Who was more correct and dynamic?

by Robert Waldmann

Kevin Drum quotes Tyler Cowen and I wrote a huge comment (without clicking the link) just about the quoted passage.
“Tyler Cowen posits today that on economic issues, the right wing was both more dynamic and more correct than the left during the 70s and 80s, with “peak right” coming in 1989. After that, the left became more dynamic and more interesting. Obviously this is an arguable hypothesis, but let’s put it aside for a moment to consider this:

The relative rise of the Left peaks in 2009, with the passage of Obamacare and the stimulus. From that point on, the left wing, for better or worse, is a fundamentally conservative force in the intellectual arena. It becomes reactive and loses some of its previous creativity.
Over those years, right wing thought, on the whole, became worse and more predictable and also less interesting. But excess predictability now has infected the left wing also. Attacking stupid ideas put forward by Republicans, whether or not you think that is desirable or necessary, has become their lazy man’s way forward and it is sapping their faculties.”

I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t comment on this one. I will mention in passing that I think Cowen is totally 10% completely wrong that right wing economists in the 70s and 80s were more more correct than the left. They were certainly more dynamic. I. will. not. go. there then.

But about now, I don’t really have a clue who Cowen is talking about (always click the link –Kevin Drum). Basically, I don’t know if he is talking about academic research or public intellectuals. Well to be honest, I am fairly confident he is talking about Krugman. In any case it’s what Krugman wrote about Krugman.

I should click the link, but I will consider both possibilities.

1. Academic economists: Here there is great ferment. There are two fields which aren’t going much of anywhere (macroeconomics and theory) [on both points those are my views but I am paraphrasing Andrei Shleifer].

There is a huge amount of new interesting work on applied microeconometrics — oh hell analyzing experiments and natural experiments. The most energetic participants in this effort are leftists. There is little sitting on laurels in ivy covered halls.

In contrast, as far as I know, academic macroeconomics hasn’t changed that much. The colossal failure of standard models (which are New Keynesian not the models developed by conservatives in the 80s) has had a small effect on the literature (as far as know and as I don’t click the links you may suspect I don’t keep up). The idea that it is best to assume that bubbles can’t happen remains dominant. I stress that this is assumed in almost all New Keynesian models. Something like,say, a housing bubble or a dot com bubble is barely allowed in academic macro modelling (AFAIK).

Despair is much more common than complacency.

2. Public intellectuals and activists and such are very far from complacent. I can think of only one place I read something vaguely arguably along the lines of “our work is mostly done”. It was here.

In general there is vigorous discussion of what is to be done competing with the repeated discussion that none of it can be done while the Republicans have the house, enough senators to filibuster and insanity.
A new very active topic on which economic research informs the policy  debate is early childhood education (DeBlasio’s big issue and also one stressed by Obama).  Here public intellectuals and even policy makers seem to have been influenced by academic research — by J[ames] Heckman at the U Chicago economics department.  The evidence is very solid.  The obvious application is a pipe dream. The fact that the Chicago economics department is providing strong evidence in favor of a policy proposal which is so ultraleft that it is off the agenda gives us a hint as to the vitality of left and right policy analysis.
Another is lead about which I learned all I know here.  This is an incredibly important topic and there has been a dramtic advance in knowledge.  More generally, over at samefacts.com there is a lot of vigorous exploration of possible improvements on the lock em up strategy.  I don’t see complacency.  Since the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world and recently had the highest in our recorded history, it doesn’t seem that leftist small c conservatism is much of a menace.
There is active research on the effect of immigration and possible effects of immigration reform.  Here there is a policy relevant debate in which most academics, most of the public and most policy makers agree on what should be done.  And it won’t happen.
Also global warming.
Oh and deep poverty and re-reforming reformed welfare (again I learned about the issue here).
I see no complacency, no lack of new ideas or unanswered questions.
The reason so many left of center commentators spend so much time arguing against stupid ideas is that a majority of Representatives believe stupid ideas and are willing to endanger the full faith and credit of the USA to advance them.
I will end (hey, don’t cheer) with 4 questions.
  1. What would Cowen write if you couldn’t think of any recent useful contribution to any discussion make by a conservative or libertarian?
  2. Would he write about how it wasn’t always that way and probably won’t be that way in the future?
  3. Is that what he just wrote ?
  4. Why else would he write what he just wrote ?

crossposted with Stochastic thoughts