When the Saints Go Marching In

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Sixteen years ago, Slate Magazine was launched, with Paul Krugman and me as the alternating economics columnists. At the time, Paul was fond of observing (with considerable dismay) that most of the time, highly educated and intelligent non-economists appear to be completely incapable of distinguishing between compelling arguments and utter nonsense in the field of economics. His essay on “Pop Internationalism” is a brilliant series of riffs on this theme — a guided tour of sheer balderdash that gets a respectable hearing even though no economist could possibly take it seriously. “Pop Internationalism” (the lead essay in the book of the same name) is high on my recommended reading list.

The lesson I took from this observation was that we (Krugman, I, and economic commentators in general) had a responsibility to explain not just what economists believe, but why we believe it — to help readers understand that there’s a rigorous underlying logic to the discipline, and that there are good reasons for insisting that people adhere to that logic. Nowadays, when he’s at his most obstreperous, I sometimes suspect Krugman of having drawn a very different lesson — that because nobody understands the real logic of economics, we can get away with saying any damned thing we want to. It’s a frustrating thing to watch, because when he’s good, he’s very very good. But when he is bad he is horrid. I won’t list examples here, but you can find quite a few by browsing my Paul Krugman archive.

There is, however, one area in which Krugman’s commentaries have my unequivocal approval, and that’s his habit of posting links to music videos. I don’t always agree with his choices, but nothing in economic logic precludes diversity in musical tastes. In fact, there are good reasons to applaud that diversity.

So in this one dimension, I aim to emulate Paul Krugman. I’m going to start posting occasional links to great (in my opinion) music videos. Also, occasionally to music videos that are not necessarily great, but at least greatly weird, because I like things that are greatly weird. Unlike Paul, I’m not going to wait until the music is somehow relevant to the news of the day. I’ll just post them when the mood strikes me.

Today’s video (see the top of this post) is from Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong. Music doesn’t get much better than this.

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44 Responses to “When the Saints Go Marching In”


  1. 1 1 Michael L.

    Steven are you a fan of anything you hear today? I will admit that I get a Lady Gaga or Maroon 5 song stuck in my head here and there.

  2. 2 2 Categories+Sheaves

    We’re getting music videos alongside your (already quite wonderful) mathematical/economic insights?

    Great link, by the way. This blog just got 20% cooler.

  3. 3 3 David R. Henderson

    FANTASTIC! I especially love the part about halfway through where Danny finds his inner Louis.

  4. 4 4 Ken B

    That is a great video.

    Here’s one: the last part of Lullaby of Broadway http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gGVryQDvv4&feature=player_detailpage#t=108s
    Music by Harry Warren

  5. 5 5 Ken

    Two people observe a person not understand a topic and a willingness to believe whatever sounds good to them, regardless of the soundness of observation. One of the two observers takes this to mean they should be more careful in explanation in order to clarify what is actually true and what is not. The other observes that there is a lot of money to be made by taking advantage of people’s gullibility. It’s not really surprising that you are the former, Steve, and that Krugman is the latter.

    Krugman is your standard partisan, willing to say whatever will make his side look good, regardless of truth or validity. NYT readers eat it up because it validates their beliefs, despite not being true. Krugman laughs all the way to the bank, apparently unaware (or uncaring) of the wider damage he does to society. He (along with others like Paul Ehrlich) are Cassandra in reverse: constantly speaking untruths, but always being believed.

    I think the saddest thing about your commentary, is the attitude by many who understand what you are saying and believe that the logic (and sometimes even facts) are true, just inconvenient, as if people can’t handle the truth. While I, of course, have no direct knowledge of how people respond to you, I have some experience with people not being able to refute the logic presented and unwilling to test that logic with facts. This experience can best be summarized by one of the most breath taking responses I have ever gotten: “That’s true on paper, but not in real life.” The contempt that many have for “book learnin” is staggering. The desire to confirm bias is terrible and very difficult to overcome.

  6. 6 6 nobody.really

    “[W]hen he’s good, he’s very very good. But when he is bad he is horrid.”

    That’s catchy. I know Landsburg has foresworn writing poetry, but perhaps he could make an exception and develop this idea further.

  7. 7 7 Ken B

    Ken:

    “That’s true on paper, but not in real life.” The contempt that many have for “book learnin” is staggering.

    Non-sequitur. Euclidean, hyperbolic, and elliptical geometry are all true on paper. Just on different paper.

  8. 8 8 Ken B

    @nobody.really: Mae West “When I’m good I’m very, very good. When I’m bad I’m better.”

  9. 9 9 Paul

    (Poem #835) There Was a Little Girl
    There was a little girl,
    Who had a little curl,
    Right in the middle of her forehead.
    When she was good,
    She was very good indeed,
    But when she was bad she was horrid.
    – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  10. 10 10 Scott H.

    @ Ken…

    Krugman may indeed be laughing all the way to the bank, but I don’t believe that is what motivates him. Partisans love their ideology. I think Krugman believes his ends are so great that they justify his questionable means.

  11. 11 11 Ken

    Euclidean, hyperbolic, and elliptical geometry are all true on paper. Just on different paper.

    Ha!!

    I think Krugman believes his ends are so great that they justify his questionable means.

    Yes, the noble lie is one of the most repugnant ideas ever. Not surprisingly, it’s the brain child of one of the most repugnant philosophers (and sadly one of the most influential) of all time: Plato.

  12. 12 12 Ken B

    @Ken: You can’t dis Plato on TBQ. This is platonism central, the platonic ideal of platonism. The number 4 will rise up and smite you!

    :)

  13. 13 13 Jace

    “I think Krugman believes his ends are so great that they justify his questionable means.”

    That’s highly probable, seeing as Paul Krugman is more or less brilliant.

    Really, I must confess that I find it most disheartening to know Dr. Landsburg is critical of Paul Krugman. Then again, it is quite expected, seeing as their avowed goals are different: Dr. Landsburg is an unremitting proponent of truth, while Paul Krugman is somewhat a quixotical liberal.

    Regardless, though, I find them both interesting. Too, Bob Murphy has made it to my very short favorites list (the guy is hilarious).

    Something tells me Landsburg is a low-key Bob Murphy fan.

  14. 14 14 Ken

    The number 4 will rise up and smite you!

    I always thought that if a number on TBQ would rise up and smite me it would be the prime number 57.

  15. 15 15 Ken B

    @Ken: I should have thought of that!

  16. 16 16 Mark Draughn

    “I think Krugman believes his ends are so great that they justify his questionable means.”

    That sounds about right. In some of his earlier essays, when discussing the economic nonsense that non-economists take seriously, Krugman would often point out that believing the nonsense was very convenient for all involved. The nonsense appealed to the sensibilities (or wallets) of powerful people, and pleasing powerful people benefited the purveyors of nonsense. In recent years, Krugman seems to have decided to stop fighting this dynamic and instead put it together to serve his own political ends.

  17. 17 17 Advo

    @Steve,
    I agree that Krugman’s argumentation is sometimes disingenuous, polemic, or way too abbreviated.
    However, when I look at some of your responses to Krugman, I see a good deal of that in your posts, as well. You often go out of your way to find fault with what Krugman says and engage in sophistry.
    The best example are the two baby coop posts.
    In your first post you seem to argue that the fact that Krugman hasn’t demonstrated the source of price-stickiness in his example, this renders his point invalid. It does not. The prices in his example are sticky, as are prices (at least wages and costs of existing debt) in the real economy. You know that. But you leave your readers with the impression that Krugman is actually WRONG, and not merely incomplete in his argumentation. Read the comments. You confused a lot of people.
    In your second post you argue that because the reasons for price stickiness are somewhat dissimilar in Krugman’s baby-coop and in the real economy, this somehow invalidates the example. I don’t see how. The baby-coop is an example for what happens if you have a fixed money stock and sticky prices. WHY prices are sticky is quite irrelevant for demonstrating the outcome of such a situation.

    If you know your opponents reasoning is basically right, giving the impression that he isn’t because he failed to lay out his reasoning in a specific way is just cheap one-upmanship.

  18. 18 18 Ken

    Advo,

    The criticism of Krugman’s baby coop post isn’t that prices are sticky, it’s that they are stuck. What a scrip can buy is fixed. In Krugman’s story, prices never adjust. No matter how little or how many scrips are in the baby coop economy, each can only buy a half hour’s worth of baby sitting time.

    In the real economy, no matter how sticky prices are, it is always short term. Over time, prices adjust and prices are not sticky. Alternatives are found and consumption is adjusted. The more time, the more alternatives are found and more consumption adjustments are made. Prices adjust depending on how many dollar bills are circulated and how much wealth there is.

  19. 19 19 Ken B

    @Ken: Reading your response to Advo I had visions of babies in cages.

  20. 20 20 Al V.

    Re. “most of the time, highly educated and intelligent non-economists appear to be completely incapable of distinguishing between compelling arguments and utter nonsense in the field of economics.” The same is true in almost any technical field, isn’t it? Evolution, Global Warming, etc.

  21. 21 21 Ken

    Al V,

    “Global warming” is particularly enlightening example. Even assuming that global warming is happening and even that global warming is man made (even if just partially), understanding economics gives a better insight as to how to deal with it than climate “scientists” give.

  22. 22 22 Ken

    Ken B,

    Reading your response to Advo I had visions of babies in cages.

    It’s for their own good…

  23. 23 23 Harold

    Ken – I agree entirely with your global warming assesments. We should look to climate scientists for information on whether it is happening and if it is man-made. The answer is a very clear yes to both. We should not look to climate scientists for the solutions, as this is not their area of expertise. We should look to them to asses the impact of different potential solutions on the climate, but they are not in a position to judge the impacts of these potential solutions on areas other than the climate. We must use other experts to asses the impacts on other things, for example economic impacts.

  24. 24 24 Ken B

    Al V:

    Re. “most of the time, highly educated and intelligent non-economists appear to be completely incapable of distinguishing between compelling arguments and utter nonsense in the field of economics.” The same is true in almost any technical field, isn’t it? Evolution, Global Warming, etc.

    Not to the same extent. Most highly educated and intelligent people can tell that physics arguments based on perpetual motion, or biological arguments based on Lamarckism are bogus. Intelligent Design has little appeal to the highly educated. That’s about the equivalent of the mercantilism in economics, which still persuades large swathes of the intelligentsia.

  25. 25 25 Ken

    The answer is a very clear yes to both.

    It certainly is not.

  26. 26 26 nobody.really

    Are we pathetic? Landsburg tosses out a post that is explicitly NOT policy-oriented, but we can’t help turning it into a policy discussion. No wonder I like you guys….

    Landsburg discusses the nature of beliefs in The Big Questions. And, If I recall correctly, he more or less concludes that it’s rational to hold goofy beliefs – even to profess beliefs we don’t really believe – when it’s gratifying to do so and the cost of holding these beliefs is less than the cost of testing and/or abandoning them. Indeed, given the long list of known cognitive biases, I’m inclined to believe that certain false beliefs and skewed patterns of thought are adaptive. After all, I believe that evolution has designed me to survive and perpetuate my genes — not to develop accurate models of the world.

    As a layman, I expect I’m not in the best position to evaluate the merits of what any economist says. Or climate scientist. Or theologian. I bring my own parochial perspective to everything I survey, and I suspect I’m as prone to confirmation bias as the next guy. But, lacking a capacity to observe the world from any perspective than my own, I must do the best I can with what I have.

    Could I do more to evaluate economics or politics or evolution or the climate debate? Sure. Is it worth it to me? No. So I have working hypotheses that are highly susceptible to the currents of confirmation bias. And, as far as I can tell, this is an optimal posture for me to assume.

    Moral: Please enjoy my arguments. Please discount my opinions.

  27. 27 27 Jace

    Nobody.Really: “Moral: Please enjoy my arguments. Please discount my opinions.”

    lol.

  28. 28 28 Martin-2

    Michael L.- The day I come to this blog and see a Maroon 5 video will be the day I cancel my internet service forever.

  29. 29 29 Harold

    Ken: You are free to obtain your information from where you like – I prefer to use sources that can be backed up.

    If Steve tells me nearly all economists believe something, I think I need a very good reason to disbelieve it. Similarly with other specialities. This does not mean they must be right, but they are more likely to be right than I am.

    If I wish do differ from policies based on universal economic opinion, I must argue that something else should be valued more. For example, taxes may make us all poorer. All economists agree to the extent that they believe in deadweight costs. I may well argue that the costs are worth it because, say, greater equality will bring fewer teenage pregnancies. I would be a bit arrogant to argue that the deadweight costs did not exist.

    If you consult climate scientists, the answer is very clear. If you choose to consult PJmedia, you can get any answer you want.

    I am all for policy discussion, but if it is not based on the best evidence, it is not going to arrive at the best answers.

  30. 30 30 iceman

    Oh-oh Paul needs you, by him
    Beside him, to guide him
    To hold him, to scold him
    ‘cuz when he’s bad he’s so so bad…

    (RIP Donna Summer)

    nobody.really – back to substance, you’ve just laid out a beautiful summary of rational ignorance…and a powerful argument for limiting the size & scope of (democratic) govt

  31. 31 31 Ken

    Harold,

    If you consult climate scientists, the answer is very clear.

    I’ve been hearing this for two decades now, “the science is settled”, when it clearly isn’t. If it was settled, the term “climate change” wouldn’t be so prevalent. The change in terminology came when huge holes were found in climate “scientists” arguments, especially when the drivers of the “research” were found to be complete frauds (East Anglia, Michael Mann, etc.). To say the answers are clear means you are lying to yourself or to me. Either way it doesn’t really matter.

    You’re assertion that these things are “clearly” true is a clearly false. The use of the word “clearly” is simply to have effect of “shut up”. It’s a way for you to denigrate those who disagree with you and dismiss out of hand evidence that weakens your ideas, allowing you to justify your confirmation bias. It’s weak.

  32. 32 32 Russell

    Harold,

    If the science was settled, how come Ken disagrees with you?

    Let’s find some topics where the science really is settled…hypothesized, tested, and repeated with the same results.

    2 + 2 = 4

    the earth is not flat

    the boiling point of pure water (at sea level) is 100 degrees Celsius

    In all three of those areas, you and Ken (and I think everyone else in the world) agree. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that disagrees.

    But with AGW, how can the science be considered settled when there are hundred, maybe thousands, of scientists that don’t agree with your pronouncements? It might well be settled in your mind, but that’s not quite the same as hypothesized, tested, and repeated with the same results.

  33. 33 33 Harold

    Ken, Russell – hey, maybe you could get together and make movies? This is not the place for a detailed discussion on GW, so this will be my last comment on this specific issue. Ken criticises me for using the word “clearly” to allow my confirmatiomn bias, then dismisses an entire field of climatology by calling the workers “frauds” and puts scare quotes round climate “scientists”. I can back up my assertion that climatologists have given a clear answer, I am not sure about the allegations of fraud, or the suggestion that those working in the field are not scientists.

    I agree with Ken that climate scientists are not he experts on solutions. Ken seems to agree that those with knowledge in particular areas should be consulted on those matters, except in climatology, where a small number of amateur enthusiasts should be the ones we listen to.

    Ken disagreeing with me affects the settled nature of the scientific opionion no more than my arguing with Steve on the nature of quantum mechanics affects physicists.

    I refer back to Steves point – “highly educated and intelligent non-economists appear to be completely incapable of distinguishing between compelling arguments and utter nonsense in the field of economics”. And Al. V ‘s point that this applies to many fields. As Ken B says, mercantalism persuades a large swathe of the intelligentsia, but almost no economists. That means mercantilism is settled within the field of economics, but not within the mind of the public. If you want to know how economies work, talk to the economists.

    If you want to know how the climate works, why not talk to the climatologists?

    Ken B: You say Lamarkism has little appeal to the intelligent, but the field of epigenetics is opening up, and it is the inheritance of aquired characteristics, although not quite in the way Lamark had in mind.

  34. 34 34 Ken B

    @Harold: I don’t know a lot about epigenesis. Some of what I have seen described as epigenesis though is just cells reacting to the environment. I have seen the claim that for instance smoking can make children more prone to smoke due to changes in gene expression. I cannot evaluate the research claims (but controlling looks very difficult there). However from an evolutionary logic point of view that is really just more gene expression. It has never been a condition of ‘selfish gene’ evolution that gene expression occurs only within the corpus of the gene’s carrier. This is the ‘extended phenotype’. The genes of flukes for example can control the behavior of ants. That control is still genetic expression. The gene expression includes timing of expression. So from an *evolutionary* point of view I haven’t seen anything new here. Of course from a medical point of view etc all this could be quite relevant.

    But of course ‘evolution is cleverer than you are’ are words to live by so I’m not denying the possibility.

  35. 35 35 Harold

    Ken B – yes, I think that the aquired changes modify the expression of genes. It is interesting as it it is inheritance without changing the DNA structure – the environment of the parent affects future generations. This is trans-generational epigenetics specifically. Apparently it may be more important in plants.

  36. 36 36 Al V.

    Ken & Harold – I agree with your assessments. I firmly do believe in global climate change, I do believe it is man-made, and the science is settled. However, as Landsburg has argued, the real question is what to do about it. I am actually quite confident that when (or even before) climate issues start killing large numbers of people, humanity will decide to do something about it. Do we have an obligation today to preserve the environment for our children and grandchildren? Do we have an obligation to spend billions to do so, and deprive them of the benefits that money might provide if spent in other ways? That’s what is not clear, especially given that there may be much better technology for dealing with the problem in 10 or 20 years than exists today.

  37. 37 37 Ken B

    @Harold: Again though, that modification is itself the expression of genes. A hypothetical example to clarify the distinction I am making. Say that pregnant mothers drinking coffe cause a change in the timing of fetal expression of some gene to make the subsequent child drink more coffee. And so she drinks more coffee and her fetus … Looks like inheritance of acquired characteristics. However that change in timing is itself a result of the expression of genes, both human and coffee. Remove the coffee plant and we return to status quo ante. This is not Lamarckism, and is not a challenge to selfish gene theory. It may be medically relevant, but it doesn’t change the ‘central dogma.’ it is an example of the human genome reacting to a coffee rich environment by changing the phenotype, and of the coffee genome manipulating human beavior to propagate. Like flukes and ants.

  38. 38 38 Ken B

    Nobody.really has a point. Some of us (ahem) are discussing evolutionary theory on a Danny Kaye thread! That really is sad!

    This is more apt, I assume it’s from the same movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU_gtLxoGys&feature=related

  39. 39 39 Martin-2

    My ensemble professor was telling us to see The Five Pennies. He was right – this is an outstanding performance.

    Steven, if you ever feel the need to show us your favorite top 40 hit from Lady Gaga, Adele, etc. first check to see if Dirty Loops does a cover.

  40. 40 40 GHTSDY

    Here is a fine video (actually a clip from a Bollywood flick) for Jaan Pehechan Ho as sung by Mohammed Rafi. Catchy big-band sound, great dancing,

  41. 41 41 GHTSDy
  42. 42 42 Ken

    Harold,

    I can back up my assertion that climatologists have given a clear answer

    And yet, you don’t. Strange. I on the other hand have provided a link to show that there is at least some doubt. Here’s another that casts doubt on the data sets used. If you use cherry picked data, discarding data points that don’t match your preferred narrative, they you are indeed a “scientist” and not a scientist.

    Ken seems to agree that those with knowledge in particular areas should be consulted on those matters, except in climatology

    Not just climatiologists, but environmentalists in general. Environmnetalist after Environmnetalist are proven to be outright liars.

    Ken disagreeing with me affects the settled nature of the scientific opionion no more than my arguing with Steve on the nature of quantum mechanics affects physicists.

    Except phycisists don’t routinely ignore requests for datasets on which they base their claims.

    If you want to know how the climate works, why not talk to the climatologists?

    Because most are known environmentalist activist, a group known to be frauds all around.

  43. 43 43 AlexS

    @KenB: Developments in epigenetics have, in fact, revealed Lamarckian-like effects. See: http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Lamarckism-Molecular-Biology-Theoretical/dp/0262015145

    The papers are a bit dry. A more readable discussion of mechanisms and durability of epigenetic modifications is http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Four-Dimensions-Epigenetic-Philosophical/dp/0262600692/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337713433&sr=1-1

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