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WE’D SAY YOU GOT A REVOLUTION! A new world in which we liberals are dumb emerged in Drum’s comment thread: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2011

Krugman revisits that global failure: Most likely, you don’t know what “the basic IS-LM model” is.

Neither do we—but you don’t have to worry! For current purposes, it doesn’t matter! Following Digby, we think it’s worth reviewing this recent post , in which Paul Krugman returned to a very important topic.

He mentions “the basic IS-LM model.” But you don’t have to know what it is.

The actual topic of Krugman’s post is the “global intellectual failure” he described a few weeks ago. Increasingly, we live in a very dumb world, from the upper-end on down. Once again, Krugman describes the way the world’s academic elites have massively, globally failed:

KRUGMAN (8/31/11): The basic IS-LM model, with its possibility of a liquidity trap, has been a very good guide in these troubled times…It’s your basic, minimal, compelling model. It should come as no surprise that it gets at a lot of what’s going on. Yet people don’t know this model—which is to say, they don’t have any simple framework for thinking about how money, interest rates, and the real economy interact. Which people am I talking about? Money managers, obviously; they may know a lot about individual markets and companies, they may have lots of experience, but now that we’re talking about macro issues of a kind not seen since the 1930s, those talents are a lot less relevant than usual. Pimco used to have Paul McCulley, who was very good on the macro, but with him gone, they seem to be making up theories on the fly. And whatever model Paulson is using, it’s not IS-LM. But economists also don’t know this stuff. We’re living in a dark age of macroeconomics, in which much of the profession has turned its back on past knowledge. There’s also a contingent of economists who have read Hicks, or at least claim to have read him, but seem to have come out of the experience with nothing more than misleading catchphrases and the strange conviction that they have transcended something they actually don’t understand.

According to Krugman, our economists no longer know basic stuff! Quite correctly, Digby was struck by the oddness of this assertion :

DIGBY (8/31/11): So, in this case it's a failure of experts, some of whom just don't know what they need to know and others who have inexplicably decided to ignore what they do know and pretend that they've discovered something more relevant. The first is just simply human failure…the second is a little bit less understandable. How does that happen, and why?

On its face, Krugman’s claim is highly counterintuitive. How could the world’s leading economists be so dumb? How could we be in “a dark age of economics?” We weren’t thrilled with Digby’s path from there, although we’ll suggest you peruse it. This would be our suggestion:

We live in an age of massive dumbness among a wide range of elites. We aren’t equipped to judge Krugman’s claim about the world’s economists. But for decades, we’ve been struck by the uselessness of our “educational experts”—and by the general absence from the scene of our professoriate.

When the professors do show up, they often have little to offer. Krugman is the exception.

Beyond that, our higher-end journalists just aren’t smart at all. Their basic skills are virtually non-existent, and it’s been that way for decades. The situation is quite amazing, but we tend to talk about their “bias,” not about their remarkable dumbness.

We must learn to discuss The Dumb—and our duty as citizens.

Why are modern elites so inept? To some extent, they’re paid to be, directly and indirectly. They may know what their funding agencies or their editors want, and they may function accordingly. But beyond that, the global intellectual failure almost surely reflects a world in which the basic rewards and incentives are simply much too high.

It’s inevitable: When we pay our elites way too much, we produce a fatuous world of foppish, pampered know-nothings. That world is currently all around us, drowning us in its dumbness. For our money, it reveals its foppish values most reliably on the New York Times op-ed page. But we’ll guess that its foppish soul is also displayed in the work Krugman is discussing.

To some extent, modern elites are paid to fail; some climate deniers are on the dole, for example. But the dumbness is all around. In part, it simply reflects a spreading, upper-class elite culture. When you pay elites too much, you guarantee that they’ll fail.

We have a citizen’s duty not to be dumb—and to challenge the spread of The Dumb. Quite correctly, Digby was struck by Krugman’s post. But that massive upper-end dumbness is truly all around.

We need to identify it—to call it by name. Why not start with Bruni , since we’re too cowed to tag Dowd?

Special report: Imagine all the people!

PART 4—WE’D SAY YOU GOT A REVOLUTION (permalink): We thought Kevin Drum was right to be “irked” by what Jon Fasman said.

Heroically, Fasman had tried to imagine what those people in the tea party are like. Judging by recent survey results, he was talking about forty million people.

But by the time Fasman was done, “those people” were pretty much all alike—and they weren’t very nice. He found it hard to imagine a range of motives for their very bad conduct and views :

FASMAN (8/23/11): Like Matthew Yglesias, I also find it hard not to think that when older white conservatives lament the loss of "the America they grew up in", they are lamenting the loss of their own social privilege. It's true that America today is in some ways profoundly different from the one into which John Boehner was born in 1949. And I am willing to concede that life may well have been better for Mr Boehner, and for many other white, Christian heterosexual Americans back then (although I wonder what chance a 60-year-old Catholic son of a bartender from Reading, Ohio would have had at becoming Speaker of the House in 1949). Quotas kept immigration from Asia, Latin America and Africa low, and of course blacks, Jews, Catholics, women and gays knew their place. Is that what older white conservatives miss? And if not, what, exactly, do they want their politicians to "champion"?

Fasman’s imagination was faulty; he failed to imagine John McCormack, the 60-year-old Catholic son of a hod carrier who became Speaker during that era. (As early as 1940, he was majority leader.) But then, Fasman’s imagination may not be especially fertile. He could imagine that all “those people” just want to keep blacks and Jews in their place. But he couldn’t seem to imagine much of anything else.

Drum said he was irked by this, and we largely agree with his judgment. But darn it! As he started his response to Fasman, we thought he missed a step :

DRUM (8/23/11): There's something about this conversation that irks me. You want to know what older white conservatives miss about the America of half a century ago? It's just not that hard...

We thought we knew what Drum would say next! We thought he was going to say, “It’s just not that hard. You have to sit down and ask them!” People won’t always tell you the truth when you ask them such questions, of course. But it’s an obvious place to start.

We think Drum wrote a very good post, but he didn’t take that route. Instead, he began imagining too—though for our money, he has a more fertile imagination than Fasman. Drum imagined a lot of things “those people” might miss about the past. “None of this is really my cup of tea,” he said as he ended. But he also said this: “As you'll note, lots of it is indeed bound up with racial, ethnic, and gender fears. But then again, lots of it isn't.”

(To Kevin’s credit, he can talk about “racial fears” without going straight to “racism.”)

What do “those people” miss about the past? For ourselves, we have no idea; if we cared about that question, we’d be inclined to ask them. That’s what Professors Putnam and Campbell recently did with some tea party folk, as part of their recent alleged study; tomorrow, we’ll take a second look at their reported findings. But many of Drum’s commenters seemed to see no need to ask any questions. They knew, from their imaginations, what those forty million are like.

It just has to be race, they cried, imagining forty million people in one fell swoop.

We thought their comments were quite unintelligent. But then, the liberal world had been drifting this way ever since we stopped our decades-long nap in the woods. Increasingly, we’re developing our own partisan “news orgs,” news orgs which hand us silly shit too—the kind of news orgs pseudo-conservatives developed decades ago. The Richard Wolffes get hustled onto TV, as happened just last night; they teach us to be dumb-asses too. This is good for the corporate bottom line, but bad for our group IQ.

At long last, we liberals are being played for fools too, right on the TV machine thingy! (And elsewhere.) This has produced a striking new situation—almost a revolution. It has produced a world in which the conservative commenters will sometimes make more sense than we liberals manage to do!

For decades, that was hard to imagine. As the revolution takes hold, it increasingly occurs.

Consider a comment which appeared about one hour after Drum offered his post. Many liberals had been sounding off about the way they imagined “those people”—about all the unattractive things for which they were plainly nostalgic. Our side was having a good ole time—but uh-oh! A commenter from Connecticut now appeared, asking awkward questions:

COMMENT FROM CONNECTICUT: Wow.

How many older white conservatives did you interview for your list? And why do you take it as a hypothesis that older white conservatives are nostalgic for the America of a half century ago, rather than opposed to some specific things they see today?

Oof! It’s true. Fasman had built his post around the idea that “those people” are full of nostalgia. Drum may have seemed to extend the premise—but no one had shown that the premise is true! No matter! We liberals just kept imagining all the bad things the “baggers” long for. But as we did, the Connecticut commenter began to challenge the various things we were saying! A few minutes after his original comment, he asked this question of a fiery liberal commenter:

COMMENT FROM CONNECTICUT: Why do you assume that Kevin has any legitimate basis for his long list of conservatives' nostalgia?

Oof! That was a good question too! Unfortunately, when the fiery liberal gave his reply, it didn’t exactly make sense—and the Connecticut fellow noticed!

For ourselves, we wouldn’t criticize Drum in the way this commenter seemed to do. We thought he made a good, basic point in his post: People can be nostalgic for many things which aren’t connected to race. That said, his post would have been even better if he had noted an obvious fact—Fasman never established that “those people” in the tea party are motivated by nostalgia. Presumably, some of those people may be so driven—but surely, some others are not.

Such distinctions didn’t trouble the liberal lynch mob. But then, down through the annals of time, distinctions like that have very rarely gained purchase.

We recommend the comment thread to Drum’s post because it represents a new kind of critter—a critter we increasingly see. It represents a type of debate which rarely existed in recent decades—a debate in which the liberals keep making the dumb-ass remarks, while the conservatives make much clearer sense. We liberals! As the corporations hire the millionaire “talents” to serve us our own plates of comfort food, we are getting dumber and dumber. We are getting dumb in way only the right used to be.

For decades, we laughed at “those people,” the ditto-heads. You say you want a revolution? Increasingly, “those people” are us!

Tomorrow: Imagine the professors

Types of comments to look for: If you read the Drum comment thread, we’ll recommend two types of comments.

Some commenters offered remarks like this:

COMMENT: Hey, here's an idea: if you want to know "what exactly do these voters want" then ask them! Radical, I know! Problem is, this doesn't produce the desired result (calling them racist). So instead, it is necessary to sit on one's ass and impute motives to them (racism) from a position of ignorance.

Oof. In fairness, there’s a great deal of merit to this this type of comment. And by the way: As we liberals become more promiscuous in our (highly disrespectful) use of race cards, we make it increasingly easy for conservatives to win debates among the wider electorate. Many others can see that we’re dumb!

Beyond that, you might look for comments which note that there are plenty of things a sensible person might miss about the past. Many of Drum’s less intelligent commenters seemed to think this was impossible. Anyone who fondly recalls the past must be a snarling racist!

We were saddened by this manifest liberal dumbness. Wisely, we thought of the opening paragraph of Paul Krugman’s essential book, The Conscience of a Liberal:

KRUGMAN: I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted—in fact, like many in my generation, I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing in Cambodia, went door to door for liberal political candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.

It’s much as Drum said: To the extent that “those people” may long for the past, they may have real things to long for. In fact, many significant things were better when John McCormack was speaker, though many other things were much worse.

Krugman explains that “paradise” in his book. Some of “those people” may be remembering similar things, perhaps without understanding the social forces which have destroyed that “political and economic environment.”

We tend to agree with Krugman’s analysis of the mid-century. Once in a while, it wouldn’t hurt to try to persuade “those people” that Krugman’s view of the past is right. Or is it beneath the dignity of we who are increasingly dumb to speak to those people, whom we dramatically loathe?

If you want a revolution, we think you must talk to those folk.