Monday, June 15, 2020

The cancel culture twitter mob comes to economics

Last week we learned  the twitter mob has taken over economics too.

In case you aren't following, here is the short version of the story. Harald Uhlig, a distingushed macroeconomist at the University of Chicago,  sent out a few tweets questioning the wisdom of quickly "defunding the police." The twitter mob, led by Paul Krugman and Justin Wolfers, swiftly attacked. A petition circulated, reportedly gaining 500 signatories, demanding his removal as editor of the Journal of Political Economy.  I saw an astonishing number of tweets from economists that I formerly respected and considered to be level headed, fact-and-logic, cause-and-effect analysts of public policies pile on.   The media piled on, with coverage at  New York TimesWall Street Journal Chicago Tribune and a bit of a counterpoint at Fox NewsBreitbart National Review and others. By Friday, the University of Chicago caved in and threw Harald under the bus.

Start by actually reading Harald's tweets.




Harold criticizes  the "core organization @Blklivesmatter" -- the political organization, not the self-evident proposition that Black Lives Matter -- for  "#defundthepolice : 'We call for a national defunding of police.' " Harald called for "sensible adults to enter back into the room and have serious, earnest, respectful conversations about it all: e.g. policy reform proposals by  @TheDemocrat and national healing." And, yes, he made a little fun of protesters, some of whom might just be indulging in the usual habit of youth to disregard the full consequences of revolutionary ambitions.

Now, every sensible person here -- including Harald -- recognizes that we need fundamental reform of police, and well, "serious, earnest, respectful conversations" about why minority communities are doing so poorly, and better ways than police to address the high crime rates in those communities. As a long-run goal, I happen to think a lot less police is a good policy goal.

But that's beside the point. Are Harald's views here, or even his tone, so beyond the pale that he must be instantly shunned and de-frocked?  An immediate "defund the police" is one particular policy avenue advocated by one particular segment of our political debate to address what we all recognize as a pressing problem. Is the wisdom of "defund the police" no longer debateable?

The Chicago Sun-Times thinks it is, in a moving article documenting the first Sunday of protest, in which 85 people were shot, and 24 killed while the cops were busy. Eventually, perhaps, an army of social workers can remove root causes of crime, but if there are no police tomorrow, it seems at least worth discussing whether tomorrow will see another 24 people killed.


Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot commented on defunding the police:
“I don't think that's an appropriate action at this time. I think that the people in our neighborhoods want and have been begging for more police support,” she said. “In light of what's happened over the last couple days, it would be irresponsible for me to even entertain any idea that we would cut back on our public safety resources at this time.“
The race was on to call Uhlig a racist. Per the Wall Street Journal Maximilian Auffhammer came close.
 a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, tweeted on Tuesday a link to a letter that called for Mr. Uhlig to step down from his post at the journal, with encouragement for others to sign it.
“Prof. Uhlig is welcome to say whatever he wants. But his comments hurt and marginalize people of color and their allies in the economics profession,”
And Lori Lightfoot's comments do not?  But others soon filled in.  A twitter search for "Uhlig racist" turns up lots of tweets.





The pile-on moved past the usual suspects on twitter. The New York Times reports
Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, said in an email on Wednesday that “the tweets and blog posts by Harald Uhlig are extremely troubling” and that “it would be appropriate for the University of Chicago, which is the publisher of the Journal of Political Economy, to review Uhlig’s performance and suitability to continue as editor.”
Janet Yellen is not just an accomplished economist, a former Federal Reserve Chair, and a very nice person, she is the sitting president of the American Economic Association.  She is entitled to her views as much as Harald is entitled to his. But here, as in a  letter sent to the membership instructing us how to think and behave on such matters (more later), she speaks on behalf of that association. As ex chair of the Federal Reserve, one can expect Janet to be savvy when talking to reporters about personal vs. institutional opinions.

This is to my knowledge the first and only pronouncement by a President of the AEA, without disclaiming official capacity, on whether tweets issued by members disqualify those members for employment. It is the first such pronouncement that anyone should be investigated for their speech.

The AEA has a "code of conduct," which encourages
"perfect freedom of economic discussion."  This goal requires an environment where all can freely participate and where each idea is considered on its own merits.  Economists have a professional obligation to conduct civil and respectful discourse in all forums
The Presidents of the AEA have been silent at, say, Paul Krugman's history of tweets, columns and even books that violently contravene this code of conduct. Krugman, the King of ad hominem, violates the code in the third word of the title of his book, "Arguing with Zombies," and over and over again in its pages.  Anyone who disagrees with Krugman is a Zombie? (An insult, by the way, with a dark racial history. Where are you, twitter mob?) He writes that other professional economists are "evil," "stupid," and accuses them of being bought.

One might with some justification complain about Uhlig's tone, though Harald criticized protesters and a political organization, whose extreme language is common, not other economists or people engaged in "respectful discourse."  Are all protesters beyond Harald's criticism, even looters who destroyed many Chicago neighborhoods? (Mayor Lightfoot's phone call with aldermen is a bit critical of some protesters too.)

But neither Krugman, nor most of the twitter mob, nor the AEA, who have been silent on tone so far, have a leg to stand on for a charge that Harald's tone is way out of line.  Harald's are the first tweets to receive public reprimand from the sitting president of the American Economic Association.

****

End of the first act, and I take a pause because nothing of what follows bears on the above.

The beginning of the end at Chicago came June 11 via this explosive tweet




June 12 The Chicago Fed fired Uhlig from his consulting arrangemen, and  the JPE suspended him.


Now, the JPE advisory board (Robert Shimer, Lars Hansen Steve Levitt and Philip J. Reny, all good friends and great economists, so my pain here is deep at having to criticize their action) carefully say nothing about the tweets, media coverage, and protest. They cite instead the accusation of discriminatory conduct in a classroom setting. Now, such conduct is a very serious charge.

Ba, now a professor at U C Irvine, was sitting in a class in 2014, six years ago. At the University of Chicago, there was always the issue for classes that meet on Mondays, how do you reschedule the class that would normally take place on Martin Luther King day? It was always a difficult problem, as you can't find a time when everyone can attend a make-up class.  (Thanksgiving posed a similar scheduling problem.) In that discussion, Harald said something that Ba found offensive -- that much is undeniable. What did Harald say about Dr. King? Precise words would help. Clearly in this interaction the tone mattered as much as what was actually said, particularly when Harald reportedly stopped to ask whether his comments had been offensive, a situation ripe for cross-cultural misinterpretation.

Yes, this incident merits investigation, to the extent that one can investigate  comments made in classes six years ago reported via tweet. (Update: Commenters report corroboration of the incident, which will help to have a serious investigation.)

But the JPE, on Friday, was clearly not just responding this accusation.  There is no way on this green earth that a tweet made on Thursday about a comment made in class six years ago leads to being suspended from the JPE on Friday, absent a mob demanding just that head for previous tweets about defunding the police.  And an allegation of misbehavior in class would justify suspending Harald from teaching classes, maybe.

I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone.  Many of my colleagues report the same worries.  It is not good for open and honest communication in the classroom if a tweet about a comment six years ago can instantly destroy you.

Moreover, this is an extremely unusual action. I have known the JPE for 35 years. Not once that I am aware in this time has a JPE editor been publicly suspended for anything. There have been good editors and bad editors. There have been editors who found, improved, and published great papers, and editors who did not perform as well. Most of all there have been periodic crises caused by editors who let dozens if not hundreds of papers pile up, leaving many unattended to for years. Yes, those were eased out, and new editors came in to clean up the mess.  Not one of these editors was ever publicly suspended. And no mention was made of any untoward action by Harald as editor -- or even that there is or is contemplated any review of his performance as editor.

Why do I write? Sure, I'm just as afraid of  the Red Guards of our twitter mob as the rest of you, and reluctant to offer contrary opinions. The Krugmans, Wolfers, and other assorted Jacobins are waiting for me to write or tweet one sentence that can be taken out of context and demand my head. I doubt the upper levels of administration at Stanford have any more spine in defense of conservative and libertarian speech than do those of Chicago. But we must speak for free speech before it's too late. If you donate money to a university, you have a special duty to speak up and let them know where you stand.  Chicago in particular has a courageous statement in favor of free speech.  Demand that they honor their fine words with courageous action.  Others, like my Stanford don't even have the courage to state it. Demand that they do.

Update: And to the many colleagues who have written to say they feel this way too but don't dare say anything, you need to speak up too. At a minimum others need to know they are also not alone.

Update: The Economics department at the University of Chicago has issued a statement,
The University is currently reviewing claims that a faculty member engaged in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race in a University classroom.  The Journal of Political Economy has also placed the faculty member on leave from his role as a journal editor.  
Update: Yes, I have updated this post a few times, as some colleagues and friends have kindly emailed to report errors.

Update: To a swath of twitter commenters, who seem willfully to misunderstand everthing, laced with profanities. No, this is not about Harold's suffering, which does not indeed compare to that of African Americans shot by police. This is about Harold's ideas, and all of our ideas. If, just perhaps, "defund the police" is a bad policy idea that will reduce inner city minority neighborhoods to the sort of economic depression and wanton gang violence they experienced in the 1970s, then voices that question this orthodoxy must be allowed to speak. The suffering of the 85 people shot in the first weekend of Chicago's protests is real. The suffering of thousands more who will be shot, and denied lives of peace and opportunity if your ideas turn out wrong, is real. Real progress on these issues will demand changes uncomfortable to all sides of the political and policy debate, not just canceling anyone who dares speak out against a certain left-wing orthodoxy.

Update: June 22 statement from the Economics department.
The University has completed a review of claims that a faculty member engaged in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race in a University classroom.  The review concluded that at this time there is not a basis for a further investigation or disciplinary proceeding.  The University’s policy on harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct is posted here.  In light of this outcome, the Journal of Political Economy has returned the faculty member to his role as journal editor.
Update: Will this pacify the twitter mob? Justin Wolfers already chimes in, completely disregarding the facts at hand.


144 comments:

  1. You forgot to mention that there were at least 5 people corroborating the comments made in the classroom. This makes a big difference in your narrative. There is very little doubt the Ulhig behaved appallingly in the classroom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They corroborated that he said something about MLK day. We don't actually know what he said.

      Delete
    2. They corroborated that Prof Ba's account was true. Prof Ba's account was not just about Prof Uhlig's comments on MLK day, but also Prof Uhlig's peculiar decision to "pick on" Prof Ba (asking him whether his comments were "offensive"), which would surely make a black PhD student (the only one in the class) feel extremely uncomfortable. Sadly, neither Prof Uhlig or Prof Cochrane have any notion of what it means to sit in a class full of members of the opposite race and be subjected to sneering comments by one of those members about a hero of your own race and its struggle for freedom and equality. This is the lens through which I invite Prof Cochrane to think about the events that are alleged (by multiple sources) to have taken place in the classroom.

      Delete
    3. So asking a student if he feels offended is now out of bounds?

      Witch hunts like this are only going to make professors unwilling to candidly talk to students and to minimize contact. I have several friends in the profession who are doing just that in order to avoid having a small slip of the toungue like this come back to destroy the career.

      The real causalty here isn't Uhlig. It's the willingness of professors to discuss things openly and honestly with students in person. And who do you think is going to get hurt most by that?

      Delete
    4. https://twitter.com/profaec/status/1271284411284123654

      https://twitter.com/chitownprof/status/1272611430462885888

      Delete
    5. Free speech means that you are entitled to sneer at anyone's idols, which many faculty do regularly. It's just that leftist faculty demand punishment for any blasphemy directed at their patron saints.

      Delete
    6. Certainly no professor at U of Chicago has sneered in class at the current duly-elected President of the United States, which obviously may have significantly injured the emotions of conservative students, right? No doubt any such incident would spark an immediate suspension and investigation, right?

      Delete
    7. Again, we have several people providing conflicting details about what he said 6 years ago. Details in a case like this matters. So what I said above still holds: we don't have any idea about what he said. All we know is he said something about MLK day, and he said something to the black student in question. Beyond that, there are no facts in evidence, at least in the public domain.

      Delete
  2. Wow, I had not heard this latest and that the University of Chicago took action against Ulig. Great comment on how having to talk 3 hours straight will form a standard distribution around what you say, and that the 3 sigma may get you in trouble. A sad day for the country and a once great university.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In fairness, they are just investigating him. Before judging the U of C, we should probably wait to see the final outcome.

      Delete
  3. Prof. Cochrane, Thanks for the thoughtful post. Did you see Amy Claessens's statement (link below)? She claims the verbatim words were: "I don’t know why it’s a holiday. they always complain about something. I probably offended some of them. Like you" (singling out the black student). She claims there's a recording. If indeed these were the words, then it seems to me that whatever the political storm that made this story come to light, any institution would have to investigate, and this accusation is not "too little" to cause trouble. I'm curious whether you would disagree

    https://twitter.com/profaec/status/1271284411284123654

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let’s hear the recording then! I’d bet these accusations are totally fabricated or at least radical misrepresentations, but hey, I’ll happily
      admit I was wrong when I hear the recording.

      Delete
    2. I am ashamed to admit, but most Europeans don't know why MLK day is a holiday....

      Delete
    3. Offering to hear prof Ulig's recordings is way too generous an offer. I want to hear all recordings from all professors. I also want to any student have the same opportunity Mr. Ba had to be offended. All I ask is for the Equal Protection Under the Law or No Protection at all. We all know that the worse thing about the emasculation of Free Speech in college campuses is not suppression of ideas -- they will always exist -- is the suppression of only some ideas. We all know that if you are a white male, religious, from the American South, a Trump Supporter, or dissent on climate extremism and any number of issues, the list goes on, you, your ideals, your tribe will be disrespected so thoroughly the dis-respectors must either be cruel or disconnected.

      Delete
  4. I may disagree with Harald Uhlig or John Cochrane or perhaps even my own views of twenty years ago.

    I will never agree with this left-wing version of McCarthyism running rampant.

    I support John Cochrane in this regard, and I will always support John Cochrane or any other economist in their earnest expression of their views.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comparison of the current far left Inquisition to McCarthyism is flawed, because McCarthy was RIGHT. Verona intercepts and the KGB archives conclusively showed this.

      If you must compare the current religious hysteria to something, compare it to another religious hysteria. Like, say, the Salem witch trials, or the Spanish Inquisition.

      As if there is any remaining doubt that "social justice" is a cult any more...

      Delete
    2. No, McCarthy wasn't right. Yes, there was Communist infiltration of the government to the highest levels, but the vast majority of the people who McCarthy were either innocent or low-level nobodies in no position to compromise US security.

      If anything, McCarthy HELPED the commie spies, because his witch-hunts distracted the public from the real threat.

      Delete
    3. Well...

      Ponder this: 60 years after McCarthyism, the "Russian stooge" playbook was pulled out and used against Donald Trump, even culminating in formal impeachment proceedings.

      It was all a hoax. McCarthyism is thriving.

      Provide to me a single shred of hard evidence that Carter Page or Donald Trump or even the seemingly mentally-challenged Michael Flynn were Russian stooges.

      McCarthyism is not about some bona-fide Russian stooges, agents or spies in the US. It was and is about wrecking people with different points of view, the same as we see on the left-wing today. It is about power-grabbing, getting control of the levers of government.

      Delete
    4. "McCarthyism is not about some bona-fide Russian stooges, agents or spies in the US. It was and is about wrecking people with different points of view, the same as we see on the left-wing today."

      Exactly. But it's worse than that. There really were dangerous Soviet Spies infiltrating our government at the highest levels. The Rosenbergs didn't act alone, that's for sure, and because they didn't talk, we were unable to nail the high level spies who were the big danger.

      McCarthy exploited the public's CORRECT intuition about the dangerous state of Soviet infiltration to go after THE WRONG PEOPLE. And in so doing, he discredited those who were in a position to do some good about the real threat. So McCarthy was an SOB on more than one level.

      Delete
  5. I was surprised and greatly disappointed at how spineless the economists at Chicago were. I recall, as a Chicago undergrad in the 1970s, the attacks on Milton Friedman by the campus commies. On one ocassion, George Stigler savaged the hate Friedman crowd by remarking that an activist was someone whose mouth was more active than his brain. When it was pointed out that several Nobel Prize winners had denounced the prize to Friedman, Stigler remarked that there was no petition too stupid to get a dozen Nobel Prize winners backing it. For the days when Chicago economists had backbone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is worse than what they did to Pinochet. There was a Chicago boy with a backbone!

      Delete
  6. "Defund the University of Chicago."

    I did years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for speaking out! Now I wish the rest of the profession has the balls to do the same...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Read Harald's tweets and tell me you don't cringe at the condescension. The patronizing. The mocking hyperbole. That style of communication seems almost intentionally chosen to try and generate backlash. So I guess, mission accomplished?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Should he lose his job? Do we want to instill a sense of fear that anyone who offers mild dissidence gets tarred as a racist, police brutality apologist?

      Delete
    2. Prof Uhlig should lose his job if it turns out that he was a racist bully in the classroom. I think even Prof Cochrane would be forced to agree with that.

      Delete
    3. A slogan as stupid as "defund the police" deserves derision. There was absolutely nothing morally wrong with his tweets.

      I would argue his tone was not tactically wise, but that's a completely different matter.

      Delete
    4. Totally okay with him to be whatever he wants to be. Students need to stop being so narcissistically thin skinned about minor things like this. Seriously...total BS.

      Delete
    5. It was definitely condescending, but being condescending alone shouldn't be a firing offense. As others mentioned, as a tactical matter it was dumb (and frankly also just rude), not a firing offense IMO.

      Delete
  9. THe list is here
    https://pastebin.com/CpixwUX9

    ReplyDelete
  10. This was done for career advancement. Consider this:

    -There is an oversupply of PhD economists
    -Very few tenured positions
    -The top people aren't retiring any time soon
    -Limited research money

    People are fighting for limited opportunities. Uhlig might have been a roadblock to people who wanted to get their paper published and advance their career or take his job.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dear John,

    Thank you, very much, for this brave post. I wish more people, especially more senior academics like you, would endorse your message. While some readers may think this post is to defend Harald, the post should be interpreted as a defense of freedom of speech. I am an assistant professor on tenure track (reason why I post anonymously) from a middle tier university, and I admire (or at least I used to) many of the academics that have decided to condemn and flush Harald's opinion down the toilet. While his tone was not very fortunate, he has every single right to say what he wants. His tone was not the best (reason why he apologized), but we are not the ones to judge and monitor his opinion, even if his opinion is opposite to ours. That's what freedom of speech is. Now, I am very surprised with how academics (#econtwitter) have decided to lynch Harald with such little evidence on whether he is racist or not. I struggle a lot, as everyone else does, publishing papers, and I love academia because we don't buy stories very easily. We need rigorous empirical evidence that supports our theories, even if those theories are reasonable. In this topic, I have seen academics on twitter having very little rigour for examining whether there is enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis -- they just reject it! This is very disappointing. How hard do we think about alternative theories and explanations in our work? And then, when it comes to other issues in life, we simply disapprove and condemn somebody who thinks differently. Very disappointing. I thought academics were the so-called homo economicus, but it seems we are not even close to it. 

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It didn't used to be like this. The academy was once a place of vigorous and open debate, not always respectful, but everyone accepted the premise that any hurt feelings were well worth the truth that might be discovered.

      Delete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thank you for your attention to this travesty. My respect for the JPE just fell. You are right to use the phrase the “Red Guards” of Twitter mob who cannot tolerate any discussion, any criticism or any difference from their ideology. Uhlig deserved his position perhaps another Journal will benefit.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I give you a lot of credit for speaking up. I give you even more credit for managing to do so with emphasis that I thought would be impossible given the need to tightrope walk around every potentially hot button issue(this one is especially rife with landmines).

    This is one big road to censorship and frankly has nothing to do with George Floyd. Indignation at what happened to George Floyd does not mean we must condemn anyone with a view we disagree with. Sad state of affairs.

    Wolfers' tweets were particularly galling btw. Self appointed high priest of morality for the economics profession it seems.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Is this what McCarthyism felt like?

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'd love to hear your thoughts on concrete actions people can take. I'm broadly sympathetic to the left on social issues, but it's gone too far in recent years. And I can't say anything without potentially losing my job. I'd love to donate to relevant organizations though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This PC Facism has to stop.... I had to say it but can you imagine how bad it would be if Democrats get power...

      Delete
    2. Stephen Hsu is setting up a legal defense fund, I believe. The Twitter mob has been trying to lynch him too for wrongthink.

      Delete
  17. I am not sure why my name, Ivo Welch, was not on the petition. I had signed on, too. I wish the list had been public to begin with. Signing on is not wrong.

    I stand for free speech, both Uhlig's and Krugman's. I am disappointed but not surprised by academia's response to the mob, 70 years after McCarthyism.

    Academics that care about free speech should join the https://heterodoxacademy.org/ . I have.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. clarification: I, Ivo Welch, signed the petition against removing Uhlig. what Uhlig wrote (about the adults in the room) is miles from what could possibly warrant editorial removal, regardless of whether I agree with it or not.

      arguing for removal based on "bad judgment" rather than "based on expression" is a red herring. in practice, this would end up stifling "freedom of expression" just the same.

      Delete
    2. Having read Mr Welch's excellent corpfin text, as well as numerous op-eds from Mr Krugman, I posit that proof of an econ/fin assertion may be met by either of two sufficiently persuasive standards:
      • Mr Welch agrees with it.
      • Mr Krugman rants against it.

      Delete
  18. Prof Cochrane,

    I won't discuss the issue of Prof. Uhlig's tweets and his blog posts, just mention that I'm extremely surprised you fail to address the latter, given how it's saliently presented by some of the above.

    Instead, let me focus on the classroom incident. Firstly, could you please clarify why you wrote that "But this account of events does not hold water." To write this implies you believe it is not true (at least that is it's meaning in UK English), but the in rest of the paragraph you do not, in any point, clearly state what aspect of the tweet is untrue. Is that he was sitting in class instead of taking the class? How does that make it untrue? Is it because there's issues with rescheduling the teaching at Chicago? Again, I fail to understand why that makes it false.

    Indeed, you write that "In that discussion, Harald said something that Ba found offensive -- that much is undeniable." so you're not disputing that Ba was in class and that Uhlig said something that Ba clearly felt was offensive, which essentially negates the two preceding points. Hence, I'm struggling to see why you'd write something that implies that Ba is not being truthful, nor the two sentences that come after.

    I write this sincerely, Prof Cochrane, as I highly value your writing skills and have always thought of your "Writing Tips for PhD Students" as an excellent primer for good writing. That I cannot understand the logic or purpose behind the first three sentences of that paragraph is perplexing.

    Let me also add that Alejandro Hoyos Suarez, a 2019 PhD from Chicago (https://economics.uchicago.edu/content/graduate-economics-chicago) has tweeted that "I was in the same class with Bocar and each and every word is true, this happened exactly as he described it." (https://twitter.com/alhosu/status/1271425359796469760). Prof. Scott Ashworth also wrote that Bocar Ba had previously mentioned this in private (https://twitter.com/soashworth/status/1271305493395443713).

    You write how "Precise words would help. Clearly in this interaction tone of voice -- whether Harald's inquiry to offense was "sarcastic" or well intended -- mattered as much as what was actually said.". Given both confirmations written above, particularly that of Hoyos who claims to have witnessed it firsthand and whose confirmation happened the same day as Ba's, surely the burden of evidence now lies on Prof. Uhlig to show, through other students' statements or through other evidence, that this incident is being misconstrued somehow, until a investigation can (to the extent possible, of course) establish what happened.

    Furthermore, I disagree with you completely that this only warrants "Suspend Harald from teaching classes, maybe.". The incident, as described by Prof. Ba would, by itself, be enough to seriously question whether Prof. Uhlig does not have enough self awareness, or lacks some important social skills or may even have latent racist tendencies, perhaps a combination of the three, to be a editor (much less a chief editor) at a economics journal.

    To explain, any of these individually raise very serious questions about his judgement of what papers and what topics are warranted in a economics publication (note, obviously not his technical skills, but what should be deemed important). I believe that in the case of the last two, this conclusion is fairly obvious, but even a lack of self awareness to the extent implied by this incident means that he's probably more driven by inner biases than I think is reasonable; we want to have people who can take that into account when deciding what is important. Given this, the immediate suspension of Prof. Uhlig seems more than reasonable, in my opinion, until a further investigation is possible.

    In short, I disagree with your conclusions and I find it very difficult to understand your discussion of the classroom incident.

    ReplyDelete
  19. note that Steve Levitt is a co-chair of the student's Ph.D. committee, which makes it an informed decision
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/rq75fbogosxz2v8/BOCAR%20A%20Ba%202018.pdf?dl=0

    ReplyDelete
  20. Justin Wolfers was very clear that his recommendation that Harald no longer edit the JPE was not about Harald's views per se, but that his tweets were evidence that he was not well suited for the job. (I understand that one may suspect that Justin's motives were more mixed.) I was once at a professional lunch at which Harald said, in complete seriousness, and with total self assurance, that he believed that Kim Jong Un would like to conquer South Korea. Nobody responded, and my guess is that the other people present also found it too weird to take up. Now having odd views about the Korean peninsula is not relevant to the JPE, but good judgement is crucial in editorial work. Other people have other stories.

    It is true that expressing your views loudly and obnoxiously is less likely to get you into trouble if your views are mainstream, but that is not a free speech issue.

    My greatest hope is that the JPE will discard the anacronistic custom of having the editor of the JPE (also the Journal of Labor Economics) be somebody at Chicago Econ. For other top econ journals the initial pool of candidates is everyone, and it makes a big difference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andy McLennan: as for the North Korea comment: why did North Korea burn the liaison office in South Korea? Why is North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons instead of feeding its own people?
      You question Uhlig judgment, how about you start with your own?

      Delete
    2. Editors at JoLE are not all from Chicago. For example, the current editor is Kevin Lang who is at BU.

      Delete
    3. And Churchill thought that Hitler wanted Europe. What a weird thought at the time!

      Free speech is only ever about someone you disagree with.

      Delete
    4. More generally, the answer to journal editors one disagrees with is to found a competing journal.

      Delete
    5. Does anybody actually think Kim Jong Un wouldn't invade South Korea if he thought he could get away with it? I suspect the silent response was due to the fact that they'd just heard a statement of the obvious.

      And getting into trouble for expressing non-mainstream views is the very definition of a free speech issue.

      All up, Mr McLennan's contribution would seem to be the literary equivalent of an own goal.

      Delete
    6. Silly rabbit. What in the world do you know about the Korean peninsula and its history? I'm all ears.

      Delete
    7. Andy, I'm afraid I agree with the "own goal" comment. Dictators tend to be people who like conquering countries; you need to realize that they aren't as nice people as you are.
      If I may advertise, I wonder what you think of my attempt at applied game theory? --- Eric B. Rasmusen, "Conventional Artillery and Nuclear Missiles in North Korea," RealClearDefense (May 12, 2017), http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2017/05/12/conventional_artillery_and_nuclear__missiles_in_north_korea_111363.html. Korea analysts have paid too little attention to the credibility of threats. A danger of North Korean nuclear missiles is that they make credible the threat to use conventional artillery to shell Seoul if ransom is not paid.

      Delete
  21. Oh, Christ, just institute quotas for every imaginable group, and be done with distribution problems. If the quotas are made tradable, efficiency will be preserved!

    Hadn't thought the virus would spread to economics. But it's here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frank, another virus is narcissistic virtue signaling.

      Delete
  22. Here's the list of dishonorable signatories.

    https://pastebin.com/CpixwUX9

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you for your defence of Uhlig. I'd seen the first couple of tweets but wasn't aware of the final outcome.

    I disagree with you. The objections are not a manifestation of 'cancel culture' nor are they in opposition to 'free speech'. Uhlig's critics were understandably outraged by a patronising and tone-deaf statement that compared black lives matter protesters to creationists and flat-earthers. At a time when political consciousness has evolved to a point where police violence, racial oppression and inequality are being actively opposed, it seems particularly inappropriate for the editor of the Journal of 'Political' (Smith and Ricardo would turn in their graves) Economy to be expressing such reactionary views. Uhlig's supposed apology was of the 'i'm sorry you feel that way' variety: a red rag to opponents.

    And the problem most people had doesn't simply seem to be the statement itself; it's clearly the position of the author and what he represents. As the editor of a top-five journal Uhlig is a gatekeeper of the profession and wields control over accepted papers. No enlightened person should want such a rude reactionary to decide what gets accepted at the supposed pinnacle of the profession.

    Economists are overwhelmingly white men who have for centuries enjoyed privilege and power, built on racial injustice. Their theories and ideas are not neutral or logic-based, but derive from a particular, dominant view of the world which reflects their unacknowledged privilege. The maintream of economics, particularly the variety traditionally practiced at Chicago, leaves little room for the role of power, race or inequality. Uhlig's clumsy outpouring crystallized all these objections.

    I'm not American so I don't have any particular concern with 'free speech', but to the naive economist with no training in other social sciences: what freedom of speech has the disenfranchised person of colour in a long-depressed urban neighborhood alongside someone like Uhlig? Many people worldwide are outraged at the literal unfreedom of speech felt when a police officer kneels on your neck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Max, what a bunch of poppycock nonsense you say. You give it all away when you say you have no particular concern with "free speech".

      Delete
    2. If you are 'outraged' by a patronizing and tone-deaf statement, then you are the problem. The whole point of the post is directed at people who are outraged whenever anyone says something they don't like, agree with, or is even uninformed. That is cancel culture. Everything you disagree with is worthy of outrage.

      Delete
    3. "At a time when political consciousness has evolved to a point where police violence, racial oppression and inequality are being actively opposed, it seems particularly inappropriate for the editor of the Journal of 'Political'"

      Regardless of core merits, widespread intentions, and a majority of good behavior, mobs--like people in general--also tend to be a fountain of gross error, ignorance, absurd ideas, and particularly--malice. It is *always* the job of intellectuals to inject rational discourse into such cacophony. That necessarily starts by removing the wheat from the overabundance of chaff. Criticism cannot be avoided.

      Hopefully this particular mob activity will lead to positive solutions to the repeated episodes of police inhumanity that many have long been critical of, and unsuccessful in reforming. But while some people are inspired by the possibilities of mob action, those tempered by historical knowledge must also be suspicious of it--however irreverent it appears to the inspired.

      Delete
    4. Excellent response.

      Delete
    5. It seems your comment is an open admission that you think people who hold views you disagree with should be canceled.I wonder if you would feel the same way if the shoe was on the other foot. I.e., if you got fired for a statement like this since it casts your judgment in doubt.

      "Economists are overwhelmingly white men who have for centuries enjoyed privilege and power, built on racial injustice. Their theories and ideas are not neutral or logic-based, but derive from a particular, dominant view of the world which reflects their unacknowledged privilege. The maintream of economics, particularly the variety traditionally practiced at Chicago, leaves little room for the role of power, race or inequality."

      It certainly makes me question your judgment and reasoning ability. If you were fired would you suddenly find Jesus on free speech, or would you suck it up and say yes, because vocal people disagree with me I should be fired. If you say "it's wrong that I was fired because I'm right" then you've given the game away. The fascist mob decides what is right.

      Delete
    6. As a succinct statement of intolerance and narrow-mindedness, this is pretty hard to beat.

      Delete
    7. Steven Landsburg has said that most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” and that the rest is commentary.

      Then, all the privilege, racial injustice, illogic, and unacknowledgement of power and inequality in economics can presumably subsumed under "commentary".

      Delete
    8. "all the privilege, racial injustice, illogic, and unacknowledgement of power and inequality in economics can presumably subsumed under "commentary""

      Why not under incentives?

      Delete
  24. Thank you John for doing this. It is so painful to see how Harald is being lynched...

    ReplyDelete
  25. Prof Cochrane, you offer good advice to commenters:
    "Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic."

    Why don't you follow your own advice? Your post is neither short nor polite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's Cochrane's blog and he can do whatever he pleases, write whatever he pleases and put whatever rules on commenters he pleases.
      As for politeness: Cochrane is always - repeat: always - very polite.
      You may not like his opinion, but that is different from being polite.

      Delete
  26. Good for you, Professor Cochran. The JPE is the responsibility of the economists at Chicago, not of the profession, and I, as an outsider, think of you all as having both the blame and the credit for what it does, whether you're in the economics department or not. It pains me, too, that the individuals on the Advisory Board have done this, but I'd rather not go public with my criticism until Chicago has spoken. And if Chicago cleans house, the rest of us won't have to, which will be a relief.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Is this the Econ Dept of Theodore Schultz, Milton Friedman, George Stigler and Gary Becker? And Arnold Harberger and Harry Johnson? People who made the Econ Dept at Chicago one of the greatest of all time to learn real Econ?
    And Robert Shimer threw it all away. just like that?
    Maybe Shimer (and the rest) should read George Stigler's memoirs, "Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist".
    Because it seems to me that Shimer is very regulated - by the Jacobin Mob.
    No, Bob Shimer - you put a very dirty stain on the tradition of the Econ Dept, a stain very difficult to erase.
    As for the Twitter Mob (Krugman, Wolfers and such): you left academia long ago. You are no longer academics, but Jacobin apparatchiks.

    ReplyDelete
  28. If an accusation in a tweet concerning a comment 6 years ago is enough for the loss of position, the constitutional state is eroding. Where will this end? In proscription like in Sulla´s times within the Roman empire?

    ReplyDelete
  29. My own take on economic systems is that they are a reflection and expression of what a society values. They are organized and set up to produce a certain outcome with a relative amount of certainty (determinism in action). We see this in standard mathematical models and then introduce shocks/shifts to model what happens if x,y, or z takes place. Then the normative pretzel logic emerges.

    I bring all this up because in the end economists inevitably use the discipline as a platform to promote what they think and feel. As economists attempt to transmit their thinking in non-technocratic econ speak, they are promoting what they value to the masses, either to educate and/or to influence how to think about economic policy that enables or constrains available choices. Don't like something? Go and vote for something different.

    Dr. Cochrane's recent "excoriation" of Kelton's book on MMT is a fine example of what happens when prominent economists, like Kelton, use economic ideas to promote social outcomes that are favorable to particular groups, but use fuzzy thinking. It's emotion based and purely normative, but can have dire consequences if not thought about properly. Kelton is promoting a utopia via a mechanism that may or may not destroy economies.

    So, yes, it is unfortunate that some economists are tone deaf at times. Krugman certainly has learned to ride the populist/progressive waves, along with his Nobel Prize, to promote economic policies that will heal what he believes is a result of economics gone wrong. And, yes, Krugman does get nasty. He has a lot of social media capital to deploy to unroot and unmask those he believes have violated their oaths not only as economists, but as human beings, too. Krugman should behave better, but, alas, people do what they want.

    This has all gone too far. We need to stop weaponizing economic thinking as a political hammer to smash those who want to engage in dialogue. Nothing gets healed or fixed unless there is a place for people to speak honestly. But, yes, one must be aware of the times we live in. Words do matter. That doesn't mean everyone should walk on eggshells, but I think it's reasonable to have a modicum of awareness before speaking out loud.

    Best,
    M

    ReplyDelete
  30. Thank you for speaking out. I am sad to not have the courage to post this comment under my name, as I fear I would become a target too and don't have the "protection" of tenure.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Please understand that I am posting here anonymously. I know Harald from former times (Germany) and would like to give a different perspective.

    I agree with John that the way he is currently being treated is not consistent with the guidelines of our profession. So far, that is correct. But you also have to see who it affects. Harald is, how to put it politely, a difficult personality. He can be very arrogant and ruthless. When you read the wording of the debate in class six years ago, you get the impression that an identical exchange of words cannot be imagined with people like, for example, Lars Hansen or others. Harald expresses himself in the way he expresses himself and he obviously has little feeling for how he is received by other people. He doesn't want to. Instead, he is actively on twitter and in doing so, he has to deal with the problems that people have who, for example, use the yellow press to ride the elevator up - when things go downhill, the yellow press is still there. He who deals out to others must be able to take a beating.

    The fact that these statements are then put on a larger gold scale than they will be in the end, is the way of things. In other words, those who behave like him make more enemies than friends. If we take this problem seriously, however, the question arises as to where the limit should now lie. Which jokes are allowed? Why is Paul Krugman not also branded for his arrogant behaviour, why does one choose (only) Harald Uhlig? How much arrogance is too much arrogance, which jokes do we let pass? I am afraid that there is no clear line for this, but that the boundaries will be fluid. From the point of view of a German, however, I must say that Harald was abrasive enough so that the reactions of those he hurt in their feelings do not surprise me too much. Harald has always shown little consideration and now he gets a bill on which things are written that he probably didn't mean and that are probably not fair.

    In this respect, time has changed. In the past, things were tolerated that are no longer acceptable today - for example, read the biography of Charlie Chaplin. Woody Allen is an orphan compared to that. A few years ago these things would not have escalated that much.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Wow, just Wow, stunning disappointment at the current state of affairs, condition of our society and institutions, especially for a former Fed chair, but even more so for a bastion of my training in liberal and independent thought and discourse. Politicians is such widespread liberal bastions, e.g. mayors of Chicago and San Jose also voiced similar "reform, don't defund" concerns, but once the thought police/aka 21st century Mc Carthy-ists, get ahold of someone, you're done for. Time for some letters to U of C....

    ReplyDelete
  33. The way to achieve the kind and understanding world is paved with a lot of difficulties and misunderstandings.

    ReplyDelete
  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  35. "At the University of Chicago, there was always the issue for classes that meet on Mondays, how do you reschedule the class that would normally take place on Martin Luther King day? It was always a difficult problem, as you can't find a time when everyone can attend a make-up class"

    It seems odd that MLK day poses a difficult problem for scheduling. Surely, Thanksgiving must raise similar issues for Thursday and Friday classes. Surely, many universities have figured out how to adapt their schedule to the existence of holidays. I wonder what it is that makes MLK day a problem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I work at a university, and basically every weekday public holiday is a nightmare. Can we be gracious and assume, as is most likely, Professor Cochrane meant that MLK, like every other public holiday, was a difficult problem, rather than insinuate he's making some gross dog-whistle racist comment?

      Delete
  36. Paul Krugman has been criticizing (and as mentioned by John, not in particularly polite tones) anyone who questions the efficacy of higher levels of government spending or worries that the size of the public debt might be a problem. By coincidence, an implication of Harald Uhlig’s work on fiscal policy is that higher government spending may somewhat ameliorate a crisis but imposes a long-term cost. Furthermore, there are costs to higher taxation and limits to how much revenue governments can raise. In a totalitarian society personal and even academic disputes are resolved by political denunciation as they were in the world of Soviet mathematics in the 1930’s. I fear this is just the beginning. For a view of coming attractions see Luzin Affair: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Luzin and https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Luzin/

    ReplyDelete
  37. Dear Prof Cochrane, please could you clarify whether you continue to believe that Prof Ba's claims do not "hold water", as you claimed in a previous version of this blog post? I see that you have now edited the blog post after publishing it, suggesting that you are now rowing back slightly. In restrospect, perhaps you felt that it was presumptuous and inappropriate to dismiss Prof Ba's claims before UChicago's investigation is completed. This begs the question of why you were so quick to dismiss Prof Ba's claims. You might wish to introspect on what this says about your own implicit biases.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I wonder if instead of MLK the identical alleged comments of Uhlig had been about Christmas & Jesus what the reaction would have been.

    ReplyDelete
  39. The university is supposed be the crucible for free expression. It seems that cherished idea died long ago. As for Krugman repeatedly violating the AEA's code of conduct by engaging in mean spirited ad hominem, why not hold his feet to the fire and register a complaint with the AEA? He refers to those who disagree with him as "zombies" and has attacked John Cochrane's name, a family name, with a despicable alteration. Krugman is a coward. Yes I said it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. Although I'd question whether any sane person actually takes Krugman seriously any more.

      Delete
  40. Often it isn't what someone says that gets them in trouble, but the smarmy way they say it. Unfortunately smarm is the currency of Twitterland, buying both fame and infamy.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Dear Prof. Cochrane,

    I am disappointed with something in your essay that will likely go unnoticed. You wrote, "I also learned the hard way, don't talk to reporters who are out to destroy you, and that includes anyone from the New York Times or the New Yorker." Maybe it is good advice to enlighten academics as to the potential for bad journalism, but you don't do much good with the inclusion of the last clause.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm puzzled. I read this to mean that he has had enough experience with reporters from those two publications to know that they are out to destroy people like him. I wouldn't be surprised, even tho in my own cancelling, the NYT reporter was one of the few who, tho biased, were fair. I considered threatening one of the Washington Post reporters with publicly shaming her to other reporters (she of course wouldn't care about other kinds of people) after she wrote an article for which she didn't try to contact me and in which she falsely said I had written an article on women in academia, whereas I had merely quoted an interesting tangential comment from it (the WP did issue a correction after 8 hours or so--- probably some reader pointed the mistake out to them). Anybody who has had dealing with the mainstream media knows they lie and twist routinely, with some publicaoitns much worse than others. See my advice on it at http://www.rasmusen.org/special/2019kerfuffle/lessons.htm. You can deal with them, but only like you can deal with Persian rug dealers or used car salesmen, on a friendly but cautious basis.

      Delete
  42. Paul Krugman has been criticizing for a long time (and as mentioned by John, not in a particularly polite manner) anyone who questions the efficacy of higher levels of government spending or worries that the size of the public debt might be a problem. By coincidence, an implication of Uhlig’s work on fiscal policy is that higher government spending may somewhat ameliorate a crisis but imposes a long-term cost. Furthermore, there are costs to higher taxation and limits to how much revenue governments can raise. In a totalitarian society personal and even academic disputes are resolved by political denunciation, as they were in the world of Soviet mathematics in the 1930’s. Cancel culture is nothing new. For a view of coming attractions see Luzin Affair: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Luzin and https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Luzin/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bringing up Krugman reminds me that he was cancelled from Jackson Hole. Maybe a good step towards ending the cancel culture in academia is to bring him back!

      Delete
    2. Question of logic, missing the point: There is no Right to edit the JPE and there is no Right to go to Jackson Hole. If one doesn't like that, make one's own JPE and Jackson Hole substitutes.

      Delete
  43. There are clearly two parts to this story. First is the recent tweet re Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police. Seems to me that in this super charged era of political correctness and thin skinned people that an assumedly smart PhD would think before making any comments for public consumption that could be misinterpreted. So grade F for regardless of his intent, not knowing how it might be viewed is down right stupidity on his part with a clear lack of awareness of himself and how his statements in writing or spoken to his class( next point) might be responded to.
    2. Bringing up comments made in a classroom 6 years ago, and someone offended, but not saying something at that time is a bit curious, but perhaps understandable. Yes, a recording of actually was said would be helpful, but again to ask if a comment might have been offensive, probably means that it was and he knew it. Did he offer an apology? I might have missed Prof. C stating such.
    The sum of the two events speaks to a professional who is unaware of himself, how he may affect others while clearly not dispositive of his being a racist or biased does bring to the forefront the old question: Where there is smoke there is fire.
    Sadly, due process is not something anyone is being afforded today as you are either with me or against me. Bend the knee is what is asked in the this real world Game of Thrones

    ReplyDelete
  44. Unfortunately, it really does take courage to speak out against the bad behavior of those under mob influence. Some of my greatest historical heroes met their early demise doing so.

    To what extent is this new, rather than an entrenched feature of (in)humanity? I'm neither particularly old, nor young, but I've known since before adulthood that my opinions were best left to myself--particularly in the University setting--since there has never been a time when I did not see at least some critical individuals piled on and maligned by a demonstrably foolish mob for unacceptable thinking.

    And, of course, Jacobins, Red Guards, Brown Shirts, Khmer Rouge, Antifa, etc., have always been among us, just not always (fortunately) in unbridled control of state police power.

    Is it that so many supposedly enlightened intellectuals have mindlessly picked up the torches and pitchforks? Is that really unusual, or is outrage to it just reflecting a romanticization of intellectuals?

    ReplyDelete
  45. This could have been taken right out of the pages of this great book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Coddling_of_the_American_Mind

    One of my takes from the book: Give the person you think might have offended you the benefit of doubt. He/she might not have meant it in the way you initially interpreted it.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Thank you for this post, John. I appreciate having these many further elements to consider, and I was especially heartened to see your link to U of Chicago President Zimmer's commitment to free speech. https://freeexpression.uchicago.edu .

    ReplyDelete
  47. From the Statement of Aims of the Mont Pelerin Society, 1947:

    "Even that most precious possession of Western Man, freedom of thought and expression, is threatened by the spread of creeds which, claiming the privilege of tolerance when in the position of a minority, seek only to establish a position of power in which they can suppress and obliterate all views but their own."

    Full circle, 2020.

    ReplyDelete
  48. This summary leaves out a lot of relevant information, including past blog posts by Uhlig and corroboration of Ba's account. It's also not true that the petition was "taken down." The names were already collected, verified, and submitted to QJE. Max Auffhammer just did a second round of email verification before making the petition public.

    There are loads of people on Econ Twitter debating the merits of defunding the police; merely disagreeing with the policy proposal is not why people are mad at Uhlig, including some of your colleagues on the more nuance-friendly side of Serra street.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Dear John Cochrane, You write: "I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone. Many of my colleagues report the same worries. It is not good for open and honest communication in the classroom if a tweet about a comment six years ago can instantly destroy you."

    EXACTLY.

    We do not have open and honest communication pretty much anywhere in the public sphere these days. I'm certainly seeing a heap of stupendously presumptuous virtue-signalling, however.

    I myself was a student (one of a minority) in the U of C economics PhD program a while back (pre-Twitter times), and, as I recall, some of the professors were wonderful people, but more than a few of them lacked, shall we say, interpersonal skills. But so what? That isn't why they were on the faculty.

    I never met Prof U, he arrived after my time there, but I do know that he is not American, that at the time he made that comment (whatever it was) about MLK Day, he had come fairly recently to the US. While MLK Day is a profoundly important and meaningful day for Americans, can we realistically expect all foreigners to know this? Do we Americans know all the profoundly important and meaningful days celebrated in his country, Germany? Or, say, of our own neighbor, Mexico? Ask most Americans, they've heard of Cinco de Mayo, but they have no clue what it actually is.

    The larger problem, it seems to me, is that we're all disposable now. And a lot of people are very angry and/or very scared.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Keep up the good work, John. We will lose the rest of our freedom if people don't speak out.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I support this profession ONE THOUSAND PERCENT.

    Shame on the people attacking him on twitter.

    These are famous people trying to incite a mob.

    Shame on them

    ReplyDelete
  52. Prof Cochrane, thanks for your well-written post, as always! There's a market at work here: a group of economists implicitly threatened that the JPE would lose their labor, esteem, etc. if it didn't fire Uhlig for expression that disgusted them. They are surely within their rights to do this, much as the Chicago donors you address would be within their rights to withhold their gifts. If Uhlig is fired due to the demands of the "mob," it'll be the outcome of a fair fight in a bargaining arena, not through some kind of violence. Markets work; respect them even when you don't like the outcome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Incidentally, in a now-infamous blog post, Uhlig himself thought it would be fair for the NFL to attend to the tastes of its fans in punishing a player for speech that fans disliked. It sure seems like his argument could equally defend the JPE's response.

      Now, the U of C has committed to give faculty wide leeway in political speech, i.e. not to fire them for it. But that surely does not *force* clubs within the university, e.g. the JPE, to ignore political reactions to their leaders' speech: there's much more of an argument for private, club-optimal discretion there.

      Delete
    2. You have a very strange understanding of markets — mob rule is not how they work (at best that's akin to a monopoly-dictated outcome).

      Delete
  53. John, you might be interested in another example of cancel culture gone wrong. Steve Hsu at MSU is the latest would-be victim of an attempted cancel. A petition to keep him on board has started, and I encourage anyone with any academic name power whatsoever to add their name to the petition.

    Some background is given here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/16/open-thread-156-25/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Will. I just signed the petition on behalf of Steve Hsu and I encourage other academics to step forward. For those unconvinced by my analogy to the Luzin Affair in the USSR during the 1930's mentioned in an earlier comment (https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Luzin/) here is an American parallel 'The Human Stain' by Philip Roth https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Human_Stain. A novel published exactly 20 years ago, but inspired by real events from that time. Seems even less like fiction now.

      Delete
  54. An Anonymous commenter above (he/she says writes from Germany) asserts that Harald Uhlig is "arrogant" and "abrasive".
    How about we start with several Ivy League Econ Departments and look for abrasive and arrogant faculty members? How about we start, say, with MIT and Harvard and - why not - Yale?
    Anonymous in Germany: are you going to tell me that ALL faculty members in those Econ Departments are all meek and humble and polite and smooth?
    Because, my prior, is that they are not.
    And many sit on the Editorial Boards of elite Econ journals.

    ReplyDelete
  55. The most disheartening thing about this episode is that the University of Chicago has finally buckled under. They had been a beacon of open discussion and debate. They, alone, among major universities stood strong in the late 1960s when that era's nihilists were bent on destroying civilization. Prof. Uhlig's comments were very reasonable; compare them to other twitter posts. He deserves better. What would Milton say?

    ReplyDelete
  56. Thank you for speaking out on this issue, John. Academic freedom, and more generally free speech are under sustained attack. We need more modern day Voltaires.

    ReplyDelete
  57. I appreciate John's raising of this matter. Several have urged to speak up against the erosion of open debate. Given that this might come at personal cost, has anyone practical suggestions how to achieve this?

    ReplyDelete
  58. He sounds like a nasty piece of work to me. Keep him as a professor, maybe, but not the privilege of being editor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Nasty piece of work", Ron? Based on exactly what?
      On an allegation? On an expression of an opinion?
      Thus for you allegation is proof?
      Before you judge Uhlig, take a very hard look at the mirror, Ron, and turn your judgment on yourself.

      Delete
  59. Harald's only sin was being tone-deaf, which, let's be clear, he most certainly was. My guess is that's what happened in the classroom as well. It's entirely possible he was trying to be funny in a *racial* but not *racist* way and it came out wrong, like Larry David's "affirmative action" joke to the black doctor in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

    I'm not white, and I get my fair share of tone-deaf comments about my race, but JFC to publicly put people on blast, to the extent that their livelihood is imperiled, because they said something uncomfortable but not malicious is pathetic. Nut up, snowflakes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liked your post! That's exactly the point: Harald is probably not the most sensitive person in the world, even controlling for the fact that he is a research economist, a group very prone to untactfulness. But, hey, people should allow for some misguided jokes and comments. This mob has no sense of humor. That's the worst part of this episode.

      Delete
  60. Uhlig's points re policing are correct. Where he went wrong is in mistaking his "target" as "not adults." According to their website, Black Lives Matters was founded by Marxists and promotes revolutionary ideas. These are not children at play, but revolutionaries. They are extremely effective.

    ReplyDelete
  61. The very same evidence discussed here *can* match another possibility. It is possible that Harald Uhlig's contemptuous tone and aggressive comments and behavior in the classroom (singling out the only black student in a taunting way) are expressions of racism.

    Which possibility is true? That Uhlig is brash and tone-deaf but not a racist, and the punishment restricts legitimate academic ideas? Or that Uhlig is a racist and known as such by former students and others in his orbit, and the punishment is a cumulative reaction to his racism?

    I don't know if the later is true, but it certainly could be. And it is completely reasonable for an institution to remove a racist from a position of power when he can help or hurt others in the profession.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the western legal tradition we go after what people do, not what they are.

      Delete
    2. Virtually everyone in a position of power has biases and imperfections that can affect who they help and hurt in their profession. The only way to really implement what you suggest is to eliminate all positions of power.

      Delete
    3. Now, what is a racist? Someone who says that, for example, blacks have on average higher (or lower) IQ than whites? Or someone who says that whites are the pinnacle of evolution? Today both types would probably be considered racist but in my opinion only the second is. And in-between there are many shades. I happen to find black women very attractive and Asian women not very attractive (I'm white). Does that make me a racist? According to these people, it does, but in my heart I know that I have the same regard for any black or Asian person.

      Delete
  62. Harald challenged and inspired me with dreams of generalized impulse response functions from VAR models. It is a shame that he seems now to be unlikely to be allowed to help lead the next generations to understand the world as it is around us.

    ReplyDelete
  63. I believe this is the relevant section from Monty Python's Argument Clinic:
    ------------------------------------------------------
    Man: Thank you. (Walks down the hall. Opens door.)

    Angry man: WHADDAYOU WANT?

    Man: Well, Well, I was told outside that...

    Angry man: DON'T GIVE ME THAT, YOU SNOTTY-FACED HEAP OF PARROT DROPPINGS!

    Man: What?

    A: SHUT YOUR FESTERING GOB, YOU TIT! YOUR TYPE MAKES ME PUKE! YOU VACUOUS TOFFEE-NOSED MALODOROUS PERVERT!!!

    M: Yes, but I came here for an argument!!

    A: OH! Oh! I'm sorry! This is abuse!

    M: Oh! Oh I see!

    A: Aha! No, you want room 12A, next door.

    M: Oh...Sorry...

    A: Not at all!

    A: (under his breath) stupid git.

    ReplyDelete
  64. One might be forgiven for wondering, at times such as this time, whether the statues and portraits of Geo. Washington, Martha Washington, and Thomas Jefferson and their slave-owning contemporaries will be removed from the various galleries and grounds around the national capital and in the various state capitals and towns.

    Harald Uhlig wrote, in a working paper (#16416) titled "Economics and Reality", published by the NBER, the following apologia

    "... Indeed, anything that I may say correctly I have learned from the giants in the field--and everything that I shall say incorrectly should not have been said in the first place."

    He follows with,

    "Voicing deep thoughts about economics should be better left to others! I can do no more than pretend. But here I am."

    If "politics" is substituted for "economics" in second quoted passage, then we have the essence of matter today.

    Uhlig's writings have been mischaracterized. His take on N. Korea is exactly right, though he is now being disparaged for his observations on that subject. English is not his first language (German is), and his English grammar is occasionally challenged and this leads the reader into some puzzling alley ways and byways that on re-reading more closely are largely but not completely ironed out. As a German national, he is well aware of the dark episodes of his country's history, moreso than the average American is aware of his own country's dark episodes in history. Harald is being made to run the gauntlet for his awkward and perhaps inappropriate sentence structure which has thrown doubt on his bona fides in the eyes of his contemporaries in the economics profession who have expressed grave concerns over his ability to be impartial in his role as chief editor of the JPE. He is required to 'show cause' to continue in that role.

    An episode in a graduate student class during MLK Day is touted as indicative of a racialist tendency. Harald is being investigated for singling out a black student and directing an implicit insult to the student. In an instructor-student environment, the power relationship is heavily weighted in favor of the instructor. In a graduate class situation, however, it would not be out of order for the student or his colleagues to rise and challenge the instructor's words as an insult and to demand retraction and apology. A belated apology would not be inappropriate, if warranted. One cannot fault the student or his colleagues for not standing up at the instant, given their dependence on the instructor's good graces for their advancement, but their courage was wanting in that moment. Harald needs to reflect on his earlier words quoted above and put on a hair suit for a time and do repentance.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The paper Economics and Reality underscores that Uhlig is a highly qualifies editor of a top journal.

      The citations about MLK Day do have entirely innocuous interpretations, regardless of native, or any other, language.

      Delete
  65. Jacobins? Too funny. I often wonder what Alan Krueger would say.

    ReplyDelete
  66. That's the (real) free market fellows. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  67. Thanks John for writing on the situation and, in particular, for providing background and steps in your arguments, which clearly people are then able to criticize.  By contrast, both Wolfers and Krugman make a precise policy recommendation, Uhlig is unfit to edit, yet neither feels an obligation to outline how Uhlig's writings support that conclusion (keeping in mind that the classroom incident came to light after their pronouncements).  That form of persuasion is not befitting the issues here.

    ReplyDelete
  68. University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer is looking good. I recently learned how his predecessor Hugo Sonnenschein, an economist (to my shame) and a nice guy did worse. See how he responded in 1998 to a demand from Mayor Richie Daley of Chicago that he fire John Lott, a much more abrasive person then Harald Uhlig who is the bete noire of the gun control crowd. https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/my-scary-encounter-with-chicagos-mayor-richard-daley History is going to look a lot more kindly on Mr. Zimmer than on Mr. Sonnenschein.

    ReplyDelete
  69. law and policy don't work with character judgement.

    Judging and rewarding actions are the tried and true method for an effective legal system and organization. Behaviors can be observed, character cannot. Behavior can be helpful, character is not. That's why every legal code on the planet focuses on behavior rather than character. That's why religions or societies focused on faith rarely develop practical legal or economic systems independently.

    Legal systems based on character judgement are usually just covers for corruption or discrimination. You can never prove you have good character, so lack of "faith" or "commitment to the communist party" or "racism" or whatever have always been used by corrupt governments to put enemies behind bars.

    Unfortunately, much of the US legal and judicial system is based on making character judgement rather than behavior judgement. Law, in the eyes of many, is just to find an excuse to put bad people away. The character judgement discretion that law enforcement have is the source of incredible discrepancies in punishment for the same action.

    It is incredibly ironic that the same people that suffer so much from a legal code based on character rather than behavior are the same people who support its application on others.

    ReplyDelete
  70. Professor Cochrane writes: "I spent much of my last few years of teaching afraid that I would say something that could be misunderstood and thus be offensive to someone. Many of my colleagues report the same worries. It is not good for open and honest communication in the classroom if a tweet about a comment six years ago can instantly destroy you."

    One of the reasons I'm glad that I never went into academia. The federal government is almost as bad (the pension is better though).

    ReplyDelete
  71. Btw, did you hear what's up with Berkeley Econ PhD students and EJMR?

    ReplyDelete
  72. As Cochrane rightly asserts, the substance of Uhlig's tweets is defensible. But both the timing and the tone are spectacularly awful, and call into question Uhlig's character and stability, to say nothing of his fitness for a position of great power. Was his tweeting an impulsive act? Or was it done after careful reflection? Neither explanation leads to an acquittal here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Speaking with Marsh McLuhan, the medium is the message!

      Delete
    2. Nonsense. There was nothing wrong with his tweets.

      Delete
  73. Update: Will this pacify the twitter mob? Justin Wolfers already chimes in, completely disregarding the facts at hand.

    It's not about facts; it's about power.

    ReplyDelete
  74. From the way his comments are phrased, Uhlig doesn't come over like a very amiable guy. But what's happening to him regarding his comments on defunding the police is ridiculous.

    ReplyDelete
  75. One is left wondering at Justin Wolfers's motives. Wolfers in his latest tweet (see above) slanders Uhlig in a way that no honorable person could accept. Nowhere in the sequence of tweets by Uhlig is there least suggestion that Uhlig is supporting "racists".

    Wolfers needs to be placed under investigation by the AEA for violation of the association's code of ethics.

    ReplyDelete
  76. You forgot to highlight the tweets which were condescending to those who disagreed with him on the twitter feed you are talking about. Serves your ends well, I suppose

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh please, as if being condescending is a crime when those he was responding to were being rude jerks themselves. "serves your ends well" eh?

      Delete
  77. Uhlig's patronising comment "time for sensible adults to enter back into the room" is disrespectful on two counts. Firstly it is redolent of racists calling black men "boy"; secondly it ignores academics who have written on defunding police and related issues. See for example https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/harvard-experts-discuss-how-to-effect-lasting-change/ and a whole issue of the Harvard Law Review in 2019 on abolition of prisons.
    Uhlig's naïveté is what brings into question his editorship.

    ReplyDelete
  78. It's actually redolent of an adult refusing to capitulate to the present day version of 1960s mobs screaming "don't trust anyone over the age of 30."

    Uhlig has no obligation to hold much regard for the work of a bunch of lawyers who publish in a law journal, whose articles are vetted by some law school students.

    ReplyDelete
  79. If the US (and, by corollary, the Free World) wants to have any hope of surviving in the face of rising tyranny, it is high time that marxism (and its grievance-studies edition in particular) be exposed for the pure evil that it is and put in the dustbin of history right beside its fellow nazism. If allowed to fester, nothing will be more devastating to black lives than the BLM movement, just as nothing has been more devastating to proletarian lives than the "parties of the proletariat".

    ReplyDelete
  80. Do you know how many blacks were left out of this "vigorous and open debate" due to Jim Crow? Or how many innocent citizens were tarred and feathered during the era of McCarthyism? Do you realize that simply being gay was reason enough for people to treat you like a subhuman (see Oliver Sipple)?

    You could say that the academy was a place of open debate, as long as you were the right demographic and only willing to debate the right topics. Free speech may be under attack today, but let's not pretend that it was any better in the past.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.