Friday, February 26, 2016


The first I heard of Friedman's numbers, I ignored them as a rosy scenario projection of trends-with-benefits: add up all the best outcomes of the positives and ignore any potential negatives. This kind of promotional rhetoric happens all the time in economics -- not just GOP/Laffer/voodoo economics, either.

Case in point the built-in mechanism in Robert Solow's 1973 "Is the End of the World at Hand" takedown of the Limits to Growth argument. I mention that one because I prescribe it as a reading for my Labour and the Environment course. It exemplifies the "oh, never mind those externalities -- they are incidental, we'll just internalize 'em" view that predominates in mainstream environmental economics. "Internalizing the externalities" is shorthand for "then a miracle occurs" step two in the famous New Yorker cartoon. Nothing new here.

It is the Mutual Assured Destruction response of Krugman and the Gang of Four that interests me. That wasn't about Friedman's pollyanna analysis; it was about intimidating and silencing those who are not authorized to commit the kind of "then a miracle occurs" step that the accredited authorities take as a matter of privilege.

"How DARE someone commit that SIN without OUR permission!"

When the same kinds of criticisms are directed at mainstream economics by so-called heterodox critics, they are ignored, brushed off with an "all models are wrong" shrug or responded to with a shitstorm of ad hominem derision aimed at the unqualified simpletons raising the objections.

One possible positive outcome of the Friedman/Krugman Gang of Four affair is that it brings out in the open the partisan hypocrisy that revolves around who has license to use the then-a-miracle-occurs step and who doesn't.
The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it. The authoritative word is located in a distanced zone, organically connected with a past that is felt to be hierarchically higher. It is, so to speak, the word of the fathers. Its authority was already acknowledged in the past. It is a prior discourse. It is therefore not a question of choosing it from among other possible discourses that are its equal. It is given (it sounds) in lofty spheres, not those of familiar contact. Its language is a special (as it were, hieratic) language. It can be profaned. It is akin to taboo, i.e., a name that must not be taken in vain. -- Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination


ProGrowthLiberal said...

That chalk board is my favorite all time cartoon. I think it was Menzie Chinn who said to the suggestion that we should consider alternatives to the standard model something like "then model this out". Robert Reich has joined Team Bernie. Robert knows some very bright economists who could do just that. Time to get to work!

Sandwichman said...

My other favorite is "These projected figures are a figment of our imagination. We hope you like them."