The Arrogance of Ignorance

Reader JohnH berates mainstream economists for ignoring the distribution of income while focusing on the average, despite multiple attempts to point out that I’ve talked about median incomes and wages a lot. To wit:

A different view of how well Wisconsin is doing…Working Wisconsin: ” In nominal terms, the 2022 wage median was higher than the 2021 median, but inflation rose more rapidly than wages, leaving workers behind. Taking inflation into account, Wisconsin’s 2022 median wage fell back to its 2019 level at $22.02 per hour. In contrast, the 2021 median wage was $23.27, in 2022 dollars. Three years of wage growth were erased.” In addition, in 2022 Wisconsin fell below the national median wage of $22.88.

It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin workers fared in 2023, an early indicator of workers’ political leanings. Unfortunately, the data won’t be available for months.

Nonetheless it’s good to see that someone at UW-Madison cares about Wisconsin workers and not just about economic aggregates and interest rates. I wonder if the folks at the La Follette School of Public Affairs ever walk 3 minutes down Observatory Drive to meet with the High Road Strategy Center to discuss public policy. High Road certainly seems to focus on critical economic policy issues being treated with benign neglect by the folks at La Follette.

Interestingly enough–if memory serves me right–High Road is located in the building that used to house the economics department. [Bold emphasis added by MDC]

Ordinarily, I’d let JohnH’s completely ignorant statements stand, but really this amount of ignorance is too much to bear. First, several of La Follette’s faculty don’t have to walk 3 minutes down the road to the High Road Strategy Center. In fact, about a quarter of us are in the same building! My office is just down the hallway from their office. I will also note that the Economics Department is still in the same building — the Sewall Social Science Building — where the High Road Strategy Center is located.

Second, I’ve cited in this blog previous editions from the document JohnH highlights, as well as quoting Deputy Director Dr. Dresser.  See here, here, here and here.

Third, on this blog, I have discussed median household income and poverty in Wisconsin. As for median household income in Wisconsin, see here, here, here. (See discussion nationwide here (in response to the allegation that the government was either suppressing or deliberately delaying publication of median wage data), here, here, here, and here.) Poverty in Wisconsin, discussed here, here, here and here.

Fourth, it is frankly insulting that JohnH, despite being repeatedly admonished to read the bios of the La Follette faculty, blithely continues to argue that we don’t deal with issues of distribution, given that my colleague Tim Smeeding was one of the authors of the important Wisconsin Poverty Report (2013).

Finally, since JohnH is convinced we at La Follette don’t deal with issues of poverty, income distribution, monopoly, etc., I’ll just provide a copy of my syllabus of Public Affairs 200, Contemporary Public Policy Issues (Fall 2023).


21 thoughts on “The Arrogance of Ignorance

  1. James

    Thanks Menzie – I always find it interesting when the current bunch of MAGA/Tea Party/GOP tries to disparage La Follette. Is it because this progressive socialist was a Republican? (Side note – Belle Case La Follette was a women’s suffrage, peace, and civil rights activist and informed Robert’s policy ideas.
    To imply that the La Follette School does not work on public policy issues – poverty, income distribution, monopoly, etc. is ludicrous and malicious. It aligns with the current WI MAGA/GOP’s constant attacks on the Wisconsin Idea and their attempts to defund higher education in Wisconsin – especially for rural residents and second-career older adults or those with limited means (please note WI has a $4 billion surplus – but the WI GOP wants to use that to give more tax breaks for their wealthy donors.)

    1. pgl

      JohnH is a MAGA type? That explains a lot. Seriously though – JohnH has the arrogance of Econned and an IQ in the single digits.

  2. Macroduck

    The snide, insinuating style Johnny uses to spread lies is very likely the result of training from his masters. Yes, some people do it naturally, but it is part of the playbook for climate denialists, part of the Koch brothers’ influence operation and a standard part of Russian fifth column propaganda efforts.

    It can be difficult to tell whether Johnny works for domestic right-wingers or for Putin, until one understands that the two have saddled up together over the past quarter century:

    “Some years ago, the Russian security services identified far-right American groups as good targets for recruitment and disinformation — they’re what Lenin called ‘useful idiots.” — JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

    And realizes that Johnny’s behavior in comments here exactly duplicates Russian influence operations:

    “Efforts by Russian intelligence agencies to shape public debate leading up to the 2016 U.S. election focused on methods designed to have short-term effects, like exacerbating tensions inside the United States through social media posts.”

    1. pgl

      April 1, 2024 at 12:18 pm

      Gee it took little Jonny boy two whole days to muster the courage to reply. And his reply was a real doozy. I guess this disgusting troll is incapable of admitting he went too far even when he clearly did. Jonny boy reminds me of Donald Trump.

  3. Not Trampis

    your education system has a lot to answer for. We in Australia learn about the median at high school

  4. Moses Herzog

    Was just watching the 51st annual Saturn Awards due to extreme boredom with the NCAA big dance. Other than Zach Edey and his Mom and KU getting booted early (which was euphoria) the whole thing has me bored to hell. But these Saturn awards are entertaining. Watching Nicholas Cage’s speech for Renfield and Jodie Foster’s career award was worth it alone.

  5. pgl

    “Fourth, it is frankly insulting that JohnH … ”

    The vast majority of JohnH’s ignorant comments are highly insulting. And that’s his good quality.

  6. pgl

    I have a few times given little lying Jonny boy the following which if Jonny boy follows it provides the CV of Timothy Smeeding. I would think it would be impossible for even a moron like Jonny boy to miss this. But does this lying troll ever acknowledge Smeeding’s credentials. Of course not.

    Timothy Smeeding
    Credentials: Professor Emeritus
    Timothy M. (Tim) Smeeding is the Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Affairs and Economics.

    He was director of the Institute for Research on Poverty from 2008–2014. He was named the John Kenneth Galbraith Fellow, American Academy of Political and Social Science, in 2017, and was the founding director of the Luxembourg Income Study from 1983-2006. Professor Smeeding’s recent work has been on social and economic mobility across generations, inequality of income, consumption and wealth, and poverty in national and cross-national contexts.

    His books include: SNAP Matters: How Food Stamps Affect Health and Well Being (Stanford University Press, 2015); Monitoring Social Mobility in the 21st Century (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2015); From Parents to Children: The Intergenerational Transmission of Advantage (Russell Sage Foundation, 2012); Persistence, Privilege and Parenting: The Comparative Study of Intergenerational Mobility (Russell Sage Foundation, 2011); The Handbook of Economic Inequality (Oxford University Press, 2009); Poor Kids in a Rich Country: America’s Children in Comparative Perspective (Russell Sage Foundation, 2003); and The American Welfare State: Laggard or Leader?, (Oxford University Press, 2010)

  7. Macroduck

    Off topic – another of the many gifts climate change has brought us:

    Mongolia has suffered a greater increase in average temperature than most of the globe, but is also facing increasingly severe winters. The result is an increase in weather-related deaths among livestock. Five million have died so far this year, and another five million are expected to die through May. “Once in a decade” livestock losses have occurred three times in the past six years, and this year is looking like the worst on record.

    So a heart-felt “thanks a bunch” to money-grubbing climate-change denialists.

  8. Macroduck

    On top of the closure of Baltimore harbor, we may have another supply shock. Cows are catching bird flu:

    The official line is that we should not expect any discernable effect on retail milk supply:

    ‘Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “While troubling, this outbreak is not currently expected to threaten our nation’s commercial dairy supply.”‘

    Hope that’s true, but the dairy herd has never caught bird flu before, so how much do we really know?

  9. baffling

    ponzi johnny offers an array of criticisms that tend to be mutually orthogonal. but because he cannot make his arguments in a clear and concise manner, he counts on folks to overlook these inconsistencies. he argues for the working man, but then argues that high interest rates are in their favor (and completely ignores the fact the working man has far more in debt than savings, which is a significant negative impact of higher interest rates). and high interest rates occur during periods of high inflation, another negative for the working class. he bloviates against lowering interest rates, because it helps the rich (who benefit in both low and high rate environments, which is why they are wealthy, idiot). he ignores that most working folks have retirement savings in a 401k, which tends to underperform with high rates. he has a stronger desire to punish the wealthy that help the working class, based on his policy, but you would not believe that based on his words. and finally, he believes in an economic model in which high rates of return should come from risk free assets. something that is at odds with modern economics and reality. ponzi does not come on this site and argue in good faith. he deliberately misleads and misinforms. such a voice should not be given a platform for future propaganda.

  10. Macroduck

    There is good news from China’s factory sector:

    The Caixin factory index (similar to ISM) rose in March to 51.1, the highest reading in 11 months. This follows improved export and retail sales reports. One thing to note is that the New Year celebration switches between months, and as a result distorts monthly data in Q1, so treat these figures with some caution.

    More importantly, improved factory activity is very likely the result of government-directed credit infusions. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but demand has been a big problem for Chinese producers, and credit infusions to producers don’t automatically drive demand. Here’s the NY Fed on the subject of the recent pattern of credit to China’s factory sector:

  11. JohnH

    First of all, let me acknowledge that I am heartened by the syllabus of PA 200. Six of the 29 lectures dealt with some aspect of inequality and seem to provide a good introduction to the problem. The textbook is less encouraging since its index indicates that inequality is mentioned on a grand total of 11 pages out of 270.

    That said, UW lists about 200 Economics and Public Affairs courses in its on-line catalog. Only 2 Public Affairs course mention inequality in the brief course description. One of these courses was taught last Fall, the other last taught in 2018. The one Economics course was last taught in 2022. How should this low level of prioritization of inequality be best characterized—dare we call it marginalization?

    s for the blog, it is claimed that median incomes and wages median household income and poverty in Wisconsin are discussed “a lot.” Yet most of the links that were provided as proof date from a decade ago. The picture that is portrayed is one of a flurry of interest a decade ago, followed by years of benign neglect. Most recently there have been a couple of hat tips to COWS. Three links discussed recent trends in wage growth.

    Other than the PA200 syllabus, I have seen scant evidence to suggest that I should change my opinion that most mainstream economists (including those at LaFollette) are much more attuned to investors’ concerns than to those of average Americans, at least when it comes to inequality.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      JohnH: Wow.

      I count 11 lectures on inequality/poverty/social mobility/social security (which is one of the greatest antipoverty programs ever)/education policy/EITC-SNAP making work pay and so on. 11 out of 29 ain’t too bad.

      If you understood the textbook, then you’d understand that administrative burden is important exactly because it has a disproportionate impact on those at the lower end of the income spectrum.

      Re: Courses, my quick look at the titles of courses at La Follette alone indicate 4 with the word inequality, and 2 with the word equity. See

      As for the blog, at the nationwide level, let me remind you that I brough to your attention the BEA distributional national accounts. Look to inequality, distribution, median, poverty keywords to find a lot more on the issue of inequality than you apparently found (I did not provide an exhaustive list, but if you want, I will).

      By the way, I think you should apologize for accusing me (well more generally LaFollette faculty) of ignoring the work of High Road Strategy Center nee COWS. You were completely wrong. But I don’t expect that admonition to affect anything you write.

      1. pgl

        JohnH is a lot like Trump. Disgusting lie after another disgusting lie. And never ever any acknowledge of how vile his incessant lies are.

      2. JohnH

        Worth a read: “When Angus Deaton arrived in the US four decades ago, he imagined he had something to say about economic inequality and how to tackle it that Americans might want to hear. Instead, the great economic minds of the time told him to shut up.

        The Scottish-born winner of the 2015 Nobel prize for economics struggled at first to understand why there was so little interest in a subject most European economists regarded as a central concern of post-war policies to reduce poverty and build more equitable societies.

        But, as Deaton describes in his unsparing new book, Economics in America: An Immigrant Economist Explores the Land of Inequality, he soon realized he had run headlong into the libertarian monetarists of the Chicago School of Economics, and they were driving US policy.

        “There is this very strong libertarian belief that inequality is not a proper area of study for economists,” Deaton said. “Even if you were to worry about inequality, it would be best if you just kept quiet and lived with it.”

        Deaton persevered, building a reputation as a contrarian for scrutinising the prevailing orthodoxy that an unfettered free market would deliver greater economic equality and individual liberty, and that government intervention and regulation would undermine both.

        The result, said Deaton, is a predatory brand of capitalism in the US that enriches corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working people, deepens inequality of wealth and opportunity, and – although many Americans will deny it – is fuelling the rise of a class system. As he picks the system apart, Deaton zeros in on the evident absurdities of claims about the purity of the market.

        The results are clear. Real wages have stagnated since 1980 while productivity has more than doubled and the rich cream off the profits. The top 10% of US families now own 76% of wealth. The bottom 50% own just 1%.”



        What he said…

        Sure, I can apologize. And I do apologize for missing the two posts referencing COWS that you made in the last three years. And you are correct that that does not change the impression I have of mainstream economists in general or of the negligible attention give to inequality at LaFollette.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          JohnH: I do not see an apology for asserting I (or LaFollette faculty) do not hear what was written or said at HRSC/COWS. Further, your assertion of “…negligible attention give [sic] to inequality at LaFollette” is patently false, as I have documented extensively. In the interests of stopping disinformation, you are henceforth banned from this blog.

          1. baffling

            thank you. I have no problem learning from opposing views. but the intentional disinformation and misinformation programs running rampant on the web today do not serve a social function. they are intended to denigrate our institutions and weaken confidence in a functioning society.

    2. pgl

      Until you apologize to Dr. Chinn, you need to SHUT UP. Look dude – we all get you are a rude pointless little clown. Could you please stop making it so damn obvious?

    3. pgl

      “Other than the PA200 syllabus, I have seen scant evidence to suggest that I should change my opinion that most mainstream economists (including those at LaFollette) are much more attuned to investors’ concerns than to those of average Americans, at least when it comes to inequality.”

      Damn you are quite the liar. For at least fifth time, I ask you to check out the CV of Timothy Smeeding. You have to know who he is by now. Read his writing. And then come back to us with this disgusting lie,

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