Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Niall Ferguson's epic meltdown

Right-wing historian and economist-wanna-be Niall Ferguson seems to be having an epic meltdown over being called out by the mighty Krugman. He writes:
For too long, Paul Krugman has exploited his authority as an award-winning economist and his power as a New York Times columnist to heap opprobrium on anyone who ventures to disagree with him. Along the way, he has acquired a claque of like-minded bloggers who play a sinister game of tag with him, endorsing his attacks and adding vitriol of their own. I would like to name and shame in this context Dean Baker, Josh Barro, Brad DeLong, Matthew O'Brien, Noah Smith, Matthew Yglesias and Justin Wolfers. Krugman and his acolytes evidently relish the viciousness of their attacks, priding themselves on the crassness of their language. But I should like to know what qualifies a figure like Matt O'Brien to call anyone a "disingenuous idiot"? What exactly are his credentials? 35,550 tweets? How does he essentially differ from the cranks who, before the Internet, had to vent their spleen by writing letters in green ink?
So Ferguson's critics both exploit their credentials, and also don't have a good enough credentials to be worthy of criticizing Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, it should be noted is saying this on the prestigious Huffington Post.

Krugman disagrees with Ferguson because Ferguson gets things wrong:
My own unpleasantness with Ferguson began when he tried to weigh in on monetary versus fiscal policy without understanding basic macroeconomics. Later, he tried to critique official inflation numbers without knowing enough about that subject to tell the difference between the experts and the cranks. Now he’s demonstrating, rather embarrassingly, that he doesn’t know how to read CBO reports.
Krugman also defends those without sufficiently lofty credentials from sore-headed, entitled jerks like Ferguson:
But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them, there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot — and no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.
Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background.
One of the great things about the blogosphere is that it has made it possible for a number of people meeting that second condition to gain an audience. I don’t care whether they’re PhDs, professors, or just some guy with a blog — it’s the work that matters. 
Meanwhile, we didn’t need blogs to know that many great and famous intellectuals are, in fact, fools. Some of them may always have been fools; some of them are hedgehogs, who know a lot about a narrow area but are ignorant elsewhere (and are, in many cases, so ignorant that they don’t know they’re ignorant — a variant on Dunning-Kruger.) And some of them have, for whatever reason, lost it — I can think offhand of several economists, not all of them all that old, of whom it is common to say, “I can’t believe that guy wrote those papers.” 
And let me add that believing that you can pull rank in this wide-open modern age is itself a demonstration of incompetence. Who, exactly, do you think cares? Not the readers, that’s for sure. 
True, it’s now a rough world for people who do sloppy work, and are counting on their credentials to shield them from criticism. Somehow, though, I can’t seem to muster any sympathy.
When I read the last paragraph I immediately think of Sam Harris.