Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arguing to Authority

John Cochrane dismisses Richard Posner in a interview posted Jan 13:
I don’t want to comment on Posner. He’s a nice guy. But I spend my life trying to understand this stuff. My last two papers, which took me three years, were on determinacy conditions in New-Keynesian models. It took me a lot of time and a lot of math. If Posner can keep with that and with Law and Economics, good for him.
It reminds me of congressman Pete Stark telling Jan Henfeld that his opinions weren't relevant because he hadn't taken econ classes at a prestigious enough school. Eric Falkenstein explains the crux of the debate:
That we don't have enough data to say what optimal monetary policy is only an abstruse concept if you are being disingenuous. Every technical debate in economics comes down to a pretty common sensical debate, and if you can't articulate it in such a way, you are either an idiot-savant who does not understand what the models really mean, or you are trying to brow-beat outsiders via intellectual intimidation.
Folks arguing to authority always come off very poorly, and I wonder why. We often judge people by their relevant expertise, but for the expert to mention this specifically is usually considered poor form.

One explanation is that arguing to authority doesn't add anything to the debate. It's more efficient to let the viewers judge your expertise on their own time and instead use their attention to make your actual case. This is especially true in the era of the internet when everyone's personal info is only a google search away.