The Sloppiness Syndrome


 

So what is it with New Republic alumni? First Michael Kinsley, then Charles Lane, weigh in with defenses of austerity that aren’t just wrong, but painfully ill-informed. Kinsley not only makes a really bad analogy between current events and the 1970s, he seems not to know anything about what happened in the 1970s either. Lane attacks stimulus advocates for failing to address an argument that I actually discussed, at length, in my last column but one.

Whence cometh this epidemic of sheer sloppiness?

I’m not really sure, but in these cases I suspect it has a lot to do with the famed TNR/Slate premium on being “counterintuitive”, which in practice meant skewering supposed liberal pieties. (Kinsley himself joked that TNR should be renamed “Even the liberal New Republic”). And I find it curious that my own position in the discourse has undergone a kind of quantum tunneling: I seem to have transitioned from unserious pariah, unbeliever in the church of SimpsonBowles, to authority figure whom one can burnish one’s counterintuitive credentials by attacking, without ever having passed through the stage at which people say, “Hey, it looks as if he was right!”

And here’s my guess: if you went back through all the clever counterintuitiveness of past years, you’d find that a lot of it was every bit as sloppy and ill-informed as what we’re seeing now. The difference is the existence now of a policy blogosphere (in economics, of course, but in a number of disciplines too), which makes bluffing harder. In the past grotesquely ill-informed articles on, say, the Clinton health plan could sit out there for years, with only a handful of specialists aware of just how bad they were; now the pundit emperor’s nakedness is all over the web within days if not hours.

And if this leads to hurt feelings – well, this is not a game. We’re having a discussion about policies that affect tens of millions of people. And you have no business participating in this discussion if you’re so busy trying to sound clever that you can’t be bothered to do your homework.

The Sloppiness Syndrome – NYTimes.com

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