David R. Henderson  

An Apology

Why Academic Economists Aren't... A Minsky Recovery?...

In my post yesterday, which I wrote in haste--generally a bad idea--I called former President Bush "a joke." I was expressing my frustration at his willingness to talk a good game but not to play a good game. But we at Econlog have certain standards of decorum and sometimes commenters' comments are deleted because they engage in name-calling. Obviously, the best way to get the kind of decorum we're after is to model it. I failed to do so. I apologize.

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COMMENTS (24 to date)
chipotle writes:

David Henderson, that's a valuable and worthy post, befitting of a big man. Kudos to you!

Bill writes:

Ah...I see what you did there.

Don't worry, I'm with ya. ;^)

I must respectfully disagree. I love this blog, but one of the negative aspects is the overemphasis on "decorum" and the heavy moderation.

When we encourage people to moderate their feelings for the sake of decorum, then we lose important truths. The actions of Former President Bush deserve more scrutiny and more heartfelt criticism, not less.

I do no accept your apology.

Vangel writes:

I agree that standards should be adhered to but the description of Bush is clearly a valid one. Sadly, the same description can be used to describe most American presidents over the past 80 years, including the present occupant of the Oval Office.

Ryan Vann writes:

That entry may have lacked decorum, but it contained truth. There was no need to apologize in my estimation.

David R. Henderson writes:

Robert S. Porter,
I didn't apologize for criticizing Bush and you can expect to see much more criticism by me of Bush, Obama, and many other past presidents. Here's my point: my late friend, Roy Childs, virtually never used the "f" word, the "s**t" word or pretty much any other swear word. At his memorial service, someone, I've forgotten whom, said that he didn't do so because he found that such words substituted for thought and that if all you had was the "f" word, you didn't have much. I've not done a perfect job of modeling that but, since hearing that eulogy, I've done a lot better and I'm trying to improve my average. Of course, I didn't use any swear words, but I think the same point applies to my calling him a "joke."

David R. Henderson writes:

Ryan Vann,
Thanks. And I'm apologizing for my lack of decorum, not my statement of truth.
P.S. I was writing this comment while you were writing. So see my further explanation above.

David N. Welton writes:

Would that Bush were to do likewise.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

Decorum isn't the problem. Not recognizing political realities is, though.

Bush did what Reagan did, accepted bad policies to avoid even worse ones. Reagan--with an economics degree--accepted 'voluntary' import quotas on Japanese autos, because his Commerce Sec'y told him if he didn't congress had the votes for much worse.

Which is exactly the same reason Bush gave us prescription drug subsidies; there was a worse alternative that would pass otherwise.

Brian B writes:

"When we encourage people to moderate their feelings for the sake of decorum, then we lose important truths. The actions of Former President Bush deserve more scrutiny and more heartfelt criticism, not less."


I'm sure most people here would agree with your second sentence. The problem is that calling Bush, or anyone else for that matter, a "joke" is meaningful neither as scrutiny nor criticism. David's comment was indeed inappropriate, though less as a matter of decorum and more as a matter of lacking substance. Presidents, almost by definition, are too important to ever be jokes. They can, however, say things that are unintentionally funny, as Bush often does. ;)

Ryan Vann writes:

"Not recognizing political realities is, though."

I think there is much value to that statement, if you assume pragmatism aught to be the goal of commentary.

I'm not so sure there is too much credence in would have arguments though. It is pretty much impossible to say a specific condition would have been had something else not happened. All we can definitively discuss is what actually did occur.

David Zetland writes:

perhaps he was just joking with us?

that would make him a joker.

there. reconciled.

Bo Zimmerman writes:

Patrick -- why didn't he level with us then? Why not say something like "I am signing this bill because I think that if I don't, Congress will doing something worse, and I will sign that bill too. I realize it will raise the price of drugs, represents a subsidy of the old by the young, and is altogether unjust, immoral, and obviously unconstitutional. However, I'm going to sign it, because none of those things is as important".

Hmm.. perhaps my question is rhetorical.

Gary Rogers writes:

Thank you. If this blog was to become a place where personal attacks overshadow the discussion of ideas I would have to find another source of enlightenment. I personally rank George W. Bush as somewhere near average as a president but wonder if university campuses have lost touch with reality when I see what economists are saying these days and hear personal attacks like this from you.

Phil writes:

I think an occasional non-decorous jibe is OK. Perhaps it's better to not do it for reputational reasons, but an apology is not really called for.

Les writes:

I am more than happy to accept David's gracious apology. It takes a big person to apologize.

I understand that it is very easy for all of us to speak in haste but repent at leisure.

But ad hominem comments do not earn respect, in my opinion, and contribute heat, rather than light, in a debate on substance.

Zdeno writes:

I'm not against personal attacks. This blog is generally pretty clean and respectful, which I think enhances its credibility, but there's always a time and a place for a good burn. (How many neo-keynesian economists does it take to change a lightbulb? Wait for it....)

What I didn't like about that post was that the object of derision was none other than the world's current most fashionable target of intellectual scorn. For all his faults, GWB did less damage to the US than Obama most likely will, and yet... Can you picture yourself taking the same disrespectful tone when criticizing him? David, et al. are some of my favourite bloggers because they generally avoid that kind of kowtowing to intellectual fashion.

(... Answer: Two. Paul Krugman learns how to do it from Scott Sumner, while Brad Delong deletes any comments that disagree with his technique. Oh no I di-int.)



CJ Smith writes:

@ Robert S. Porter -

"You're an idiot."
"Your position is stupid, because you are."

How do comments like these advance anyone's understanding of the underlying issue? Most readers, trying to understand the issues and positions, could care less about how the proponent of a proposition "personally feels" about their opponent. You want to base your political and economic opinions on whether or not you find the person impressive or not, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and all would love to have you. Nancy Grace jurisprudence and Rush Limbaugh politics are so good for society.

Decorum isn't abstaining from critiquing the merits or highlighting the demerits of a position or beleif. Decorum is merely restricting you comments to valid, supportable criticisms presented in a manner that allows for discussion and debate. Usurping the President's State of the Nation to interject the oh so inappropriate "Liar!" lacked decorum, and added nothing to the address or the response. You want to call the President a liar, do it on your time, your dime, and with actual support.

So you and I could continue trading inciteful bon mots like those above, and do nothing but infuriate each other and amuse the on-lookers. Or we could discuss the matters as David would like to do, and hopefully one or more of us might learn something or actually change our opinion for a valid reason.

David, thanks for the apology. Look forward to reading your comments in the future, even when I disagree with them.

CJ Smith writes:


LOL. I thought the punchline to the joke was, "Wait for it...."

Bob Murphy writes:

Zdeno wrote:

For all his faults, GWB did less damage to the US than Obama most likely will, and yet... Can you picture yourself taking the same disrespectful tone when criticizing him?

No, I can't imagine David using the same tone, but that's because Obama would never pose as the representative of free market capitalism. So maybe leftist bloggers will call Obama a joke after he leaves office and then lectures the next president about not letting corporate interests hijack his (or her--could be Clinton or Palin) reforms.

BTW great joke!

desert sailor writes:

Sometimes it's okay to yell out: "YOU LIE!"

MikeDC writes:

I'd argue that Obama campaigned pretty hard to say it was ridiculous to call him a socialist. So he certainly did offer himself as, in essence, a free-market capitalist.

At least as much as, say, Bush did by offering himself as a "compassionate conservative".

My impression is that's pretty much what Obama campaigned as too. A guy who would potentially offer more government support but wouldn't go around radically changing the basic market underpinnings.

I think, in practice, Bush was pretty true to his word. Various government interventions on a basic free market foundation. Moderate, agreeable negotiations where congress gets what it wants. Obama is several steps beyond that, and into socialist territory in my opinion, so I think he pulled the wool over the eyes of people who largely wanted to be fooled.

As far as Bush opening up a free market think tank, I think he's got less to atone for than Obama will, both in terms of economic damage and diverging from promises. Still, it's sort of like a man who made his fortune in the arms industry setting up an endowment to give awards for promoting world peace. Hmm... I wonder if anyone would ever be so stupid as to do that.

Greg writes:

I would have to say that if you give SNL most of their show content for the years you were in office, then the shoe may fit, but I get your point.

Everytime I see G Dub all I can think of is Will Ferrell and the phrase "I was electorated".

Rodney Dangerfield writes:

"Oh no I di-int."

Yes, Zdeno, recycling already overused catch phrases from the pop media is just hilarious!

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