Paul Krugman recently wrote a short post “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” in which he explains why he doesn’t continually respond to Niall Ferguson’s attacks. Basically Krugman says that continually responding to the attacks is a waste of time and serves to feed the other side.
Good point. Actually it is a great point. With all the mud slinging that goes on in the blogosphere, you really have to pick and choose what you respond to.
Which is probably why Eugene Fama hasn’t responded to Krugman for about four years. Sometimes Krugman is the troll.
One more thing about being a troll. If you are being one — and the other side is ignoring you — you probably won’t recognize the situation for what it is. You will probably think you’ve “won” and the other side isn’t responding out of fear.
Trying to elevate discourse
Remember in 2009 (as is still the case today) there were two stubborn camps. One camp said government stimulus was the answer to our problems. The other camp said government stimulus was our poison.
There was no meeting of the minds. Arguments were being concocted with a horrible mixture of over-complicated charts mixed with hard-line ideological principles.
In Fama’s posts, he simply pointed out that all of this arguing was over the most productive use of resources. Specifically:
“Stimulus plans only enhance incomes when they move resources from less productive to more productive uses.”
It was an attempt to clarify a debate, which had become totally unclear. It was an attempt to raise the level of discourse. That is what professors are supposed to do.
Now the absurd misreading
Krugman’s arguments are also based on the most effective use of resources. He happens to believe that, at this particular point in time, the government would be able to more productively use resources than the private sector. He might be correct. Fear and economic contraction may have taken the economy to a point where the Federal government would use resources more effectively than the private sector. But Krugman was too hard-headed to realize that this was one aspect of Fama’s point. In other words, government spending might sometimes be more productive, but let’s analyze the productivity rather than calling each other robber-barons and communists.
Four years later Krugman still hasn’t let up, arguing against a post that simply helped to clarify his own position.
I said in an earlier post that Eugene Fama is one of the most misquoted people I know. His work doesn’t come in the form of prepackaged sound-bytes. You actually have to read it and think about it, which is far too much work for most people (including many professors) these days.
Photo by Tristan Schmurr