Some Fed economist (with a hard-earned Ph.D mind you) named Kartik Athreya (who lasted at Citigroup as an associate Vice President for a whopping 7 months before getting sacked in 1998 only to find solace for his expiring unemployment benefits in the public sector) has written the most idiotic "research" piece to come out of the Federal Reserve since 1913, and the Fed has written a lot of idiotic research since then - after all you don't destroy 98% of the dollar's purchasing power in 97 years with non-idiotic research. But this just takes the cake. In "Economics is Hard. Don’t Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise" Kartik says: "I argue that neither non-economist bloggers, nor economists who portray economics —especially macroeconomic policy— as a simple enterprise with clear conclusions, are likely to contribute any insight to discussion of economics and, as a result, should be ignored by an open-minded lay public." Alas, all Kartik achieves is to convince the general public that feeding Fed "economists" alcohol after midnight and letting them directly upload their resultant gibberish to the Fed's broad RSS feed the second they think they have a coherent thought , is generally a disastrous idea. In his piece, which has no other intention than to discredit and outright malign bloggers such as Matt Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson, and Robert Reich, Athreya says: "In what follows I will argue that it is exceedingly unlikely that these authors have anything interesting to say about economic policy. This sounds mean-spirited, but it’s not meant to be, and I’ll explain why." Instead in what follows, the Fed presents 4 pages of thoughts so meandering, that the author's blood alcohol level must have certainly been well above the legal norm for the duration of the writing of this ad hominem pamphlet.
Amusingly, the Fed shows that it also enjoys cannibalizing its own most vocal defenders:
The list of those exhibiting this zest also includes, in addition to those mentioned above, some who might know better. They are the patron saints of the “Macroeconomic Policy is Easy: Only Idiots Don’t Think So” movement: Paul Krugman and Brad Delong. Either of these men will assure their readers that it’s all really very simple (and may even be found in Keynes’ writings). Lastly, before you dismiss me as a right- or left-winger, I am not. I’m simply less comfortable with ex cathedra pronouncements and speculations than the people I have named. (Somewhat strangely, in an earlier era Paul Krugman very effectively took the same sort of “accidental theorist” to task, so what I’m saying is really a bit of a rehash of his arguments.)
Here are some of the pearls of wisdom contained in this stunning paper:
- Before I continue, here’s who I am: The relevant fact is that I work as a rank-and-file PhD economist operating within a central banking system. I have contributed no earth-shaking ideas to Economics and work fundamentally as a worker bee chipping away with known tools at portions of larger problems.
- Why should anyone accept uncritically that Economics, or any field of human endeavor, for that matter, should be easy either to process or contribute to? To some extent, people don’t. Would anyone tolerate the equivalent level of public discussion on cancer research? Most of us readily accept the proposition that Oncology requires training, and rarely give time over to non-medical-professionals’ musings. Do we expect advances in cell-biology to be immediately accessible to anyone with even a college degree? Science journalists routinely cite specific studies that have appeared in specific journals. They generally do not engage in passing their own untrained speculations off as insights. But economic blogging and much journalism largely does not operate this way. Naifs write books, and sell many of them too. People as varied as Matt Ridley and William Greider make book-length statements about economics. I’ve never done that, and this is my job. This is, to say the very least, bizarre.
- So far, I’ve claimed something a bit obnoxious-sounding: that writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy.
- You might say, “you’re telling us to leave everything to the experts, so why should I believe you are adequately policed?” This is a fair question, but as someone who has worked for a decade to publish in leading academic journals (with some, but hardly overwhelming, success), I now have the referee reports to prove that I live in a world where people are not falling over themselves to believe my assertions. The reports are often scathing, but usually very insightful, and have over the years pointed out all manner of incoherence in my work. The leading journals have rejection rates in the neighborhood of 80%, and I’ve had my share of them.
- How can this be changed? A precondition for the market delivering this is a recognition by the general public that they are simply being had by the bulk of the economic blogging crowd. I hope to have alerted you to the giant disconnect that exists between the nuanced discussion that occurs between research economists and the noise (some of it from economists!) that one sees in the web or the op-ed pages of even the very best newspapers of the US. As a result, my hope is that the broader public will ask for a slightly higher bar when it comes to economics, rather than self-selecting into blogs that merely confirm half-baked views that might have been acquired from elsewhere.
And this punchline:
- For my part, seventeen years after my first PhD coursework, I still feel ill at ease with my grasp of many issues, and I am fairly confident that this is not just a question of limited intellect.
We would comment on this if it had any merit, and central point worth arguing or even debating, but since this whole thing sounds like the ramblings of a deranged lunatic, we will just leave it out there for your comedic enjoyment.
Full must-laugh at essay:
h/t Bruce Krasting