Monday, December 23, 2013

Williamson on the economics blogosphere

Steve Williamson has an insightful set of posts, Minneapolis Redux, and Journalists Looking for a Fight. They are tangentially on the Minneapolis Fed affair, but really about the coverage of the affair and deeply thoughtful about how the economics blogosphere is evolving.
Reporters at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other outlets were fair, I think. They talked to the people involved, and covered the story the way good reporters should. What went on in the economics blogosphere I think is revealing of what this medium can and cannot do. In many cases, bloggers dived into the story and did what they do best. They made stuff up, or repeated things that have become "blog truths" - basically fiction that, when repeated often enough, somehow becomes truthy. 
So, this runs from the outrageous to the comical, covering all points in between....
His own posts here set a high standard for looking up, checking, and linking to the things he's talking about. Hopefully the market test will induce us all to better blogging.


  1. John
    Me thinks you should probably should not have put Stephen Williamson blog post on your approval pedestal. You state his post sets a high standard. Is this really true? You quote Stephen Williamson as stating: "...bloggers dived into the story and did what they do best. They made stuff up". Let's parse this statement. What Mr. Williamson is saying here is the "bloggers" did what bloggers "do best" and what they do best is "make up stuff" -- which is another way of saying that bloggers are dishonesty. Correct? (I assume that you would agree that anyone whose standard operating norm for commentary is going around “making stuff up” is a person whose honesty we should question, right?) Now is seems to me that Stephen Williamson’s broadside here is little more than attack on the integrity (and thus character) of a group of individuals; and as his broadside constitutes nothing more than an argument ad hominem.

    Remember, Stephen Williamson's comment: "...bloggers did what they do best... they made up stuff". The import of his comment is that we should not have confidence in bloggers, they are not to be trusted. Of course, no evidence is offered for this categorical insinuations. that we should not have confidence in bloggers.

    So my question to you is why have you placed Stephen Williamson on the "pedestal of approval"? Do you think that the use of ad hominem argumentation against those with whom one disagrees set a "high standard" for intellectual engagement? Surely, you must understand that Stephen Williamson's broadside attack is an ad hominem attack. The fact that you see his comments setting "a high standard" suggests that you believe the ad hominem approach to intellectual discussions improve the quality of the discourse. Is that what you believe? If not, why did you place him on a pedestal?

    One other note here, John. You say you "welcome thoughtful disagreement" but "will block comments with insulting or abusive language". That is find in good, no problem with that. What I find odd is the comment about bloggers doing "what they do best" (making up stuff) is, in itself, thoroughly degrading and disrespectful (to the degree that is abusive); and thus, according to your own criteria, should have been blocked. by you!. But rather than censoring Stephen Williamson's degrading comment, you gave given it a high-five of sorts.

    Of course, your metrics might be different than mine, but it seems to me that Stephen Williamson’s comment is inherently insulting and abusive. After all, he has implicitly implied that bloggers (and particularly those who posted on the Mpls Fed shake-up) are intellectual dishonesty (John, I think that the term “intellectual dishonesty” is an accurate way to describe the behavior of individuals who just makes thing up and puts it forth as informed comment.)

    Now, I think you would agree that if Stephen Williamson intended to make the case that a group of bloggers are intellectually dishonest, then he would need to mount a case containing evidence that shows a pattern of the dishonest. But he did not do this. What he did was to make a very broad claim begging for supportive evidence. And in doing this, I think it is fair to claim that he himself was engaged intellectual dishonest (after all, the ad hominem argument is an intellectually dishonest argument).

    And in using an ad hominem argument to suggest no uncertain terms that bloggers with whom he disagreed are intellectual dishonest, Stephen Williamson was himself guilty of very disrespectful and abusive behavior, the very kind of behavior which you yourself find so unacceptable.

    1. That's an interesting perspective. I liked the way Williamson pulled together who said what in a way more accurate and objective way than usual.

  2. Professor Cochrane, I enjoyed your breakdown of Williamson's QE to Deflation thesis. I had trouble understanding it as originally phrased. However, you didn't really discuss Professor Williamson's causality argument. From my non-economist perspective, he seemed to rely upon a kind of multi-stage reasoning from accounting. The Kocherlakota quote from your first link shows a similar sort of reasoning. In other words, holding the monetary policy at a fixed nominal interest rate seems to be a profound assumption in that it incorporates all sorts of actions the Federal Reserve might take to resist "natural" movements in the rate. But how do you work backwards from there to assert that raising the Fed Funds target would increase inflation in the short term? Or is that the wrong way to look at it?


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