Arnold Kling  

Blogs, Journals, and Economists

Nassim Taleb on His Next Book... Making Taleb's Point...

Paul Krugman writes,

doesn't this [the Internet] allow a lot of really bad economics to circulate? Yes, but is it really any worse than it used to be? As I've tried to explain, the notion of journals as gatekeepers was largely fictional even 25 years ago. And I have a somewhat jaundiced view of how the whole refereeing/publication system has ever worked; all too often, it seems to act as a way for entrenched doctrines to blockade new ideas, or at least to keep people with new ideas from getting tenure at a good school.

His views are similar to those of David Weinberger, in Too Big to Know. Note that Weinberger is scheduled to be interviewed by Russ Roberts in a podcast and by Nick Schulz and me for a video conference.

Joshua Gans has a related story.

I was sent a review copy of The Global Financial Crisis: What Have We Learnt?, a set of essays from highly diverse viewpoints. A few comments, which relate to the issue of communication among economists.

1. The book is expensive. In that respect, in tends to inhibit rather than promote access to academic research.

2. In their essay, Peter J. Boettke, Daniel J. Smith, and Nicholas A. Snow offer an anecdote of an exchange between Keynesians and Hayekians that took place on the letters-to-the-editor page of the Times of London in 1932. It made me think that this was the equivalent of the blogosphere in those days.

3. In his essay, Steven Kates writes,

We have ignored Say's Law for three-quarters of a century and it has now led the world's economies into the greatest fiscal catastrophe...

In his essay, J. E. King writes,

Say's Law is false: supply does not create its own demand...we still live in the world described by Keynes in the General Theory, three-quarters of a century ago.

The book format means that these writers talk past one another. A more conversational medium, the Internet, would be better at bringing out what they are saying.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Richard Allan writes:

Paul Krugman sounds like a climate change denier in that quotation. "No but you see the reason the scientific literature disagrees with me is that the literature itself is biased!!"

Methinks writes:

Krugman:" doesn't this [the Internet] allow a lot of really bad economics to circulate?"

Oh, the irony. But even before the internet, a lot of bad economics circulated. Plenty circulated in the economics department where I was a student.

BTW, isn't that a misreading of Say's law - that supply creates its own demand?

John J. writes:

What I've found lately is I read both books AND blogs, while focusing less on the opinions of journalists.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

Yes, Methinks, Says Law is that, supply is (implicit) demand.

ThomasL writes:

Say's Law is one of those funny things where what Keynes said that Say said is noticeably more famous than what Say said that Say said.

Say's idea is that products are paid for with products. It is by the production and sale of my widgets that I obtain the means to buy your thingamabobs. If your thingamabobs aren't selling, it isn't because people lack money, it is because they haven't produced enough of their widgets, whatzits, and doodads to change into money to buy thingamabobs. Production is the means for consumption.

In a Say world, the way to combat a drop in 'velocity' is to encourage production. If only I could produce more of my widgets, I'd be first in line to buy a thingamabob. (ie, demand is constant and money is a means of exchange).

In a Keynes world, it is fought by spurring demand. I'm nervous, and it makes me feel safe to keep cash in my mattress. I'm not really even sure if I need a thingamabob, especially with the world condition. I need to be convinced everything is going to be all right, there is more money where that came from, and thingamabobs are awesome--in fact, all the cool kids already have one (ie, demand is variable, and money is a good in its own right).

Chris Koresko writes:

Paul Krugman: doesn't this [the Internet] allow a lot of really bad economics to circulate?

I'm struggling to resist making the obvious wisecrack here.

But if Krugman is right about the economics journals, I'd propose that it might be an effect of working in a "soft science" in which definitive truths are few and far between. One way to encourage a proliferation of competing theories is to deny everyone the ability to test them.

ThomasL: Say's idea is that products are paid for with products....

Thank you. That was a helpful comment, and a nice counterexample.

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