My view is that the neoclassical economics toolkit can be very, very useful--no, stronger than that, is very useful and necessary--for everybody from the center on left.
...By contrast, the neoclassical toolkit can be absolute poison for people right on center. It functions like a kind of crack, reducing their arguments to empty slogans: "the market takes care of that"; "acts of capitalism between consenting adults"; "they hired the money, didn't they?"; "it's not the government's, it's theirs." People right-of-center should be exposed to the neoclassical economics toolkit only after posting a $1M bond to cover collateral damage, and only under the supervision of trained professionals.
At one level, DeLong is arguing against intellectual arrogance. I, too, am against intellectual arrogance, which, at another level, Brad DeLong personifies.
I would note that DeLong's comments strike me as entirely beside the point when it comes to the issue at hand, which is how mainstream economics deals with dissident views. My opinion is that most dissident views are wrong, but occasionally they add value. The profession does not have a process for rapidly trying and discarding new ideas, so it does not take advantage of what is useful in non-mainstream thinking in a timely fashion.
But I was planning to post on intellectual arrogance before I read DeLong's post. The occasion for this was An Egghead for the Oval Office, today's piece by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. He touts Al Gore, who has a new book that supposedly shows off Gore's brilliant mind. Robinson writes,
Leave aside the question of whether Gore is even thinking about another presidential run, or how he would stack up against the other candidates. I'm making a more general point: One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.
I disagree with this on so many levels. First of all, is Al Gore really smart? My guess is that his IQ is not significantly different from that of George Bush. It's just that by saying things that liberals want to hear, Gore comes across to them as way smarter than Bush.
For raw IQ among politicians, my sense is that you cannot beat Newt Gingrich. But I do not want Gingrich to be President, for the same reason that I do not want Al Gore to be President. Each of them greatly over-estimates the value of what he knows. To me, the most dangerous thing about politicians is their, well, intellectual arrogance. They think that they know more than they really know, and so they are too confident about ordering other people what to do.
I made the argument for intellectual humility in a piece I once wrote for the Washington Times on Michael Powell's tenure at the FCC. There is also a pre-edited version of the essay.