Pundit versus pundit

It's annoying that most premier leftish or left-leaning pundits never really argue for anything–they explain.  They don't explain the cogency of their view either.  They explain different sides in a debate without making an argument for which side is the correct one.  Go read just about any column from E.J.Dionne and you'll know what I mean. 

This has really never been the case with Krugman.  Here's an excellent example: 

Arguments From Authority

A quick note on David Brooks’s column today. I have no idea what he’s talking about when he says,

The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years

Funny, I thought we had a perfectly good explanation: severe downturn in demand from the financial crisis, and a stimulus which we warned from the beginning wasn’t nearly big enough. And as I’ve been trying to point out, events have strongly confirmed a demand-side view of the world.

But there’s something else in David’s column, which I see a lot: the argument that because a lot of important people believe something, it must make sense:

Moreover, the Demand Siders write as if everybody who disagrees with them is immoral or a moron. But, in fact, many prize-festooned economists do not support another stimulus. Most European leaders and central bankers think it’s time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it — as do many economists at the international economic institutions. Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?

Yes, I am. It’s called looking at the evidence. I’ve looked hard at the arguments the Pain Caucus is making, the evidence that supposedly supports their case — and there’s no there there.

And you just have to wonder how it’s possible to have lived through the last ten years and still imagine that because a lot of Serious People believe something, you should believe it too. Iraq? Housing bubble? Inflation? (It’s worth remembering that Trichet actually raised rates in June 2008, because he believed that inflation — not the financial crisis — was the big threat facing Europe.)

The moral I’ve taken from recent years isn’t Be Humble — it’s Question Authority. And you should too.

It's especially rare for columnists to address each other by name.  Brooks, in his usual dichotomous fashion, has set up a false bifurcation (here are two sides, whoa, this one is crazy wrong–and it's adherents make weak arguments–therefore this other one is the one we should go for).  For an entertaining comment on Brooks' dichotomizing, read this at the Daily Kos.

Krugman doesn't call him on that, rather he calls him on his total reliance on a limited set of authorities (and his disregard for the arguments Krugman and others have made).  Without judging the efficacy of Krugman's claims, I would say that this is a textbook case of good criticism: find the key inference someone makes–in this case an argument from authority–and raise a meaningful question about it.

Moar please.  

24 thoughts on “Pundit versus pundit”

  1. Krugman may even be a little generous with this.  The fuller Brooks quote includes this gem:  
    "The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years. There is no way to know for sure how well the last stimulus worked because we don’t know what would have happened without it."
    It's a little late on a Friday for me, but that sure sounds like a varietal of the appeal to ignorance.  

  2. I think you're right.  All the rage at the Aspen Ideas Festival (in my area we call those "conferences" and Babs doesn't come) is the need to trim deficits, cut Social Security, etc.  Sweet.

  3. How unfortunate it is that with the field of economics (where cause and effect are so hard to tie down) that even when disagreeing advocates directly respond to one another we're left only to our initial biases.
    Is Krugman a skeptic or a contrarion?  Is the authority that Brooks is appealing to real expertise or simply misplaced trust?  More likely still that either Krugman or Brooks would appeal to whatever baseless authority or cynicism reinforced their preconceived conclusions.
    Which is why the false dichotomy is the more important fallacy here, as neither can present proof that they are correct and must then rely on attempting to show the others' error as vindicating their own position.

  4. "we're left only to our initial biases."  Ho hum.  I really wish you could get past the "you're biased" school of critique.  I think Krugman alleged that he had proof of a certain kind.  You can evaluate that. 

  5. I don't know.  The recent post you made:
    Seems to indicate that assuming that all parties bring baggage and bias might not be so off.  And I've heard many interviews with Krugma, and would be much more impressed if his argument didn't play out in typical Johnny come lately fashion.

  6. Don't be silly.  Calling everyone biased (and therefore disqualified) is lazy thinking.  Of course people are biased towards the views they believe to be true.  The question is whether they have good reasons for believing them to be true.  Krugman argued that the facts did not support Brooks's authorities.  Brooks had, at least according to Krugman, crappy reasons in favor of his beliefs (in particular, a chain of discredited authorities). 

  7. But Brooks' piece was essentially a refutation of the arguments of people like Krugman, calling for more stimulus.  They can both easily show the others' arguments as being flimsy when it comes to evidence because macroeconomics is such a corollary field (where causality is rarely if ever clear.)
    Whether we say Krugman was right in his refutation of Brooks' or visa versa says very little about the arguments they both made (as neither one is provable and is based on differing assumptions and economic theories, neither one leading to models that make accurate predictions) and much more about who we are inclined to agree with before hand.  It is merely bias, because the solid facts simply aren't there.

  8. I think there's slightly more to macro economics than that.  That causality is difficult to determine (for you, perhaps) does not mean that it's impossible or meaningless. 

    And again, the accusation of bias in this circumstance is just lame–and lazy, especially since you're ignoring the arguments that have actually been made.  Oh right, you exclude them because of bias.  Sheesh.

  9. I wish I could fit so many ad hominems in so few sentences.  So apparently macro economics is simply beyond me?    You'd have much more credibility if you made an argument, rather than simply alluding to the existence of one.  Your whole point here is special pleading where we are to assume that Krugman's argument is valid as a premise.  Do you really teach logic to students?

  10. Is this really all we've learned from the standards of civility of the Aspen Inter-Mountain Concept Cavalcade?
    Krugman's got 2 criticisms up and running here, based on facts, and to just dismiss them as "products of bias" is simply to miss the point – or to want to force the discussion to the argument from ignorance that Brooks holds in reserve here.   1)  Brook's 'authorities' can't account for the present economic cycle with the same specificity as Krugman's theory can.   2)  This rejection of these authorities has to do with the explanation of current and past economic facts in light of the relevant theories and not because of some ad hominem view that Krugman has.
    Whether or not Krugman is right about economics in the end, his argument here is at least possibly cogent.

  11. DSM,
    You are assuming that the argument that John Casey and I are having is still wrapped up in argument over whether Brooks' initial piece was a good argument.  We have both agreed on that.  The disagreement is based on Krugman's use of a false dichotomy in response.  Something that (again) we seem to agree is true, but disagree on the implications of and causes for.

  12. But Krugman's argument isn't at all based on any dichotomy, much less on a false one.  His argument is based in the evidence, and merely showing that Brooks' argument is flawed doesn't entail his adoption of that same dichotomy.  So, I seriously doubt you and John are agreeing about that; but if you are, you're both mistaken.  

  13. My apologies.  I've been reading several articles from Brooks and Krugman and am assuming knowledge of them without linking to my sources (I would bet that Casey is reading them as well.)  Here is a quote:
    Now, everyone makes wrong predictions. But this particular failure goes deeper than just not seeing what was coming. At the heart of the inflation/deflation debate was and is a debate between two visions of the economy.
    From this article:
    That I suggest you read.

  14. Andrew,

    You're behavior here is quite a fine illustration of the point of today's post (the one on facts).  No matter what facts are offered (by Krugman in this case), you dismiss them antecedantly as "biased" or "unprovable".  The offering of facts only makes you less likely to entertain them.

    I don't remember agreeing to false dichotomy charge.  As a general rule, however, I would avoid calling everything a fallacy.  You're not especially adept at identifying them (you tend to overdiagnose I think) so it just sucks the air out of the discussion.  Krugman's dichotomy is not a false one in any case, it's a dichotomy for the sake of discussion.

    In a more general sense, I think you'll find that causality is difficult to determine in any number of fields outside of billiards.  Just because it is difficult to determine, however, does not entail that everything is bias bias bias.



  15. I would be much less likely to call bias here if this analysis did not begin In medias res for no reason.  It's not as if Krugman did not make an argument in his previous article.  It's also not as if you couldn't analyze Brooks' argument directly.  Why start three steps in with an analysis of Krugman's analysis of Brooks' react to Krugman's argument?
    And then when I made my initial post that was in no way inflammatory, you responded by essentially claiming that I needed to overcome a shortcut narrative that I was using and that Krugman had made argument.  You then said I could evaluate Krugman's earlier argument, which I did, and was then assaulted with all forms of ad hominems.  So forgive me if I do not see how I am being bias.

  16. So tired of this discussion with you.  Here is an ad hominem of the fallacious variety:

    "no one ought to listen to Andrew Clunn's arguments because he can't spell "vice versa" and he doesn't know how to use the word "bias" in an adjectival form."

    No one is making an argument like that, so will you drop it already.

    No one also has accused you of being biased.  I have accused you, however, of making irrelevant accusations of bias, and of claiming entire fields of study are nothing but expressions of preconceived bias.  Those views seem to be unwarranted, as you don't seem to have any special expertise in macroeconomics.

    Finally, the point of the post was something else–sorry you didn't get it.  I'll try to be more clear next time.

  17. "Krugman's dichotomy is not a false one in any case, it's a dichotomy for the sake of discussion."
    Right, I think.  He doesn't claim to have exhausted the choices possible.  It's not as though he's separated the Princes from the Grinds, for pete's sake.

  18. Alright, so let's assume I'm an idiot (shouldn't be to hard for you.)  Now explain to me then why this is true:
    Brooks, in his usual dichotomous fashion, has set up a false bifurcation (here are two sides, whoa, this one is crazy wrong–and it's adherents make weak arguments–therefore this other one is the one we should go for).
    … so that Brooks clearly is guilty of a false dichotomy while Krugman is not in the article I linked to earlier (that was also liked to in the original article presented in the main post.)

  19. A false dichotomy of the fallacious variety posits two exhaustive alternatives, one of which is allegedly crazy wrong, giving one the impression that there is no choice but to adopt the other alternative.  The fallaciousness consists in (1) the alleged exhaustiveness of the dichotomy and (2) the inference from the obvious wrongness of the one to the truth of the other.  Krugman didn't do that.

    Like I say, however, it's clear that you're not adept at identifying fallacious reasoning.  For that reason, I would dial it down a notch or two.  That particular piece of criticism is not an ad hominem, by the way, it's just a piece of advice.   

  20. Gladly (this is your site after all.)  But I would still appreciate it if (at your convenience) would specifically point out why what Brooks said here:
    … qualifies as a false dichotomy and why what Krugman said here:
    … does not.  As clearly I seem to be unable to distinguish between "framing the argument" and a "false dichotomy."

  21. I repeat my description of a false dichotomy above.  Brooks sets up two alternatives (which are not exhaustive, by the way, as I think even you pointed out), made one look foolish, therefore, etc.

    Krugman has given an interpretation of the debate over the past year as being one between two views.  He then asks, which view has been borne out by the facts?  That is a fundamentally different move.  He's making an empirical claim, at bottom, Brooks is not. 

    The point of this original post was to point out how Krugman correctly called Brooks on his BS.

  22. No, the guy is just gloating about all of his fantastic evidence that Krugman is wrong about everything. 

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