Of Ideologues and Ranters

From Arnold Kling‘s entry yesterday:

Kwak goes on to endorse Chinn’s ideological rant that the Bush tax cuts caused the financial crisis. Yes, I know that Chinn is speaking in the tone of economic analysis rather than a rant, but only a left-wing ideologue would take the thesis seriously. I bet Kwak cannot find a blog post of Chinn’s where he made a policy point against Democrats/liberals or for Republicans/conservatives.

Where Kling is responding to James Kwak‘s assertion: “[Menzie] Chinn is not given to ideological ranting.” (Thanks, James).

I don’t find it very profitable to characterize anybody’s posts as “rants”, but I thought it useful to see what the definition is:

A rant or harangue is a speech or text that does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims. Such attacks are usually personal attacks.

For those interested in reading my purported “rant”, please see this article by myself me and Harvard professor Jeffry Frieden.

In his post, Dr. Kling lays down an explicit challenge. Well, I’m ready to take up the challenge. But before going down that route, let me pose philosophical question whether being an ideologue is the same as taking only one side of an argument. Suppose it’s 1861, and you can only find fault with the desire by certain States to impose a certain peculiar institution. Does that make one an ideologue?

Well, on to Dr. Kling’s challenge to identify cases where I supported positions adopted by Republicans or conservatives. I think these fall into cases referring to trade policy (specifically Doha round); gas tax vs. CAFE standards; TARP (that was a Bush Administration initiative, yes?); renminbi policy; fiscal restraint (well, that used to be something Republicans believed in). That’s already five issue-areas. And just to set the record straight, I did work for half a year in the G.W. Bush Administration (at the staff, not policy, level).

Let me conclude that in my view it is a supreme irony that Dr. Kling feels qualified to label me an ideologue. For my part, I will eschew such labeling.

Update, 8/29 10:50pm: Arnold Kling apologizes, and I am happy to accept. As for myself, I will not use the term “ideological rant” in my characterizations.

42 thoughts on “Of Ideologues and Ranters

  1. Phil Rothman

    Menzie: In reply to the question you pose, I note that the definition of ideolgoue is ‘an advocate of some ideology.’ Accordingly, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to assert that a one-sided pure ‘abolotionist’ stance circa 1861 was an (absolutely admirable, proper, and ethical) ideological position. As such, I don’t see that ‘ideologue’ is necessarily a label one should seek to avoid (despite the clear negative connation it has in the current zeitgeist).

  2. szygzy

    small quibble: from your post
    “For those interested in reading my purported “rant”, please see this article by myself and Harvard professor Jeffry Frieden”
    “myself” should be “me”

  3. Jim McCloskey

    You are too funny Chinn. Your blogging is much like Delong’s or Krugman’s. The rant to useful information ratio is way too high to bother with. Hamilton’s are great – very low rant to information ratio and entertaining at the same time. The solution is read Hamilton posts and pass on Chinn posts. Everyone can be happy!

  4. Humble microeconomist

    You should look up “ideologue” too. Yes, abolitionists were ideologues; their ideology has since become consensus. It’s only a bad thing to be if you are masquerading as neutral analyst while actually stating an ideological prejudice. I find you not guilty.

  5. Bob_in_MA

    I disagree with your paper’s focus on the last ten years for apolitical reasons.
    The debt levels were clearly rising as early as the late 1970’s. Household debt as a percent of GDP went from 43% in 1968 to 65% in 1998, before the final absurd acceleration to 99% in 2008. Over that same 40 years, non-financial business debt (corporate and non-corporate) went from 39% of GDP to 78%. The rise in the national debt was at a slower rate.
    And deregulation has also been ongoing process over 30+ years.
    We juiced the system for forty years, increasing the juice whenever things slowed, and increasing amounts juice were needed with each slow-down.
    Now we’re desperately trying to fix the juice machine that seems to have broken, but the fact is we probably can’t handle more juice. Our economy has the runs. 😉

  6. James Morley

    I agree with Phil Rothman. Most of us have some kind of ideology, so I guess that means most of us are ideologues. I think the real danger is when someone with one ideology refuses to read or acknowledge good arguments made by someone with another ideology simply because they have different ideologies. I worry that the subtext of Kling’s allusion to a “left-wing ideologue” is somehow that we shouldn’t pay any attention to someone’s arguments because they might have a different ideology than himself or his readers. Reading merely to confirm one’s beliefs makes it difficult to learn…

  7. spencer

    Kling really has the nerve to call someone else an ideologue.
    Kling is the one who is resorting to personal attacks rather that a well researched argument.
    In simple terms, look who is calling the kettle black.
    He does not deserve a reply.

  8. John Lee Hooker

    Menzie, as long as my girlfriend likes your CV photograph, I ‘ll continue reading your posts. This is my ideologue. Sorry for my rant.

  9. J. Miller

    Right-wingers have a major projection problem in this country. They figure everyone else does things for the same reasons they do, instead of having the adult capability to figure out that others have different perspectives, and that those questions should be answered. It’s why they never advanced enough to get a sense of irony. 🙂
    Note that he doesn’t really challenge your assertion that lax financial regulation and other greed-incentivising policies were a big cause of the crisis (which I think is a correct assumption), he just tries to attack you in order to not have to question his shaky assertions.
    And I’m sorry, there is no rational person who cannot say that compensation in private industry has gone well beyond any value added in the last couple of decades, or that increased profits automatically go into increased development. Reality’s liberal bias has proven that canard ridiculous.
    Screw em Menzie, keep up the pressure on these clingers to a failed economic philosophy.

  10. Richard H. Serlin

    Your 1861 point is very important. Predominantly opposing the harmful and braindead policies of a party that has gone off the anti-thinking, anti-science, dogmatic, simple-minded, extreme economic libertarian, tax cuts for the rich at all costs, Sarah Palin deep end is just logical, intelligent, and non-extreme. It doesn’t at all have to mean that you’re an ideologue. Look at what’s become of the Republican Party, objectively, (and using Ph.D. economic knowledge and training Arnold Kling), and then HONESTLY tell me that’s not the case.
    I would note Menzie that two of your five points of agreement with the Republicans are with the Republicans of yesteryear, not today’s extreme version. Gas tax vs. CAFE standards: Today’s Republicans oppose both. Fiscal restraint? Deficits were ridiculously worse under Reagan and the Bushes than under Clinton. Republicans today are not the party of fiscal restraint at all. They’re the party of tax cuts for the rich, as big as possible, and at any cost, and above all else.
    And on one of your points, free trade, the Republicans have gotten worse over time, while the Democrats (except perhaps for very recently) have gotten better. It’s a lot closer than it used to be. Remember, Clinton went all out to push through NAFTA just barely, with the help of many Democrats.
    It gets harder and harder for a true expert in economics, who’s a non-extreme libertarian (someone not willing to accept far lower economic and medical/scientific growth, far lower quality of life for the vast majority for essentially everyone eventually as reduced growth compounds, and far more pain and suffering, to avoid giving up even tiny bits of economic freedom) to support very many policies of today’s Republican party.

  11. Tom

    I don’t mind ideologues, unless they abuse positions of power to promote an ideology without a democratic mandate to do so, or unless their ideology is hateful. If you believe in an idea, and espouse it passionately, then more power to you.
    I do mind partisan economists, who sacrifice analytical and/or ideological consistency in favor of consistent support for some party.
    And everyone’s annoyed by rants. The definition of rant is to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner, or to scold vehemently (a “wiki” is not a credible dictionary). Frankly, Menzie, you’ve been doing a lot of vehement scolding on this blog lately, in this post of King, and in recent posts of Posner. I suggest you create a personal blog for such posts and keep this blog for economics.

  12. cheno

    R. Serlin – you are uninformed. The Bush Administration raised CAFE standards twice and were about to a third time when Obama took over. Clinton didn’t raise them once. As fas as spending, yes Republicans should not claim to be something they are not, but there is not a single non-defense spending bill passed in the 8 years of the previous Admin in which Democrats either did not want to spend more or accepted the increased levels without protest. As far a Democratic support for NAFTA, please their elimination of the truck pilot program at the beginning of the year. NAFTA specifically called for Mexican trucks to people to use American highways and vice versa, but until the Bush Administration pushed a pilot program, the NAFTA provision was ignored. You might was to read a bit before posting in the future.

  13. Andy Harless

    I don’t know if it’s ranting or ideological, but the substance of the argument doesn’t make sense to me. Quoting from James Kwak quoting from you:

    It is necessary to dispense with the view that all this excess saving from the rest of the world was “forced” upon us. The rest of the world’s capital flowed to us, in part, because we wanted to borrow…

    They didn’t “force” us in the sense of threatening to break our kneecaps if we wouldn’t borrow, but they did pretty much make us an offer we couldn’t refuse. In effect, they did threaten us by holding the world economy hostage. Take a standard international model, calibrate it for the early 2000’s, and do a counterfactual simulation in which the US refuses to borrow. The results won’t be pretty.

  14. GK

    I do mind partisan economists, who sacrifice analytical and/or ideological consistency in favor of consistent support for some party.
    The most blatant of these is Krugman.

  15. purple

    The U.S. deficit binge helped stabilize the world economy after the crash that started in 1997.
    Neo-liberalism is just a very tough route to go and speaks to the weakness in the overall system right now. It’s hard to have healthy consumption when wage and benefits austerity is being forced on the general population.
    China is realizing that destroying the Iron Rice Bowl wasn’t the greatest long-term idea, either.

  16. Edd

    I thought this was an economic blog, which would indicate lack of bias, but almost without exception every response goes to the left or right. We cling to our demons, don’t we? Odd with the benefit of hindsight that we would interpret the economy or anything else through the clouded lenses of political ideology.
    Apparently the rant pump is primed and pumping away on here. We didn’t need Dr. Kling’s comment to know that.
    From what I read on just this thread alone, neither Dr. Hamilton nor Dr. Chinn rant at anywhere near the level of the comments.
    Probably the only reason I don’t join in the ranting is that I don’t know enough. But I’m beginning to learn who has something to say that is informative and who doesn’t.
    Thanks guys, I’m learning, but it would be more efficient for students like me if you put a little flag on the rants or just simply start the post with the word rant or even an R. Then I could skip them without even reading the first sentence.

  17. HCG

    While the dictionary definition of ideologue is simply one who has an ideology, which in turn is defined simply as a body of ideas, in today’s world an ideologue refers to one, on the left or right, who is essentially intellectually dishonest.
    Today’s ideologue tends to be one who has views about how he wants the world to be rather than how it is, always much harder to determine. Thus creationists and libertarians are ideologues in this vein. And the phrases “right wing ideologue” and “left wing ideologue” more accurately capture the use of the term.

  18. William

    “myself” should be “me”
    What? Why? And now it’s “fixed”?
    From Merriam Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage:
    “Two general statements can be made about what these critics say concerning myself: first, they do not like it, and second, they do not know why.”

  19. GNP

    Pass the popcorn! “Wonkish ideologue”…. Has that got marketing appeal legs?

    I enjoyed this post to Kling’s web-page:

    SheetWise writes:

    Don Boudreaux recently defined the ideological divide as clearly as I’ve ever seen.

    “I want to keep what I earn” is regarded as greedy and unenlightened.

    “I want to take what you earn” is regarded as selfless and progressive.

    — Donald J. Boudreaux


    Frankly, this unapologetic wilderness zealot considers most of you and your fellow citizens to be open access ideologues still blinded by your colonial settler ideology. So there. (And I’m bigger and faster than you are. hehe)

  20. mike25

    “I thought this was an economic blog, which would indicate lack of bias, but almost without exception every response goes to the left or right.”
    The left is the new Center, the Right is the new Insane.

  21. Buzzcut

    I think a “point-counterpoint” coblog, arguing about macroeconomics, with Menzie on one side and Arnold on the other, is just what is needed right now.
    It could be snippy or serious. Either way, it would be excellent.

  22. Mark A. Sadowski

    Don Boudreaux has no chance of getting an academic economics position anywhere other than GMU. Who quotes him like Snotwise and expects anyone to take notice other than a complete total idiot.

  23. Richard H. Serlin

    Yes there are Republicans who did vote for small CAFE increases, but it was usually kicking and screaming, and for as little as possible.
    If the voters put a gun to the Republicans heads they’ll do a lot of things, but the Republicans with few exceptions will increase CAFE only if they’re really scared politically not to. It’s against their whole philosophy to tell car companies how they should make cars, even for something as important as global warming and starving terrorists of funds.
    If you were paying attention it would be obvious to you that the more Democrats were elected the higher the CAFE standards would be.
    With regard to NAFTA the Democratic support was clearly non-trivial. Clinton went all out.
    With regard to fiscal responsibility if you regard this as debt, not just spending (much of it very high social return which will be grossly underprovided otherwise due to externalities, etc.), then it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the Democrats have been far better.

  24. algernon

    Sadowskie says more about himself than his intended victim when he disparages Boudreaux’s person without pointing to a flaw in Boudreaux’s logic.

  25. PLT

    As a conservative, I was dismayed as anyone by the profligate spending of the first five years of the Bush administration (just before the mid-term election year of Bush’s second term, I believe they held the spending increase to 2% in order to look more respectable). After the elections in which the Democrats took control of Congress, spending increases each year were more than under the Republican-control years. I do therefore object when you say that the tax cuts and spending of the Bush administration caused the financial crisis we are in now. The Democrats, once in power, showed that they increased spending even more than the Republicans did. To put the blame solely on the Bush administration ignores that fact, and leads me to also believe you have an ideological bias, from reading your article. Perhaps you don’t mean it that way, but that is the way it reads to me.
    In addition, I saw no bills that the Democrats either wrote or passed that might have helped avoid this financial crisis. They complained a lot about the deficit, but when they had power did they do anything about it? No.

  26. GNP

    Mark A. Sadowski: May I respectfully suggest that you take a chill pill and try to enjoy the humour in all of this.

  27. Brian

    Followed this blog for quite a long while now. Commenter who observes differences in rant to info ratio between Chinn and Hamilton is right on. Not sure why careful and about as politically neutral of an analyst as JH lets somebody like Chinn bring down the quality of Econbrowswer. Chinn’s not quite up in the Krugmann stratosphere of propoganda, but the latest tax cut explanation is an attempt.

  28. BKarn

    “Right-wingers have a major projection problem in this country. They figure everyone else does things for the same reasons they do, instead of having the adult capability to figure out that others have different perspectives, and that those questions should be answered. It’s why they never advanced enough to get a sense of irony. :)”
    With each reading it becomes increasingly difficult to believe anyone could write what you did and miss the irony themselves.
    And yes, more economics, less personal squaabling, please. I simply don’t care about Posner enough to sit through what I fear will be a fifth diatribe against him. There are vastly more important issues than your fights with other writers.

  29. kharris

    So nice to be able to debate something other than ideological bias.
    The “-self” construction was generally used reflexively until it started to be used as a substitute for a simpler pronoun. “He hurt…himself” is used in the same way as “He hurt…me”, but the same individual is acting and receiving the action – an instance of reflexivity. It is perfectly consistent to say “I hurt…myself.” You would not normally says “It was written by…himself” though that construction does show up in efforts at comedy. (The Irish have a tendency to use “-self” in lighthearted speech, as in “It’s himself” or “Is it yourself?”)
    While you may have found a critic of critics who insists that critics of using “myself” in non-reflexive constructions can’t explain why, they can easily appeal to consistency. If one would not say “It was written by myself and himself” then it is consistent to avoid “It was written by myself and him” or “It was written by myself.”
    In addition, we are admonished by the famous 19th century Fowler brothers, in their list of “prefer this to that” writing rules, to prefer the simple to the complex, the shorter word to the longer, if there is no advantage to the complex and the long in conveying meaning. “Me” conveys the same meaning as “myself” in the sentence “It was written by me/myself”. Choosing “me” fits with two of the Fowlers’ general rules – a consistent reason to prefer “me” in this case, whatever the anonymous critic of critics may say.
    Finally, there is a tendency to write with more and longer words, in the mistaken belief that doing so is a sign of thought. The overused and awful “At this point in time” is a famous example. “Obligated” has replaced “obliged” in many writers vocabularies, for no apparent reason other than adding letters and a syllable. To the extent that substituting “myself” for “me” contributes to this tendency, we may find our language ever so slightly improved by sticking to “me”.
    What we may have, in the claim that critics of substituting “myself” for “me” have no reason for their preference, is evidence that bad, self-serving arguments are not exclusive to politics, policy, and the scramble after money.

  30. DickF

    I would say that you do engage in ideological rants, as do I and as does Arnold Kling. What is wrong with ideological rants if you believe in the ideology?
    I actually find that you and Kling have more in common than you have differences, you a liberal Keynesian, Kling a conservative Keynesian.

  31. Michael E Sullivan

    Odd that I have such a different view than some of the commenters here. One of the things I enjoy about this site is that you have two headline contributors, one relatively conservative and one relatively liberal, both of whom seem to value figuring out and clearly conveying as true a picture of what is going on as they can, far more than espousal of their particular ideologies or biases. Part of that clarity is not making any particular secret of your leanings.
    Even the rantier of your posts are pretty full of fact-checkable evidential assertions, rather than simple invective. I wouldn’t advise taking your eye off that ball, but I’d like to suggest that at least one reader does notice and appreciate your general commitment to honor evidence over your own biases.

  32. Cheno

    Richard S. – you continue to be uninformed:
    1) You are switching back and forth between Congress and the Executive Branch to suit your arguments. Bottom line is clear – fuel economy requirements went up (substantially in the case of the 2nd light truck rulemaking) in a Republican Administration and not move an inch for 8 years of Clinton (including 2 years in which he controlled the entire Congress)
    2) The current Democratic Congress has opposed the following free trade initiatives overwhelmingly:
    -FTA with Korea
    -FTA with Colombia
    -Compliance with NAFTA to allow Mexican trucks and American trucks to use North American highways
    3) The Democrats supported increased spending above and beyond any Republican proposals AND were not pushing for tax increases to pay for them (please see the vote count on the Bush tax cuts). Please also see the current explosion of debt without any hint of how it is going to be paid for (and please don’t cite the powerless Republicans as driving this).
    Look, I have no problem with you having a politicized viewpoint and certainly no problem with you coming down on the left side of the aisle, but please use accepted facts when doing so. Otherwise, this blog just becomes a waste of time for people who would like to have an informed discussion of important economics and policy topics. Both parties are importantly flawed in adhering to the principles they prevoiusly claim to have established.

  33. Guest

    Should it not be “by Harvard pfoessor Jeffry Frieden and me”?
    small quibble: from your post
    “For those interested in reading my purported “rant”, please see this article by myself and Harvard professor Jeffry Frieden”
    “myself” should be “me”

  34. Vangel

    “Let me conclude that in my view it is a supreme irony that Dr. Kling feels qualified to label me an ideologue.”
    While English is not my first language I believe that Dr. Kling’s use of the term is appropriate. You are clearly a very consistent advocate of the ideology of the left. That puts you on the opposite side of those on the right on most issues and of the libertarians on economic issues. The libertarians are much more likely to side with your against the right on social liberty issues.

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