Arnold Kling  

Economic Advisers Stoop to the Net

The Default Path for Taxes... With Rebuttal from Dan Klein?...

Greg Mankiw writes,

1. Alan's views are a challenge to the economic mainstream.

2. Alan did not present his new views in a refereed academic publication but instead in Foreign Affairs, a publication aimed at the broad policy community, and then in the Washington Post.

3. Alan's new views are conveniently consistent with the political party with which Alan is affiliated.

4. Alan's arguments are not persuasive.

He is referring to Alan Blinder, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton (Mankiw was Chairman of the Council under President Bush).

I once wrote that the Council of Economic Advisers should have a blog. Maybe we're getting there, although I'd say it's off to a rather awkward start.

Greg's point 3 is what I call a type M argument and what Jeffrey Friedman calls the "cynic's heuristic," which is to blame the other person's position on bad motives. Generally speaking, type M arguments should be avoided.

I also dislike Greg's point 2 about where Blinder chose to publish. I see that as gratuitously insulting and beside the point.

Interestingly enough, Blinder himself left a comment on Greg's blog in reply. I'll let him speak to points 1 and 4.

1. Out of the mainstream? Both my friend and former student and I teach introductory economics to some pretty smart students. With me, the first lesson on international trade is that (and why) there are gains from trade. (I love Ricardo!) The second is that trade always creates both winners and losers, though the nation as a whole gains. Don't Harvard students hear the second?

...4. Not persuasive? Well, persuasiveness is in the mind of the beholder. I clearly haven't persuaded Greg. But, then again, I never persuaded Milton Friedman to stop watching M2.

Mankiw is ticked off at a New York Times story in which a number of economists who have taken left-of-center positions whine about their treatment within the profession. It was a pretty shallow article, and I thought that Alex Tabarrok had the strongest response to it.

David Card, for example, says “You lose your ticket as a certified economist if you don’t say any kind of price regulation is bad and free trade is good.” Really? Card and Krueger's famous paper on the minimum wage was a 1993 NBER working paper published in the AER in 1994. What happened then in 1995? Was Card decertified, drummed out of the profession, vilified by his peers? Hardly, in 1995 David Card was honored (deservedly imho) by the American Economic Association with the John Bates Clark medal.

Even if Blinder and Card did not enjoy enviable rankings within the profession, it is unseemly to portray yourself as a victim because people disagree with you. If you run into critical headwinds, you need to do a better job of defending yourself on substance.

Ironically, Blinder's original article in Foreign Affairs strikes me as carefully hedged and downright bland. Where he and I would differ is that I think that the ability of government to devise a "solution" to the problem of future adjustments to the availability of educated labor from other countries is minimal compared to that of the decentralized trial-and-error groping mechanism of the market.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Fergus O'Rourke writes:

This comment is not specific to this post, but rather a cri de coeur:

Could you please, please, include more of the content in what you send to RSS feed ?

I can not - reasonably - object to the feed being truncated, but you take it too far. It's not really possible to determine what the body of the article is going to be about from what appears in my RSS reader. (You're not the worst offender, though).

Otherwise, congratulations on the articles here, and keep up the good work.

ErikR writes:

I second the point about too much truncation in the RSS feed.

Why not include the 1st half of the post? That will usually give a good start, and the reader will still have to click through to read the second half.

Valerie Smalkin writes:

I just came from a wonderful example of the "decentralized trial-and error groping mechanism of the market." I attended an International Baccalaureate (IB) Workshop ( that encourages middle and high schools to adopt a curriculum framework which raises awareness of the international community. The IB program recognizes that a global economy is coming and that underemployed individuals will be able to work IF they have the necessary education. Also, the IB makes money on it's workshops providing curriculum ideas for teachers. Now, that would appear to be the free market rather efficiently at work.

Miracle Max writes:

You could be honored by a majority of the profession and still be the victim of unprofessional behavior by a minority. This behavior at least by the testimony of Card and Blinder -- that nobody has refuted but most people ignore -- went well beyond disagreement on substance.

In particular, the story about the treatment of a job-seeker recounts behavior that strikes me as positively thuggish and disgraceful.

Ken Houghton writes:

Max hit that one out of the park. Card got the JBC in 1995. In 1996, the book came out.

Since then, the funding hasn't been there, and the evidence hasn't been expanded or discussed.

David Card should not have had to be J. D. Salinger.

Lauren writes:

Hi, Fergus, ErikR.

There are many different options for RSS feeds for EconLog. You probably selected one that is intentionally designed for people who prefer to only have one that displays the heads and a few excerpted words. We offer several options on the EconLog home page, and there are even a few more available for specialized circumstances.

Try this one for the full text:

Matt writes:

Yada yada yada

SheetWise writes:

"(T)rade always creates both winners and losers."


David writes:

I agree with Greg on #2. Publishing in peer review journals requires you to backup what you say, at least more so than does mainstream media pieces.

If Blinder thinks offshoring is harmful, then he should provide empirical evivdence to back it up. What he choose to do is write an essay on the topic, which is heavy on his own personal opinion, and light on any empirical evidence.

Biomed Tim writes:

I second what David said about point 2. I don't think Mankiw was trying to insult Foreign Affairs; I think Mankiw was merely commenting that Blinder should've subjected his economic reasoning to the scrutiny of peer-reviewed journals.

p.s. Thanks for clearing up the RSS issue. It was bothering me too.

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