Sep 10, 2012

Institution Building in the Teeth of an Incorrect Orthodoxy

Noah Smith has I think a bit of misguided post on Steve Keen, alleging that he's attempting a "purge." Some background: Keen, an Australian economist who's been a longtime proponent of heterodox economics and an early predictor (~2005) predictor of a housing bubble-based recession, has an ongoing spat with Brad Delong, a Berkeley economist. Keen alleges that Delong and others have attempted to appropriate the mantle of non-neoliberal economics without giving proper credit to Keen and others who called the crisis early (see here for some background). Keen's post (from June, mind you) is a bit unfortunate, but try to see things from his point of view:

 

One of the ways orthodoxy is enforced is by social pressure. Often, especially when vast amounts of money are at stake, the pressure is personal and vicious. Listen to Keen's voice catch when talking about those times. For years he was alone in the wilderness, professionally scorned and hated, beset on all sides by well-paid attack dogs. Personally, I find it all to easy to imagine myself in that place. (What nerd hasn't been socially stigmatized in some way?) And yet, he called the biggest economic event of the last 80 years.

Academics is more than most jobs about status and recognition. Brad Delong is an economist who publishes papers with, for example, a close adviser of the most powerful person alive. Is it too much to ask for him to throw Keen a bone when writing about economists who at least have their head on straight, instead of writing a snotty, condescending post where he thinks up a larger list only to leave Keen out of it again?

Anyway, this is not really to side with Delong over Keen or vice versa on the merits. It's more a plea to find reserves of kindness, empathy, gentleness and generosity. The budding, squabbling bunch of heterodox economists need to recognize their brethren and make peace. Smith is right that everyone needs to concentrate on winning the revolution. But you don't do that by taking sides in this kind of squabble. Save the scorn for people who really earn it (goldbugs, Randroids, Jamie Dimon, etc).

Should Keen not call Delong nasty names? Yes. Should Delong give Keen at least a modicum of credit? Yes. (And Smith is right, by the way, that Delong also deserves some credit for owning some of his failures.) Going forward, I like this summary from Andrew Lainton:
There are some rather intemperate characters in this debate though a number of them also have the redeeming feature of intellectual curiosity and flexibility. What many on the ‘heterodox’ side would really like to see is an engagement on the theoretical rather than political, issues and a reading of the texts in question. Going for the ball and not the man. In that regard the willingness of some renowned economic bloggers, such as David Glasner, Marc Thoma and Simon Wren Lewis, to begin debating and understanding the ideas in question.
Read on for some interesting points.

2 comments:

  1. Anyway, this is not really to side with Delong over Keen or vice versa on the merits. It's more a plea to find reserves of kindness, empathy, gentleness and generosity. The budding, squabbling bunch of heterodox economists need to recognize their brethren and make peace. Smith is right that everyone needs to concentrate on winning the revolution. But you don't do that by taking sides in this kind of squabble. Save the scorn for people who really earn it (goldbugs, Randroids, Jamie Dimon, etc).

    Should Keen not call Delong nasty names? Yes. Should Delong give Keen at least a modicum of credit? Yes. (And Smith is right, by the way, that Delong also deserves some credit for owning some of his failures.)


    Agreed, agreed, agreed!!

    ReplyDelete