At long last, a response

Not often does one see columnists argue openly with each other–especially columnists of the same newspaper. The best they can usually muster is the straw man “some say . . “. That’s why it’s refreshing to read the following from Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post:

>Some say the bank isn’t worth rescuing. My colleague George F. Will asserts that 90 percent of the bank’s loans go to 27 middle-income countries that can get all the development finance they need from private capital markets. But this statistic leaves out the bank’s soft-loan and grant-making arm, which serves countries with gross domestic products of less than $965 per capita. Counting that, just under half of the bank’s money went to poor countries in 2006. The middle-income countries that received the rest of the cash include such places as China and Brazil, which are home to millions of poor people.

>The bank’s critics ought to understand that while capital markets are marvelous things, they can’t be expected to do everything. Private investors won’t provide loans in the midst of a crisis, as the World Bank did during the East Asian meltdown a decade ago. Private investors tend not to finance global public goods — projects that are important for the world but not a priority for any one country. The world needs to curb carbon emissions, for example, but an individual country won’t capture all the benefits of a clean coal plant, since these benefits are shared globally. Because of this “externality” problem, there is a role for the World Bank in subsidizing anti-carbon policies.

We were struck by that same op-ed (for a different reason). Notice two things. Mallaby names his opponent specifically and he provides a link to the original argument (rather than a partial contextless quotation (so often the hoist by your own petard strategy employed by Will) or an unfriendly synopsis). If you have a question about Mallaby’s fairness (which you might) he tells you where to look. It’s almost as if Mallaby were some kind of media critic blogger. Now one can hardly expect the op-ed page to turn into the debate page. But a little awareness of each other seems to be a step in the direction of actual intellectual engagement.

4 thoughts on “At long last, a response”

  1. If even Will’s colleagues are calling his bullshit, maybe there’s hope yet.

  2. I’m quite familiar with Mr. Mallaby, having read his excellent text on the bank’s former President, and I generally find his arguments well grounded in evidence. Unlike other featured economists in our daily newspapers (i.e Krugman), he does make an effort to argue his posistion. Although it isn’t well reflected here, he can be a bit over-zealous in his defense of the Bank, often ignoring its flaws.

  3. I’d disagree with your general assessment of Mallaby vis a vis Krugman. One is a newspaper pundit (Mallaby) with a knee-jerk contrarian streak; another is a professor of economics, who, on our reading, makes arguments for his positions. Go look at the archives on Krugman if you want.

  4. Well, I was really thinking extemporaneously about a book I read of his awhile ago. I can distincly remember cases where he simply dismissed certain position as absurd (how can people at a time like this still believe in supply-side economics) without attempting to refute them. Anyway, it was just a name that happened to come to my mind, and honestly, having read many of Krugman’s columns for the Times, I can think of a number of arguments (particularily on the costs of universal health care) that he’s made. Perhaps someone like Friedman would have made for a more appropriate comparison. Its just that in his columns or his book, what strikes me most about M. Mallaby, is simply how well evidenced his articles. This still doesn’t save him from the occasional false conclusion, especially concerning the Bank), but its a nice contrast to most of what I read. I guess 13 years at the Economist really shows.

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