Friday, October 30, 2009

Sarcasm, applied properly

In case you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks -- or rely on the mainstream media for your news -- you've probably heard about climate scientist Joe Romm's expose of the shoddy work on global warming in the new book SuperFreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner. (Excellent compilation of the discussion in the blogosphere and some mainstream publications.)

Long story short, it's like the kerfuffle a while back between me and Bob Murphy about his own, um, imprecise commentary on global warming, except that the mistakes by Levitt and Dubner were much bigger, they got called on their shoddiness by a lot more people, and they continued to dig themselves much deeper that Bob ever tried to. To top it off, they deliberately misrepresented one of their experts (Ken Caldeira added the quote you see to his web page in contradiction of a position attributed to him in the book after he found out what was in it.)

(Note: this isn't about "rah rah let's cut carbon emissions" vs. "those durn whiny hippies". Regardless of your opinion on the issue, Levitt and Dubner's handling was extremely shoddy, and exactly the kind of thing that neither side should want, even and especially if you agree with their policy positions.)

With that in mind, take a look at this post on the Freakonomics blog, where Levitt complains that he's unfairly portrayed, in his university's alumni magazine, as someone not tackling the "big questions" and who's ruining economics.

Yep, this is one of those times when only Silas-grade sarcasm will do. Here's what I posted:

Well, it's a good thing you've moved on from sumo-wrestling into important issues like global warming, where you've carefully researched the issue, accurately represented expert opinion, and presented an even-handed, informative discussion of the issue that helps sustain the University of Chicago's excellent reputation.

Needless to say, the comment didn't make it through moderation.

By the way, it's my birthday today! Wish me a happy 28th if you haven't already!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paul Krugman actually allows criticism on his blog!

I had heard bad things about Keynesian economist Paul Krugman not allowing comments on his blog that are too critical, but that turned out not to be an issue. In a recent post he argues that the gold standard is obviously flawed because economic recovery during the Great Depression was highly correlated with going off the gold standard. Nevertheless, my usual criticism of this point got approved for others to see. It's this comment, which I'll repost here:


I’ve known about this correlation for a while, but I think it’s misleading, regardless of the merits of a gold standard.

Think about it this way: at the time, people expected their money to be convertible at a specific rate into gold. “Going off the gold standard” is therefore a roundabout way of saying “robbing people of their wealth”, because it amounts to expropriation of their gold holdings.

So this correlation (between going off the gold standard and recovery) reduces to the observation that “when times are bad, taking rich people’s stuff and redistributing it can making things look a lot better in the short term” … which isn’t so impressive when you look at it that way.

The real question is, *discounting* for the usual effects of looting the rich, did it make the economy better off than it would have been without such capricious, revolution-like activity?