DeLong’s endearing false modesty

In this post, fiscal expansionist Brad DeLong says kind and admiring about austerian Ken Rogoff, concluding on a note that if taken literally is strikingly humble – not a characteristic we associate with DeLong. All the while, he is gently taking Rogoff’s argument to pieces: the humility smacks of false modesty, going almost too far to be good manners, but it’s clearly meant as good manners. Is he making up for joining in the schadenfreude over the Reinhart-Rogoff spreadsheet debacle? Is he just happy to be able to engage with a prominent austerian who, unlike many of the Chicago school (Fama, Cochrane, Lucas, Stephen Williamson …) understands Keynesian reasoning and has not erased from memory two hundred years of monetary theory? Maybe he just figures you can’t do nuance on the Web, so he slathers the flattery thick. It’s a little disconcerting to see somebody whose reflexive reaction to error is such that he used to run a “stupidist person alive” contest on his blog, to frame a fundamental disagreement about a matter of great import in such an elaborately respectful tone. Still, civil discourse is nice.

p.s. Read De Long’s post down to the comments – Robert Waldmann’s is spot on.

5 thoughts on “DeLong’s endearing false modesty

  1. The difference is that Ken Rogoff is both scary-smart and has done his homework: he has reasons for thinking that using Germany’s debt capacity for debt restructuring would be much better from a technocratic-economic point-of-view than fiscal expansion in Germany, and the fact that I don’t full grasp those reasons may well say something not about his errors but about mine. I could say something not as strong but analogous about Robert Barro: scary-smart, does his homework–the big problem with his analyses, I think, is that for him it is always 1976, Gerald Ford is always President, and Arthur Burns is always chairing the Fed.

    Fama, Cochrane, Lucas, and company, by contrast, simply didn’t bother to do their homework, and then felt it would be too humiliating to ever admit any error on their part. But it’s not doing your homework that’s uncool. And it’s not being willing to admit error that is truly humiliating.

    As for Williamson… what do you think of ?


    • The Williamson link went missing from Brad’s comment, and what’s at the other end has to be read to be believed, so I’ll reproduce the link here. I think, after that, we don’t really need to bring Professor Williamson into the discussion for a while.

      As for being scary-smart but engaging with the world as if Gerald Ford were still President, I think we could, while still staying clear of armchair psychiatry, call this one of two things: either

      * a stubborn attachment to an analysis that has ossified into an ideology, or which conveniently supports a certain ideology; or

      * the inability or disinclination to think outside of a tested problem-solving framework – in essence, a failure to problematize, to assess a situation and figure out what the problem is, before solving it.


  2. If one goes by your comment Mr Guy, then it is impossible to be repectful and deferential to a person and diagree/be critical of that person. I have been reading DeLong’s blog for some time and my reading of all of his comments about Prof. Rogoff has been than DeLong disagrees with some of Rogoff conclusion but does respect him as an economist. There are many other people with whom he is not as deffertial and his blog post show that.


    • I don’t think so. It’s just that sometimes deference is presented out of proportion, especially when it contrasts with a marked lack of deference or respect in other cases. It’s particularly marked with Brad when he’s writing about economists who he considers “scary-smart” but also wrong wrong wrong.


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