Arnold Kling  

Michael Kinsley on Disagreement

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More Jeffrey Friedman... Response to Tom West...

He writes,


Slate's Jacob Weisberg, wrote over the weekend that the "biggest culprit in our current predicament [is] the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large."

Defending Weisberg, Kinsley goes on to say,

it is silly to accuse people of arrogance for believing that they are right and that people who disagree with them are wrong.

But Weisberg did not simply assert that he is right and those with whom he disagrees are wrong. He delegitimized those with whom he disagrees as childish, ignorant, and incoherent.

Kinsley comes very close to saying that arrogance is nothing more nor less than believing that you are right. I think that to be arrogant requires more than believing that our are right. Being arrogant means dismissing your opponent's qualification to voice an opinion. By that definition, Brad DeLong is to arrogance what Michael Jordan is to basketball. Tyler Cowen is not.

When you do not think that your opponent is qualified to voice an opinion, bipartisanship becomes very difficult to execute. There is an excellent discussion of this issue in the David Brooks interview that I recommended yesterday


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The author at It Don't Mean Much, These Seats are Cheap. in a related article titled Revisiting Condescension writes:
    Arnold Kling comments: Weisberg did not simply assert that he is right and those with whom he disagrees are wrong. He delegitimized those with whom he disagrees as childish, ignorant, and incoherent. Kinsley comes very close to saying that arrogance is... [Tracked on February 12, 2010 4:44 AM]
COMMENTS (14 to date)
Brad DeLong writes:

Alas, many people who voice opinions are not qualified to do so...

Consider Eugene Fama. Eugene Fama claims that the NIPA identity means that it is logically impossible for the government's borrowing money and spending it to boost nominal demand. That claim can be found at:

.

Surely somebody should sit up and point out that the NIPA identity does not as a matter of fact, mean what Fama thinks it does?

And I don't get this "opponent" business. I don't think I have "opponents." I think that there are people who have done their homework and are trying hard to figure out things and communicate them--and they are certainly not my "opponents."

And then there are people--like Fama--who have not done and in fact refuse to do their homework. But I don't see in what sense Fama is my "opponent."

SydB writes:

"When you do not think that your opponent is qualified to voice an opinion, bipartisanship becomes very difficult to execute."

In some ways I prefer Brad Delong's attacks on individuals over the holier-than-thou attitude towards an entire class of people--e.g. progressives--that Mr Kling often produces (Caplan sometimes, Henderson rarely if ever).

Delong might smear an individual. Well. Let them stand up and argue it out. But smearing an entire class--that's when it's impossible for bipartisanship to work.

Anyway, everyone knows that progressives are arrogant elitists who want government to set the price of bubble gum. Right?

jb writes:

I like the synergy here between Prof. DeLong and SydB's comments.

And I suppose I have to agree that attacks against an individual are better than attacks against a class of people.

But what I most like about this post is that Prof. DeLong apparently is comfortable with the label of "Most Arrogant Man in the World".

Of course, Arrogant != Wrong. Arrogant == Unable to perceive flaws in one's own thinking

Which again, suits Prof. DeLong quite well.

Pat writes:

DeLong doesn't actually say what his objection to Fama actually is. He just says that Fama's wrong and doesn't like to his criticism (unwanted inventory) and Fama's response.

Fama
http://www.dimensional.com/famafrench/2009/01/bailouts-and-stimulus-plans.html

DeLong Response
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/01/eugene-fama-rederives-the-treasury-view-a-guestpost-from-montagu-norman.html

Fama Response
http://www.dimensional.com/famafrench/2009/01/bailouts-and-stimulus-plans---addendum-11509.html

The only way a stimulus works is when government activities are more productive. Fama's understanding of NIPA is just fine.

Pat writes:

..doesn't *link* to his criticism, I mean..

Paul Zrimsek writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

dullgeek writes:

As someone who is frequently accused of being arrogant, I think that there are 2 very different senses of the word arrogance.

1) Kinsley's definition: arrogance = believing you're right.

2) AK's definition: arrogance = believing you're right AND that the person you're discussing with doesn't have the cred to voice an opinion.

I suspect that definition #2 is more common in academic circles, and in the rest of the world it's #1.

Although I'm not an academic, I'd like to think that I hold definition #2 (to both myself and others). But I find that when I am in discussions with most people, they tend to hold to #1. I often will not back down from a point that hasn't been sufficiently rebutted by the person I'm talking to. This alone is usually viewed by them as arrogant.

What strikes me as odd about Kinsley's definition is that everyone who has formed an opinion must then be arrogant. If I didn't believe my opinion to be right, I'd have formed a different one.

dullgeek writes:

jb says:
Of course, Arrogant != Wrong. Arrogant == Unable to perceive flaws in one's own thinking
I think arrogance is not just being unable to perceive flaws in one's own thinking. It's more than that. It's being unable to consider that there could be flaws in one's own thinking. To think of one's own thinking to be above reproach. To believe one's thinking to be infallible.

I know people who will ask things of their friends like, "I facts A, B, C. I conclude this means D. Did I miss something?" This person attitude has never struck me as arrogant even if they can't see flaws in their logic. The lack of arrogance comes from being willing to admit there are flaws that they don't see.

$0.02

Boonton writes:

AK's definition: arrogance = believing you're right AND that the person you're discussing with doesn't have the cred to voice an opinion.

Hmmmmmm, isn't having no credibility a type of arrogance in itself? Is it Kling's opinion that people who like to voice opinions should have no duty or incentive to guard their credibility? In fact, to call out those with no credibility is itself a sin of 'arrogance'?

Seems to me like some type of convoluted intellectual affirmative action to benefit the right.

Boonton writes:

For example, and this is classic Kinsley, we have a particular type of person in the public discourse nowadays who:

1. Complains about the deficit.

1.1 Opposes anything other than trivial cuts in Medicare, Defense, Social Security, or tax increases.

Is it really arrogant to point out that positions that are self-contradictory or purposefully ignorant of clear and well established facts should be dismissed not only with a "well I disagree" but also a "I disagree and this guy simply has no credibility"?

Arnold Kling writes:

Boonton,
If the standard for having credibility in fiscal policy is to propose enough budget cuts and/or tax increases to have a sustainable budget, then the only politician with any credibility is Paul Ryan. Certainly, President Obama fails your test.

I like your test. At the risk of being arrogant, I would like to see us reach a point where no politician is taken seriously who accepts the budget status quo.

Boonton writes:

Minor quibbles, Paul Ryan's plan suffers from the same lack of credibiity you'd complain about with everyone else. He asked the CBO NOT to score the tax portion of his plan, he told them to simply assume it would raise 19% of GDP forever (see http://paulryanwatch.blogspot.com/2010/02/paul-ryans-plan-doesnt-fix-deficit.html).

Minor quibble #2: A 'sustainable budget' need not be balanced, only keep the debt in the very long term from growing faster than very long term economic growth.

Minor quibble #3: Obama has not asserted any of his proposals on the table now solve the long term deficit problem so I'm not sure why I should dismiss his 'credibility'. To be a credible judge of someone's credibility you actually have to bother to pay attention to what they say, not simply respond to what the imaginary version of them that lives inside your head is saying.

Less minor quibble:

I don't think the people you deride as arrogant follow your definition. For example, de Long doesn't assert that Fama is unworthy of having opinions. In fact, his anger seems to be just the opposite. He is saying that Fama's argument is unworthy of him. That he should know better. I get the sense de Long would have been more patient with that response if it was coming from an undergrad student who had only read a bit of Ayn Rand and nothing else.


While it may sound odd, the criticism is actually carries with it a measure of implicit praise. Saying "you're better than this" is a very different type of message than "this is the type of crap one would expect from a degenerate like you". I would say the second type of message would be more arrogant than the first and I hate to say you seem to produce more statements of that type than the more bombastic left wing economists you guys love to hate. See, for example, your 'class based' arguments tarring just about everyone who isn't part of your libertarian economist club as closeted, subconscious, nazis or communists.

So I think we need to get back to a common sense understanding of arrogance. Arrogrance is about pride. Whatever definition we use should have the arrogant person setting himself up as better than those who disagree with him (and even those who agree with him). Someone who asserts another has no 'right to disagree' with him sounds like an odd argument but isn't in itself arrogant unless that person is basing his assertion on the idea "he has no right to disagree because I'm the s**t and he's not!"

Boonton writes:

Pat

The only way a stimulus works is when government activities are more productive.

Unemployment tends to be very, very unproductive.

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

"I think that to be arrogant requires more than believing that our are right. Being arrogant means dismissing your opponent's qualification to voice an opinion."

The line between arrogance and narcissism is becoming increasingly blurred:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/DS00652/DSECTION=symptoms

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