Bryan Caplan  

If This is Polite Society, What is Rude Society Like?

Channel Charles Murray... Subtle Wisdom...
Brad DeLong sounds like he advocates ostracizing Douglas Holtz-Eakin for (a) working for McCain and (b) calling Obama a "redistributionist."  At least that's how I read Brad's approving quotation of an unnamed source saying:

Someone needs to tell Holtz-Eakin he can't say this sort of **** and then expect to rejoin polite society once the election is over...
As an atheist in the church of politics, I find this rancor baffling.  How far apart are Obama and McCain, really?  Less than one standard deviation of a distribution that's pretty narrow to begin with.  How come I can have friendly lunches with thinkers who are four+ standard deviations away from me - and even learn something before we pay the check?

It's almost as if politics isn't really about policy...

P.S. Please don't use the comments to throw Brad out of polite society. :-)

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (35 to date)
Methinks writes:

so, "spreading the wealth around" is not redistribution? Then what is it? Are we not going to be able to notice that Obama is black and remain in polite society next? I guess calling McCain "dishonest and dishonorable" is a-okay, though. DeLong is hilarious.

NCSU_Student writes:


Thanks for calling this out. Delong has been getting bad for this lately. Just last month he said that Martin Feldstein exhausted all of his policy credibility for writing a glowing article about John McCain.

And today he called Anne Applebaum the stupidest woman alive just because she said she would have voted from John McCain in 2000 but not today (as if absolutely nothing has changed in 8 years)?

Yeesh. This hyperbole is getting old.

I'm hoping it is just the emotional fervor of an election season, because I really miss reading his blog more often.

manuelg writes:

As a partial defense of DeLong, a straightforward reading would have DeLong reacting to this:

Holtz-Eakin: "Europeans call it socialism, Americans call it welfare, and Barack Obama calls it change."

Snarky? There was a minor jump in the needle on the Snark-o-Meter...

Barry writes:

Kling: "As an atheist in the church of politics, I find this rancor baffling. "

Is that the new line? I guess you guys need a new one, since 'I'm a conservative, not a right-winger' doesn't sound so good anymore.

mike writes:

As I recall DeLong has often said nice things about Holtz-Eakin.

As I recall, in the past, i.e. the 2000 election, McCain took positions very similar to what Obama is taking now, and what he took in the 2001 Interview.

And I think that post of DeLong's is protesting the way Holtz-Eakin took quotes from Obama wildly out of context. There is much more to it than the snip you provide here. It's important to read the whole thing--what Obama actually said and how Holtz-Eakin mischaracterized it. The interview was a very scholarly and subtle one. Lying by mischaracterizing quotes has always been a pet peeve of DeLong's, an understandable one I think.

Holtz-Eakin is trying to scare people. He's not trying to inform or have substantive debate. In Delong's eyes (and mine too), the scholarly status of Holtz-Eakin went down a big notch. No, make that two big notches.

Nice and polite lies are still lies and they should not be acceptable among scholars, even if they are working for politicians.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Could be membership in polite society is overrated.

Horatio writes:

I notice this same type of behavior, mostly with leftists, but not extreme leftists. I know Democrats who throw fits whenever I point out flaws in Obama's plans or mention anything good about McCain. On the other hand, I know Marxists who never get angry when I express my classically liberal views.

Blackadder writes:

DeLong's comments are particularly strange given that Obama has called himself a redistributionist in the past (as in the 2001 radio interview that is the impetus for Holtz-Eakin's comments.

Blackadder writes:

DeLong may be a really smart guy (he probably is), but the tone on his blog is insufferable. No one can ever just be wrong about something. They are dishonest, incompetent, an ideologue, etc. He actually had a post up a little while ago in which he said that if McCain had any decency he would just drop out of the race now. That's right. There shouldn't even *be* an election. By even contesting Obama's election as president, McCain has made himself dishonorable. Talk about going overboard.

Stewart writes:

Brad DeLong also called Thomas Sowell the stupidest man alive.

Daniel Klein writes:

DeLong has lied about me, too.

I once objected politely at his blog but he just deleted the comment.

Methinks writes:


How is "I want to spread the wealth around" helped by context? Every time someone has put Obama's soundbites into context, the meaning hasn't changed.

Not that McCain is so different. But why pick exclusively on one idiot and not the other? Unless you're a political hack like DeLong, that is.

Stewart writes:

I had a similar experience defending Professor Klein. My post existed long enough to be recognized and then deleted.

Daniel writes:

It's gotten so that I can't stand DeLong.

I can marginally deal with people who have no knowledge in a given area spouting off stupidly.

But when people are highly intelligent but become so worked up as to lose the use of that intelligence, I just find them unbearable.

Glenn Greenwald and, at least on some days, Thomas Sowell, seem to exhibit a similar effect.

Greg writes:

DeLong has gotten into the habit of ranting, it's true. I think it's out of hand. At the same time, Holz-Eakin is seriously pandering by casting Obama as a "redistributionist," whatever that means, when McCain's $5k refundable tax credit is actually a fairly similar policy proposal, although framed as part of a healthcare discussion.

Similarly, Thomas Sowell's writing these days is quite dishonest these days, I have to say. DeLong is overreacting to things that I think are arguably a concern. How can someone like Sowell (I admit that I'm cherry-picking) pretend to return to academic rigor after being essentially a political mouthpiece? I admit for the record that there are plenty of examples of this phenomenon on the left as well. Few people seem to be able to make it through a long, dramatic campaign like this without getting a little loopy.

Blackadder writes:

DeLong has lied about me, too. I once objected politely at his blog but he just deleted the comment.

Yeah, he does that a lot. His defense (given in the comments to the post I linked to) was:

"It’s an academic thing: I feel I have a duty to keep people from having to wade through oceans of c— but instead to present them with interesting and informative stuff to read."

One must assume, then, that the comments he doesn't delete meet his high standards of intellectual rigour.

Troy Camplin writes:

Politics isn't about policy. Not anymore. If it were, the Democrats would have loved and adored both Bushes, and would consider Nixon to be one of their greatest heroes.

Jeff H. writes:

I've been disappointed in the commentary of many otherwise intelligent bloggers as the election crescendoed.

It seems that anyone who had a horse in the race, or a pew in the sanctuary, or whatever, has completely lost the ability for reasonableness.

Hanson looks wiser every day:
"To think more objectively, become less allied."

Blackadder writes:

I don't want to throw Prof. DeLong out of polite society. I'm just glad that he doesn't have the power to throw other people out.

Daniel Klein writes:

Here are the "Symptoms of Groupthink" blocked out and presented in Figure 10-1 of Irving L. Janis's classic work GROUPTHINK (1982, p. 244):

1. Illusion of Invulnerability
2. Belief in Inherent Morality of the Group
3. Collecive Rationalizations
4. Stereotypes of Out-Groups
5. Self-Censorship
6. Illusion of Unanymity
7. Direct Pressure on Dissenters
8. Self-Appointed Mindguards

floccina writes:

"Politics isn't about policy. Not anymore. If it were, the Democrats would have loved and adored both Bushes, and would consider Nixon to be one of their greatest heroes." by Troy Camplin

I would add that policy wise Clinton would be loved by conservatives. He was like Warren G Harding lite. Warren G Harding cut Government and went to carousing allowing the country to recover very rapidly from a depression.

Methinks writes:

My comment was deleted from DeLong's blog as well. On one of the Milton Friedman threads, after his death, people were ranting about Chile. I merely asked (as Friedman asked himself) why everyone was so upset about him consulting Pinochet but had no similar concerns about Friedman consulting communist China. That's all it took to get my comment deleted.

I no longer visit his blog as I got enough propaganda before I fled the Soviet Union.

zanon writes:

Yes, DeLong deletes comments he does not agree with.

Most hysterically was the one where the blames the markets tanking on House Republicans rejecting the first bailout.

I pointed out that the timing was all wrong for that to have been the case, and then of course when the lamo bill was passed, the markets tanked even more.

But have you seen a headline saying "house republicans were right to reject the turkey bailout?" Especially since TARP1: buy bad assets (which they rejected) is not being used and TARP2: recapitalize banks is.

Brad DeLong is a typical government worker in berkeley.

Barkley Rosser writes:

I think we are talking about less than one standard deviation of difference of REdistribution, :-).

Regarding the "stupidest man alive" thing, Brad DeLong has been handing out that award frequently for a long time, kind of like Olbermann's nightly "worst person in the world." Brad's list of "stupidest person(s) in the world" is by now quite long. For better or for worse, he has not yet honored me with that sobriquet, although he has sometimes deleted my comments.

He has long been quite polemical, as of course are quite a few other bloggers around. It is unfortunate, but not too surprising, that many people are getting more intense as the end of a long and hard fought presidential campaign is finally nearing its conclusion.

Bobar writes:

Having experienced the disappearing comments maneuver, it is quite irritating and does not reflect well on him. You have to love a guy who hyperbolically attacks any conservative person in site and then deletes comments that are polite in response to his nonsense.

gaddeswarup writes:

David Warsh has some comments on economics bloggers including DeLong in 'What just happened?'

Urstoff writes:

Maybe Jason Furman should be tossed out too for
arguing against his own health plan.

I've had comments deleted from Delong's site as well. For an academic, he doesn't seem to have much patience for healthy discussion.

Randy writes:

I think I'm permanently blocked at Delong's site. It was a couple of years ago when I dared to mention my belief that the surge in Iraq could actually work. If I try to post now I get an auto-response that no replies should be made to my comments as I'm just a troll.

I think its a preview of what a "Progressive" revival will be like. The core of the Progressive agenda is thought control.

Hi, Folks.

EconLog is an economics blog. We'd appreciate if in this thread you'd return to the topic of the original post in more general, objective terms.

EconLog is not a free-for-all space for an ongoing referendum or gripe session about another blog or individual.

We appreciate that some of you have some specific gripes about Brad Delong's blog. We don't want to entirely shut down this outlet for airing the pent up frustration we've unexpectedly let loose.

All the same, EconLog is not a forum for trashing or airing gripes about other individuals, be they bloggers or politicians, newscasters, or any other public or private figures.

Please return to the topic of the thread. One way to summarize that topic is: _Why,_ in general, can reasonable people sit down face-to-face and talk about even the most extremely different viewpoints in a calm way, while elsewhere, their actions or views are perhaps less than objective and more combative? The focus is on the word "Why?" And, also, on the word "general." Is this a general phenomenen, not just specific to the one example Caplan gave?

Any further comments that merely gripe about a specific blog, blogger, or individual or that merely present a personal experience about just one blog, blogger, or individual without also thoughtfully addressing the question of why that personal experience may exemplify the general question, will be moderated. Yes, I get the irony. If your goal is to highlight how some individuals exercise power in spaces they own, don't support their case by yourself violating our own long-standing EconLog policies about not attacking individuals or making ad hominem remarks. Contribute to the discussion of the general question.

--Econlib Editor

paul writes:

Ok then...

why? because politics is the secular religion of our time and the candidates come to represent peoples fundamental beliefs about how people should live their life. Right or wrong people project evil on the other candidate. I believe in classical liberalism and Obama represents everything I detest about the state. (so does mcain but to a slightly lesser extent) Given the extent of state power, I really hate it when people casually advocate more govt power because it REALLY effects my life.

Talking about political concepts over a beer have less tangible consequences.


Daniel Klein writes:

Dear Lauren (Econlib Editor),

I understand your concern. Hosts have these tough decisions in managing discourse.

I just want to say that I think Bryan's post is exemplary. It is about the ethics of discourse. The thread is extremely valuable.

Gossip serves an important function in generating reputation; it exerts accountability. It creates incentives for individuals to improve their conduct. Sally Merry, for example, is one anthropologist who has elaborated this function of gossip.

This thread is somewhat like a credit report on the practices of a prominent intellectual. It has been very instructive.

I think Liberty Fund should be proud of Bryan's post and the thread it has engendered, even if, as always, gossip swings a bit wildly here and there.

ionides writes:

About the origins of the rancor Bryan mentions. This is kind of speculative, but here goes.

We are under 2 incompatible constraints. We need to have a conceptual map, or vision of the world, in order to feel oriented. This is more than an intellectual desire; it is psychologically necessary for survival. At the same time, reality, especially social reality, is too complex to grasp conceptually. We formulate what we can on the basis of knowledge, and fill in the rest with myth, ideology and assumption.

When our vision of the world is threatened, we respond intellectually to the extent possible. Beyond this point, as organisms we are in crisis, and the primitive part of the brain takes over. It responds with rancor.

The interesting question is about Bryan's placid lunches. Perhaps discussion occurs under the cognitive domain only. The extent of this domain is determined by breadth of knowledge. If he talks with scholars who share a large area of expertise, then they can have friendly discourse. But if discussion wandered off into the mythical/ideological/non-rational realm, he might feel the strain.

Some socialists make it a point to develop an understanding of capitalism. Robert Heilbroner is an example. So I can imagine that one of the commenter can have reasoned discussions with socialist, because the cognitive domain of their visions are broad.

Michael E Sullivan writes:

I think you should look a little more carefully at the H-E quote and the underlying Obama quote he's characterizing. He's not talking like an economist, he's talking like a campaign operative, and a particularly sleazy one.

In general, I tend to give actual experts the benefit of the doubt (polite society) and assign their views some weight even when their political opinions differ widely from my own. After reading and hearing much of what Holtz-Eakin has had to say during this campaign, I give his views about as much weight as I give those of Lee Atwater, Karl Rove or James Carville.

I think this is what is meant by "polite society": the company of people who's opinions you respect because you believe they argue with intellectual honestly.

And no, I really would have no interest in sitting down to a polite lunch with those men either. It has nothing to do with supporting McCain and opposing Obama, it has to do with a complete disrespect for accuracy and truth. Accuse Delong of the same if you will, and if you can make your case convincingly, then I'll say they are as deserving of censure as Holtz-Eakin. So far I haven't been convinced.

But I do think that quote was beyond the pale of what you can say and still have a reputation as an expert worth listening to, and it's just one example of many in this campaign. Goolsbee has mostly managed to get through the campaign while avoiding any blatant distortions or outright lies. As have many other economists in political positions. It's difficult, but not impossible, it should be required.

DCLawyer writes:

Sadly, Mr DeLong seems to want to settle scores and he takes things personally. No one needs to throw Brad out of polite society - he left of his own free accord.

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