Anti-Intellectualism in American Blogging

With apologies to Richard Hofstadter.

On reading “New Classical Kansas”, James Sexton comments:

What? Log? Why Log? Why not just “economic activity”, whatever that is?
Why all the babbling bs? ARIMA(1,1,1)? You believe that holds any meaning in relation to Kansas’ “economic activity”? Why?

Was there an expectation of huge growth in Kansas in response to the tax cuts? No. But, our unemployment is decidedly below the national average. You know, that’s like more people working and earning, and stuff. But, better, … well, worse in your point-of-view, people get to actually keep more of what they earned. This is an end, in and of itself. Kansas is fine. And, it will be more fine, because people get to keep what they earned, and are not forced by a government to give what they earned to people they don’t wish to give it to. In America, we call this “freedom”. It’s a strange concept, look it up.

Rather than celebrate this fact, the author wishes to convince people Kansas is economically declining. He does this by using a meaningless method … to whit …

Yeh, the old “log coincident indicators” …. well, I’m a believer!!!! :D

In a rejoinder to my comment, Mr. Sexton continues:

… To whit, tax cuts are an end in and of itself. Whether or not there’s increased economic activity, or even decreased because government is wasting less, is only secondary to allowing people to keep more of what they, themselves, had earned.

I would say the person who is burning books is the one least familiar with the concepts and precepts of individual liberty and freedom. Which, is appalling assuming it is an American writing the post.

One might very well wonder why I dwell on these comments. It’s because I think it’s an excellent example of anti-intellectualism in blogospheric discourse (a separate issue from trolls, discussed in this post).

Key attributes of blogospheric anti-intellectualism:

1. Anti-log-ism. I thought logs were taught in high school, but apparently the concept inspires vitriolic contempt. See Jim Hamilton’s post for a discussion of the usefulness of the mathematical concept.

2. Selective anti-metrics. Individuals will happily cite an unemployment rate (for Kansas) while disparaging coincident indicators (for Kansas). And yet, in the end, both series are estimates. And in fact, as Justin Wolfers discusses, the state-level unemployment rates (which Mr. Sexton cites so admiringly cites) are subject to particularly high levels of uncertainty.

3. Anti-statistical methods. The mention of an ARIMA(1,1,1) elicited a strong response by Mr. Sexton. In point of fact, I didn’t apply the model to Kansas but to US population; I was using the Kansas City Fed’s forecasts in the leading indicators to project Kansas economic activity, given they have more resources than I to devote to the project. I suppose that I would be criticized for “appealing to authority” had he actually understood what I did — this is another tendency of anti-intellectualism, although to his credit Mr. Sexton does not engage in it. (Apparently “appeal to authority” is okay if you ask your doctor about a prescription, but absolutely verboten if in any other context.)

4. Absolutist assertion of objective functions without any argument, to whit “…tax cuts are an end in and of itself.” This does not seem to based on a utilitarian argument; nor do “tax cuts” make an appearance in the Declaration of Independence, or in the Preamble to the Constitution. (I mention this latter couple omissions because Mr. Sexton asserts that all Americans must agree with his definition of freedom.)

On a separate note, I appreciated the contingency written in the last line: “assuming it is an American writing the post.” This line is redolent of another aspect of the blogospheric discourse.

Update, 8/3 1:20PM Pacific: Paul Krugman has more on anti-intellectualism in public policy discourse, here.

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52 thoughts on “Anti-Intellectualism in American Blogging

  1. W.C. Varones

    Though he could have put it more eloquently, I think there’s a legitimate point there about macroeconomists who are so in love with their models and statistics that they lose sight of the real world.

    Economics tries to describe and predict the behavior and interactions of millions of individuals and organizations who have both rational interests and behavioral biases. To think that you can capture all this in a single quantitative model is hubris in the extreme.

    For just one example of the epic failure of academic economists to predict the future, see Ben Bernanke.

    1. Greenteaandmisosoup

      There is that point, but the quotations don’t supply it… or really any point at all. It’s almost as if he believes that logarithms are a model. If one stumbles upon an unfamiliar term, why not learn more about it? Forming a gut conviction built upon the degree of cognitive dissonance incurred by the unfamiliar term is an unproductive way to think.

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      W.C. Varones: I don’t see how your point can defend Mr. Sexton’s anti-logarithmic position. It’s like being against taking square roots because you don’t like ‘em (or understand ‘em).

      You seem to be taking a position at variance with your previous position on models. You have argued rapid money base creation will cause inflation. That is a model. And yet you are now arguing for the uselessness of economic models. Are you the same W.C. Varones that has been commenting on Econbrowser over the last half decade?

      1. W.C. Varones

        Menzie,

        I don’t believe I ever relied on models over the years when I’ve asserted that deficits and money-printing will eventually lead to inflation/devaluation.

        I rely on history and human nature. Politicians and central planners love to borrow, spend, and print to keep the unsustainable status quo going just a little bit longer. When they push us to the brink of collapse again as they did in 2008, the response will again be to print their way out of it rather than allow mass defaults and a collapse in asset prices.

        None of that common sense requires anything that could remotely be considered an academic economic model.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          W.C. Varones: From Merriam Webster, definition of model, ” a set of ideas and numbers that describe the past, present, or future state of something”. Sounds like your “common sense” conforms. Now, you’ve added the adjective “academic” to economic model to differentiate from what you’ve just characterized your way of viewing the world. That’s new. Put I’d say something like the quantity theory is…a model!

          Try again…

          1. W.C. Varones

            Menzie,

            OK, you got me. Every point of view comes from a “model,” if you define the term loosely enough.

            So I should have been more explicit in distinguishing myopic, macroeconomic models loved by academics that ignore relevant variables and make outrageous assumptions, versus pragmatic models used by people with more understanding of the real world.

          2. Nick G

            There’s that rough hewn “pragmatism”, pitted against those ivory tower academics.

            We just know that smoking is good for us, and that we didn’t descend from no apes. No sir!

        2. baffling

          varones
          “I rely on history and human nature. Politicians and central planners love to borrow, spend, and print to keep the unsustainable status quo going just a little bit longer. When they push us to the brink of collapse again as they did in 2008, the response will again be to print their way out of it rather than allow mass defaults and a collapse in asset prices.”

          so it was the politicians and central planners who brought on the 2008 crises? not the investors who speculated with too much leverage? please do not rewrite history like this. let the blame fall to those who made very poor investment decisions.

        3. edM

          When you say history and human nature, i believe in fact, you are using a mental model you have constructed based on historical treatment of human nature. Common sense at one time made the earth center of the universe. Things change. Models are updated, Sometimes models are useful to a point and then they aren’t. So I believe your are using a model that works sometimes. When you say unsustainable status quo, that is an assumption, that some models support and some don’t.

    3. Nick G

      In other words, “those academic intellectuals are just out of touch with our Common Man reality”.

      Sigh.

    4. BananaGuard

      You seem to have joined Sexton in a profound misunderstanding of human thought, as well as of economics. There is very little that we do that does not involve a model. Rules-of-thumb are models. Recipes are models. Maps are models. Recipes and maps held in mind are models, as much as those held in hand. To claim not to use models is to claim not to think at a level higher than satisfying basic needs.

      If you, and Sexton, don’t understand that, then Menzie has you dead to rights, but stops short of the full story. Anti-intellectualism is a fair point, but beyond that is a simple failure to understand the subject at hand.

  2. Kevin ONeill

    Mr Sexton is obviously of the Ayn Rand school of thought – where every individual has succeeded purely on their own skill and intelligence.

    He does not wish to live in a society. Of course when you actually look at the backgrounds and specific lives of these individuals you find so many contradictions and hypocrisies that you need to sit down before you injure yourself falling down during a fit of uncontrolled laughter.

    The perfect example of this attitude was the Tea Party signs exclaiming, KEEP GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY MEDICARE! YOU DAMN SOCIALISTS!

    Conservatives drank the Reagan Kool-Aid (balancing the budget by cutting taxes and raise defense spending) and ever since then it’s been one fantasy charade after another.

  3. anon and lazy

    The guy who would have us believe that the the ‘science is settled’ on (among other things) global warming accuses someone else of anti-intellectualism. What a hoot.

  4. dilbert dogbert

    I suggest that Prof Chinn steal Barry Ritholz’s heading to his comments:

    “Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.”

    1. W.C. Varones

      Ritholz is a blowhard. Haven’t been back to his site since he belligerently and erroneously berated me a few years ago for pointing out an obvious issue with one of his graphs.

  5. c thomson

    Point well scored, Professor Chinn – being anti-log is being anti-Newton and Leibnitz – or anti the modern world. We used log tables in the American artillery in 1964 – hardly a pointy-headed intellectual activity.

    What the cretin might have meant is that it is impossible to capture the future statistically? Or that L-T social goals might trump S-T economic goals? Both are not irrational views. And cheers to Gov. Walker – there will be moaning in the halls of ivy – and not just in Madison.

  6. Joe Clarkson

    On any given day I suspect that there are millions of stupid, even anti-intellectual, comments on blogs based in America. There are probably also millions of very astute comments. The misleading title of this post refers to “American Blogging”, but presents no generalized data regarding that subject, merely the anecdotal evidence of a few comments from one blog. Why bother?

  7. Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘…nor do “tax cuts” make an appearance in the Declaration of Independence….’

    Do tax increases?

      1. Patrick R. Sullivan

        Nick, the Declaration of Independence is a separate document from the Constitution. Separate by some 13 years,

        But, taxes are mentioned in the DoI. As a grievance against King George.

        1. Nick G

          I was assuming that you’d want to use the full quote in the Original Post: “nor do “tax cuts” make an appearance in the Declaration of Independence, or in the Preamble to the Constitution. (I mention this latter couple omissions because Mr. Sexton asserts that all Americans must agree with his definition of freedom.)”

          The point is: the framers of the Declaration and Constitution were not anti-tax. They understood that taxes were a normal part of government, and not to be demonized per se.

  8. dsj

    Actually taxes do get a mention in the Declaration of Independence in the section enumerating the abuses of King George … “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”. I’m posting that just to take the intellectual position of you know … looking it up. The anti-intellectual position is a disgrace and I personally have no rightward tendencies at all but it is not anti-intellectual to point out that the Declaration of Independence in the sections on the abuses of King George reads very similar to a list of complaints for those arguing in favor of limited government.

    1. Nick G

      reads very similar to a list of complaints for those arguing in favor of limited government.

      No, those are arguments for democracy. Which the special interests, who want to block action on essential things like transitioning away from fossil fuels, don’t want.

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      dsj: Isn’t it a little disingenuous to say “tax cut” demands are similar to the points in the Declaration of Independence, without mentioning the “without representation” clause. To the best of my knowledge, we vote every two years for Representatives to the House. Except for the folks in Washington, D.C., but that omission never seems to exercise the Tea Party types.

      1. JBH

        “To the best of my knowledge, we vote every two years for Representatives to the House. Except for the folks in Washington, D.C., but that omission never seems to exercise the Tea Party types.” ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

        1. Robert Hurley

          Could it be that the majority of the voters there are black and democrats and the the tea party does not want to empower those who disagree with them?

    3. 2slugbaits

      dsj For the sake of historical accuracy, the abuses catalogued in the Declaration were directed at King George, not especially at Parliament. At the time the colonists (naively) believed that Parliament was, at least to some extent, sympathetic with their cause. It was the perceived abuses of royal power that prompted the Declaration, not taxes per se. The gripe wasn’t that these were taxes, but that these were seen as unjust taxes. Of course, it didn’t take the Founders long to figure out that Parliament was not at all sympathetic to their cause, but in the summer of 1776 the perception was that King George was the villain and not Parliament because he was seen as having ramrodded through Parliament these unjust taxes. But the colonists were not objecting to taxes per se.

      It occurred to me that while Menzie did provide a link to one of JDH’s posts explaining logs, Menzie did not elaborate on an ARIMA (1,1,1) model. So for the edification of James Sexton, and with apologies for a little oversimplifying hand waving, let’s try this. The middle “1” simply means that the forecast is detrended by taking the difference between an observation at “t+1″ and the observation at “t”. So if “t+1″ is 5 and “t” is 3, the detrended value is 5 – 3 = 2. If the time series is stationary and if you plot these differences between time periods you should see a lot of random noise around zero. If you were to sum up (or integrate) all of these differences starting from the initial position (i.e., reverse the process) you would recreate the time series. The first “1” means that you regress each of those differences against the previous period’s difference. In other words, you regress the differences against a lagged value of the same set of differences; hence it is called “autoregression.” The third “1” means that you check the forecast of the autoregression and compare it to the actual, which gives you the forecast error for the previous time period. Then you would do a moving average to smooth out those forecast errors. So the “AR” part of the ARIMA refers to the autoregressive component of the forecast, the “I” part of ARIMA refers to the order of integration (i.e., the number of times you took the differences). And the “MA” part of ARIMA refers to the smoothing by moving average of each period’s forecast error. FYI, an ARIMA (0,1,1) model (without a constant) is equivalent to plain old simple exponential smoothing.

      1. dsj

        Menzie: Would you consider it valid then to state that “tax cut” demands are the same as the enumerations in the Declaration of Independence so long as the “without representation” clause is mentioned?

        Going only by what I was taught as a matter of course on American history by our public school system I have been led to believe that the one of the principal causes of the Revolutionary War was in fact the attempt by Britian to economically dominant the American colonies through many devices such as tariffs, duties, and taxes. One point of the revolution was not just to gain “taxation with representation” but to essentially repeal all of the crown’s taxes and to create a government whose taxes were far lower and less onerous in the specific targeting the crown had chosen leading up to war. (2slugs) I find it a distinction without a difference to argue that it was “unjust” taxation through abuse of royal power and not the fact of taxation or the level of taxation that led the colonists to write this as an abuse in the Declaration. If the crown’s parliament in 1770’s had passed taxes, imports, and duties that hadn’t risen to a level of actual notice would this have been cause for revolution? If full membership in parliament had been granted to the colonial representatives and the taxes still passed, would the colonists’ anger been sated in the knowledge their votes had been counted?

        As a registered Democrat I feel bound to state that despite voting in every election of the last 25 years at times I have felt that the representatives elected to those offices I have had a chance to vote on have failed to represent my interests at times about as thoroughly as His Majesty’s Government did the colonists in 1770’s. This of course explains a significant part of the issues the tea party has with Washington DC and it is a complaint I share though in total opposition in the direction of public policy. Washington DC is not representative despite elections every 2 years. The policy choices made are largely being made in the absence of real consensus from significant portions of the American public, most notably those on the bottom of the economic scale. I see the Tea Party for exactly what it is: nativist, anti-intellectual, repressive, and quite possibly right about the indifference of the American political class to those who are classified as “voters” every 2 years and as “consumers” every other time.

        It is not disingenuous to read the Declaration of Independence and realize that right alongside the best principals of progressive and liberal government are also expressions of conservative thought.

        (Nick G) The founders felt that the level of government necessary for colonial America was significantly less than that needed if they would only be freed from the global military/political/economic agenda of Great Britain. The Articles of Confederation that proceeded the US Constitution are a clear reflection of that fact. The lessons leading to the need for a more centralized and cohesive national government were yet to be learned in 1776. They were in fact arguing for a small, limited government and the term “representative democracy” came into being as enshrined in the US Constitution specifically as a check to what the founders feared was democracy unchecked and let loose with immense power, a tyranny to be more feared than King George.

        1. 2slugbaits

          dsj Perhaps Menzie should include historical ignorance and a penchant for triumphalist “whig history” as another feature of the right’s anti-intellectualism. When people today read the Declaration they tend to focus on the soaring rhetoric at the beginning. You know, the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But the Continental Congress’ original direction to Jefferson was to, in essence, draw up a bill of particular grievances. An indictment of sorts. And the Continental Congress was quite insistent that the grievances were against the person of King George and not Parliament. The actual “original” copy of the Declaration was sent by slow boat to King George, not to Parliament. It was promptly ignored and was quickly lost to history…thrown out with the trash as it were. As of the summer of 1776 the fight was with King George, not Parliament. On the other hand, most of the colonies were founded as royal charters, so from the King’s perspective he had every right to treat them like subjects rather than citizens.

          If you believe that the colonists and Founders believed in low taxes and minimalist government, then you are sadly mistaken. Except for Hamilton (who believed in a strong central government and in May 1787 wanted to abolish the states), and sometimes Madison (who privately agreed with Hamilton in May 1787 but thought it politically impossible), the Founders believed in weak federal government but a very strong and interventionist state government. For example, the states heavily taxed people to support and maintain established religions. This persisted well into the 19th century because the first 8 amendments did not apply to the states until the 14th Amendment. It is true that income was not heavily taxed, but property was and there were very heavy tariffs and excise taxes much higher than the highest top marginal rates today. One historical myth perpetrated by today’s Tea Party crowd is that the original tea partiers in 1773 were regarded as heroes. This is false. They were almost universally regarded as criminals and riff-raff who had no regard for property rights. Even 50 years later the survivors were liable for extradition and prosecution, which is one reason we still to this day do not actually know with certainty who most of the “Indians” really were that night. But the crowning jewel of modern day Tea Party ignorance happened out on the lawn of the Capitol building shortly after the new Tea Party types went to Washington. They held a big rally on the lawn. One Tea Party congressman stood at the podium and said he was going to read the Constitution aloud because Barack Obama needed to hear it. And then he started to recite the Declaration of Independence. And no one in the crowd seemed to notice.

  9. W.C. Varones

    For more on “anti-intellectualism,” please see the comments here, where I point out that Menzie uses a single-factor model to project that past GDP performance is a great predictor of future GDP. When I raised the point that the huge expansion of credit-to-GDP was a major factor in his sample period, it was as if I was speaking Swahili because it was a variable he hadn’t even thought about, much less included in his model.

    And no, I did not predict a collapse in credit-to-GDP. But logic and common sense say that it’s a ratio that cannot grow to infinity, and we shouldn’t assume a perpetual expansion in the ratio, at the same rate it grew in the 20th century, when forecasting GDP.

  10. Tom

    I think the vast majority of econ blog readers would agree with me that you chart logs way too often. No other econ blogger I’ve seen posts charts of logs so often. People simply like to be able to look at a chart over time and immediately see what the values were at different points in time. If you’ve really got a strong reason to use logs, just post two graphs.

    1. 2slugbaits

      Tom If most people are really just interested in seeing what the values were at different points in time, then isn’t that an argument for using logs? You seem to be suggesting that most readers of an econ blog are mainly interested in just looking at the pure untransformed dollar value of GDP or whatever. Why? Because they like to look at big numbers and steeply climbing curves??? Is it an aesthetic thing? Presumably the reason people want to compare values at different points in time is to compare their relative differences…typically as percent changes and to get a sense of the rate of change. Expressing things in logs makes it very easy to compare the percentage difference between any two different points without reference to a specific base period. And the slope of the transformed variables tells you the trend.

    2. Ed Hanson

      To further expand on Tom’s comment, refer to this,

      Dilbert,

      especially the second and third panels.

      Second panel: It is all about context. Use of log charts give important, readily available information, but charting absolute values give context and additional important information.

      Third panel: Menzie, your response is the equivalent of the “stink eye.” In this case, the use of the emotionally charged “Anti-Intellectualism.”

      Ed

      1. baffling

        ed,
        i think you misunderstand menzie. he is not simply trying to deride the commentor. the comments aimed at menzie were the equivalent of the statement “i cannot understand what you are saying because it is too technically difficult and i am unable to process that level of abstractness. hence you are either hiding something or trying to look smarter than you actually are.” menzie is responding by saying technically there are ideas which are difficult for some to understand, but are nevertheless useful concepts to better understand the situation. they should take the time to learn it, rather than deride it and say it’s too hard and complicated.

        menzie and jim are producing a blog which seems to embrace the more technical issues related to the economy. we should really embrace this idea, rather than ask them to return to populism approaches which are inadequate. we simply need to take their cue, and learn new things when presented for a different (and sometimes better) way to see the world. both of them are extending to the blog what they encounter in the classroom. it is not uncommon to deal with students who think they already know the answer and feel burdened when asked to learn something a new way. but that is the point of the education process.

      2. Menzie Chinn Post author

        Ed Hanson: I would never disagree with Dilbert. In fact, I’ve made the same critique in other contexts. However, if you can show me how that critique applies to the post, specifically the three graphs, I would happily add to the graphs the actual levels figures even if it clutters them. I must confess I don’t see what would be added to the reader’s comprehension of the situation.

        1. Tom

          @Slug – I understand perfectly well why logs are sometimes helpful. And I agree this is a case where there’s a strong reason to use them, as Menzie was trying to show deviation from an exponential growth trend. I’m just saying, in general, Menzie uses logs too often.

          @Slug, Menzie – What’s added to the readers’ comprehension by charting both ways is a chart he’ll understand if he doesn’t understand logs. I doubt even a majority of econ blog readers understand how logs work. I’m afraid logs aren’t taught to most kids in high school and probably most people who did learn them then have long since forgotten. Sure it was silly to accuse Menzie of lying with logs, but after all one of the points of an econ blog is to reach people other than econ students, so why not help them out a bit?

          1. Nick G

            I’ve seen situations where I wished he used logs more, like analyzing Vehicle Miles Traveled.

            On the other hand, where appropriate (i.e., the changes are small), I do prefer to use percent change, rather than log. I think it’s easier for most people to understand. Of course, the audiences for my analysis are usually relatively non-technical managers.

    3. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Tom: Well, I can’t do a survey, but it is odd that so many readers would find logs cumbersome, and yet Econbrowser would be so highly ranked in traffic.

      My guess is that for the folks who took economics as an undergrad and definitely those that took post-graduate level economics (my target audience), log transformations would be of absolutely no impediment (ask yourself how often do you estimate an ARIMA on levels of GDP for instance).

  11. Rick Stryker

    James Sexton’s comment was in no way an example of anti-intellectualism. He merely asked a series of questions, since to him that very wonky Kansas post looked like gobbeldygook, as it would to anyone who doesn’t already have a PhD in economics. Sexton also made a very serious point that was completely ignored. For his efforts, Sexton’s questions were answered with studied condescension and then with accusations of being a book burner. And if that’s not enough, this new post is devoted to his alleged anti-intellectualism, making a new set of ridiculous accusations. That prompted a further array of absurd accusations from left wing commenters: for example, that Sexton is an Ayn Rand follower (who are known for their hypocrisies); and that Sexton is a cretin who is anti-Newton and Leibniz. Let’s go through this one by one:

    1) Sexton is anti-log? Where did he attack the logarithmic function? Is there anyone who is “anti-log” other than in a Monty Python skit? I never heard of a more laughable accusation. It’s like accusing someone of being against the question mark.

    Sexton merely asked, why do you take the log of economic activity? It’s a perfectly reasonable question for someone who is not an economist to ask. We know that economists like to log data because it makes visual inspection of growth rates easier. But it’s also true that logs confuse most people. If you want to get your point across to a wide audience, you really shouldn’t take logs of data but should rather find a different way to present the data. As long as you don’t care that you’ll lose the majority of readers including journalists, policy people, politicians, etc. when you take logs, go for it.

    C Thomas’s claim that the “cretin” who is anti-log is anti-Newton and Leibniz couldn’t have made a more historically ignorant comment. Both Newton and Leibniz were born in the 1640s but Napier was computing logarithms in 1614. Gregory of St. Vincent and Alfons Anton de Sarasa had discovered that the logarithm is the area under the hyperbola when Leibniz was a baby and Newton was a small child.

    2. Selective anti-metrics? Sexton didn’t attack any particular metric. He just questioned why you log “economic activity” and then asked what economic activity is. That’s also an understandable question. Most people have never heard of the Philadelphia Fed coincident indicator and have no idea what it is. Sexton said in his followup that he was not dismissing anything “out of hand” but without some explanation as to what these things are and why they matter, the post doesn’t have much meaning for most people. And Sexton is precisely right about that.

    3. Anti-statistical methods? Sexton expressed no view against using statistical methods. He merely asked what the ARIMA(1,1,1) is and why it’s relevant. Sexton is absolutely right to express skepticism here and right to ask for the explanation. Leamer once wrote a famous paper about “taking the con out of econometrics.” Econometrics can be very misleading, producing seemingly correct but completely unjustified conclusions. Appropriate skepticism is the right attitude to have when presented with econometric results. And if you are a non-specialist, you should always ask that the econometric results be explained to you and justified in plain English, just as Sexton did. Sexton’s ARIMA question was smart. I also thought it brave of him to ask the question. Most people are just too intimidated by authority to ask such a question.

    4) Sexton’ last point was a serious and important point, that, not surprisingly, Menzie did not want to answer, preferring to dismiss it as “absolutist assertion of objective functions without any argument.” But it’s the Left that always wants to start with the absolutist assertion without any argument that they are free to raise taxes without limit, as long as they are able to convince enough people of the benefits. But why is that? Why is that morally justified? Are there not limits to government coercion? These are important questions of political philosophy that the Left never, ever, wants to have brought up, much less debated.

    I think Sexton is dead on right to ask why we need to prove that a tax cut will increase output before we can cut taxes. Why shouldn’t the scope of government be very limited? Why shouldn’t the goal be to let people keep more of what they earned–indeed to minimize their payments for government services? Why should we allow the Left start with the premise that the government will decide how much of your own money it will let you keep?

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Rick Stryker:

      (1) anti-log. Mr. Sexton responded to my queries, and he did not say “you mistake my meaning, logs are ok”. He just went on a long dismissal of the idea of the post. Maybe we should look to Mr. Sexton’s comments to infer his views rather than mind-reading.

      (2) Anti-statistics. Well, maybe it’s anti-reading comprehension. Economic activity was referred to in text in graph, then explained in the legend to the graph that economic activity were coincident indicators (used at least 50-60 times in this weblog in the past; since Mr. Sexton has commented on Econbrowser in the past, I would’ve expected him to be familiar with the terminology). I apologize to Mr. Sexton if that was confusing.

      (3) statistical methods. Well, I guess “Why all the babbling bs? ARIMA(1,1,1)? ” was a statement to indicate high praise for the methodology. I must not understand English as well as you do.

      (4) Sexton’s last (anti-tax) point. You’re always criticizing me for pushing politics. In this post, I was merely trying to explain the time variation in Kansas economic activity (for your benefit — I am proxying this with the Philadelphia Fed coincident indicators) in the time period surrounding the tax regime change. I didn’t say the drop in output growth was good or bad in this post. Nor did I say tax cuts were good or bad. I did use the term “dismal” in terms of the outlook. If you want to call the outlook “banana”, you are certainly free to do so, but for me that seems an appropriate adjective.

      So, please, please go back to defending the proposition that 500,000 new jobs/month is typical during recoveries.

    2. baffling

      rick,
      i dont suppose the following quotes from sexton contributed to others indicating it lacked academic merit

      “other less worthy people wishing to suckle off of the teat of Kansas.”
      “Why all the babbling bs?”
      “Yeh, the old “log coincident indicators” …. well, I’m a believer!!!! :D”
      “What? Log? Why Log?”

      as you said “He merely asked a series of questions”
      maybe a lesson learned in all of this is if you really want to ask a serious question and get a serious answer, you should not pose it in the way sexton did.

    3. 2slugbaits

      Rick Stryker It sounds to me like you are bending over backwards to give Sexton’s comments an implausibly innocent interpretation. His questions were not “smart” they were “smart ass” and snarky. A lot has been mentioned about the need for context in displaying economic data. Fair enough. But how about a little honest context in understanding 21st century English? He was not politely inviting questions as to why economists use logs. And he wasn’t expressing a deeply felt curiosity about ARIMA models. He was just expressing contempt for anything that was in the least bit quantitative and mildly highbrow. Compare Sexton’s comments to the genuinely innocent and curious questions about econometrics that poster AS frequently asks. There’s a world of difference. It’s clear that when AS is unclear about something he/she politely asks for a clarification. If that’s how you read Sexton’s comments, then I refer you back to my earlier comments about torturing the English language.

  12. Ecomedian

    As an astrologer, I sympathize with the problem of anti-intellectualism harming the credibility of my field.

    Say, how’s the Japan patient doing on that Abenomics prescription? I haven’t read any backtesting checkup reports on the accuracy of the predictive model you developed. The export reduction, stagflation, and unemployment side effects seem to have been unexpected. Last year you attributed this to “externalities” that have foiled the medicine.

        1. Ecomedian

          Indeed.

          I think academics should try to distinguish between attacks from anti-intellectuals and attacks from other intellectuals. It’s emotionally difficult when you are constantly under siege by fools. There is a poorly-defined line for experts between actively combating ignorance and arrogance that begs to be punctured.

  13. dilbert dogbert

    Back in the day, charts were prepared for Admirals and Generals and they were called Admirals and Generals charts. The charts that engineers used were drawn using dimensionless coefficients and maybe used, God forbid, logs.
    Maybe Prof Chinn could gin up some Sexton/Sullivan/Varones charts to prove up is down and ignorance is strength.

  14. Robj

    I must strongly support the right of economists to be in love with their models, whether log or non-log. This despite the crushing antipathy of the righty-tighties to models–for economists at least. Not sure how the logs became a bone of contention, but there’s always something.

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