes whose implications were explored in his earlier work. He also failed to engage with, indeed to respond to, my pointing out an implications of his argument that went in the opposite direction from his political sympathies.

The following search string should get all of it, as well as a few other things; skip over the first two posts it finds.