Over at Equitable Growth: Larry Kotlikoff strikes Robert Waldmann speechless:
Robert Waldmann: Should Economists Be Honest or Civil? "Kotlikoff offers Krugman this advice...
...I think public intellectuals, like Paul Krugman, have a responsibility to act like grownups in speaking with the public. If they start calling people with different views “'stupid', they demean themselves and convey the message that name calling rather than respectful debate is appropriate conduct.... What I’m writing about is not Paul Ryan. I’m writing about the level of national discourse. No one, and I mean no one, deserves to be called stupid.
Brad DeLong has already pointed out that Krugman did not call Congressman Ryan stupid. What Paul was really saying is that the Republican fiscal policy wonk was a con artist.... READ MOAR:
Ryan has often called for large reductions in taxes on the well to do. Kotlikoff... frets that we are not raising enough in taxes to pay for all the things that the government has promised. And yet Kotlikoff wants us to be nice to politicians like Paul Ryan who are not being honest with us.
I must say that I do not share Robert's speechlessness.
But I do share his confusion.
Ever since the start of 1981 and the miseducation of David Stockman, the bane of a sensible American fiscal policy has most often been the magic asterisk: the implicit claim that some policy that the politician dares not name or some magical Budget Fairy will fly down from above and make everything OK. When this magic asterisk is found, by my guess 90% of the time it is in budget "plans" from Republicans--but a good 10% of the time it is found in plans from Democrats (yes, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Gene Sperling, I am looking at you).
It has always seemed to me that fighting against the magic asterisk requires from serious professional economists a zero-tolerance policy that needs to have three components:
- Politicians who will not present plans in enough detail for CBO to score them need to be ridiculed and hooted off the platform.
- Politicians whose plans are scorable by CBO need to have those plans presumed to have the effects that CBO says they do.
- Politicans who wish to overcome the presumption that their plan will do what CBO says that it will do need a supporting analysis that jumps an Olympic-class high-jump bar before they can be admitted to the rational public sphere.
Ryan flunks and has always flunked (1). We never even get to a score. And we definitely never get to an argument that CBO's score is not the right forecast.
The presence of Paul Ryan and his budget plans--and the presumption of "civility" that requires taking his unscorable pieces of paper seriously--is, I think, the principal thing keeping Larry Kotlikoff's ideas about the budget from getting any air. And yet Kotlikoff opposes attempts to cure this situation? Comes out in favor of respecting people's magic asterisks?
It simply does not compute. I can make no sense of it.
There is, moreover, an important rhetorical question. When some analysis is genuinely harmful to the debate and is "not even wrong"--degrades the quality of the debate so much that pushback against the appearance of this kind of thing is optimal--is it most helpful and constructive to call it:
- the work of someone who has not done their homework
I tend to be strongly in favor of (3): when people are saying things that are clearly wrong, the strong presumption should simply be not they are incapable of conducting the analysis or that they are trying to deceive but rather that they have just not thought about the question deeply enough...