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Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Honesty, Dishonesty and Competence"

Since Richard Posner has decided to continue his attack on economists as public intellectuals, this time directed at Brad DeLong (see here plus the update at the end if you are unfamiliar with how this started), let me note Menzie Chinn's response to Posner's initial critique (the full version of Menzie's post explains the points below in more detail):

Honesty, Dishonesty and Competence: Comments on Posner's Critique, by Menzie Chinn: Richard Posner has a critique of public intellectuals who work in the public sphere (with special reference to Christina Romer), either in government service, or in journalistic fora. Mark Thoma and Brad Delong have already made clear the (many) points at which Mr. Posner has gone astray. Parenthetically, I'll add that I wonder about the analytical abilities of anybody who lumps Phillip Glass (!) and Elliott Carter together into the highbrow music category (see page 18 in his tome Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (1991)). More substantively, I have a few of additional observations...
First, I agree with Mark Thoma that Mr. Posner apparently has little understanding of macroeconomics...
Second, I would not pass a student out of intermediate macro who ... is confusing a financial investment with physical investment in a NIPA sense. ...
Third, before he pontificates on what economists who work in the government should or should not be doing, I think Mr. Posner should read Martin Feldstein's discussion of how the CEA works... CEA members ... do not "leave behind their academic scruples" when they move from academia to government service. ..
Fourth, I think any blog post (let alone paper) should be internally consistent. ... [Posner's isn't.]
Fifth, ...As someone who had to "fact-check" numbers going into White House policy documents and speeches on occasion, I can say that the numbers are verifiable... But the more substantive question is whether the math is so nonsensical. As I showed quite clearly in this post, the number Dr. Romer obtained was easily calculated and plausible.
Sixth, my impression is that former CEA staffers and members that have become bloggers are pretty careful with the numbers and analytics -- certainly more so than Mr. Posner. These include Jeff Frankel, Paul Krugman (notwithstanding Mr. Posner's barbs), Andy Samwick, Diane Lim Rogers, and Nouriel Roubini. (see this post for former gov't/Fed economists who became bloggers.)

    Posted by on Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 12:42 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (23)


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