Paul Krugman: Macro Manners


Macro Manners, by Paul Krugman, in NY Times: Wow, it’s hard to post anything interesting today. Everything — not just in America, but around the world — hinges on what happens tomorrow. The odds seem to favor Obama heavily, with national polling having moved modestly but significantly in Obama’s favor over the past few days and state-level polling showing a clear electoral college lead; but I guess we’ll find out soon.

Meanwhile, via Mark Thoma, Simon Wren-Lewis worries whether he has been too rude toward policy makers who forced a turn toward austerity in 2010, helping to derail recovery in advanced countries.

As Wren-Lewis says, objectively there’s every reason to be very angry: policy makers threw out everything we’ve learned about business cycles these past 80 years in favor of doctrines that made them feel comfortable — and millions of workers paid the price. But should we cut them some slack nonetheless?

This is basically an operational question; as Mark says, the goal is to change minds — although the big question there is whether you’re trying to change the minds of the policy makers themselves, or the minds of other people, so we can get a new and better set of policy makers.

But even given that, it matters what niche you yourself fill in the intellectual ecology. Insider-type positions, like that of being the senior economist at the IMF, require tact and euphemisms. Outsider positions, like that of being an iconoclastic columnist at the New York Times, require a lot of effort to get peoples’ attention. It wasn’t nice to characterize the doctrine of expansionary austerity as belief in the confidence fairy, but I do believe that it focused the discussion in a way that a less caustic approach would not have achieved.

And one more point: writing effectively requires that you have a voice, that the passion shows — and too much self-censorship can get in the way, making the writing dull and stiff. Obviously no four-letter words — and while I may sometimes envy Matt Taibbi his vampire squid, rudeness in my part of the commentariat has to be within certain bounds. But pretending to respect views that you don’t isn’t, and shouldn’t, be part of the job description for economists trying to grapple with these important issues.

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