New Year, old complaint about economists’ rhetoric

John Cochrane writes,

It’s better to win on logic and fact and ignore motivation. Contrariwise, when you see an argument my motivation, which Austan made three times in as many sentences, you should infer that the arguer has neither fact nor logic to offer.

In 2003, I wrote,

you are teaching by example that making speculative assessments of one’s opponent’s motives is more important than thinking through the consequences of policy options. If everyone were to use such speculative assessments as the basis for forming their opinions, then there would be no room for economics in public policy discussions.

The economics profession is willing to look inward about matters of proper conduct, for example the issue of how women in economics are treated. The method of conducting policy arguments in the media is matter of proper conduct that deserves attention.

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4 Responses to New Year, old complaint about economists’ rhetoric

  1. Philo says:

    If you are going to assail your opponent’s motives, you should at least point out up front that you are no longer discussing the ostensible issue between the two of you. You might say: “The position my opponent is taking is so obviously wrong that it is not worth discussing. Instead I will speculate about what might have induced him to assert such an absurdity.” Of course, that will seldom be appropriate, but I suppose there will be exceptions.

  2. Matthew Young says:

    The basic idea is avoiding someone doing ‘I told you so’. after releasing a paper with hidden bias. How embarrassing, getting caught being a sign of weak intellect.

    • Handle says:

      The institutional advantage of prediction markets is that they are robust to lack of charity and indifferent to rhetoric and ideological claims about bad motives. Money > Words.

  3. Seth says:

    We’re all 3rd graders now.

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