Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Thankless work

I'm amazed that Ken has the stamina to trawl through editorial pages, score op-eds, and then keep records. But it's data like that which makes his rebuttal to Brad DeLong so solid. Brad argues that since the Economist only named one Krugman critic (Ken) and hinted at others, their claims are baseless since (presumably) Brad can name many supporters. But Ken isn't just any critic, he's systematically recorded 372 (372!) columns and this is how the numbers turn out. If you don't like them, run your own numbers, but you can't dismiss (or confuse) this sort of data collection as opinion.

(I will add that Krugman's stock had fallen very low at U Chicago amongst those who knew that supply curves sloped up, and demand curves down. By the time I graduated, he had become a joke.)

It's worth thinking about opinion. I am no expert on this subject, but I've been to enough debates to know that, well, debates don't change anyone's mind about anything. Neither side, nor spectators, come away thinking anything different from what they felt going in.

So if arguing does not work, what does? My personal hobby horse these days are bets -- after all, if the other guy is such an idiot surely you can get some money off him, and if it turned out you were wrong, well, consider it paying for knowledge, always a worthy transaction.

One way to think of the way Reagan won the Cold War was as a bet -- communists believed (as many people still do) that a centrally planned economy outperforms a market economy and Reagan believed the opposite. This was a bold belief at the time, btw, as conventional wisdom was firmly on the USSR's side. The way Reagan placed the bet was through an arms race that would bankrupt the less productive economy over time. He won the bet.

I don't know what the central bet is between Islamic fanatics and the free world, but thinking about that clearly is probably a better way to understand what's going on and avoiding futile arguments.


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