Noah Smith, Mud Moats and the Two Paper Rule

I think this one year old brilliant as usual post by Noah Smith is well worth another read. I googled [noah smith mud moats] when I ran into a mud moat in a comment section flame war.

Click the link but I will attempt to summarize. First a very very common debating trick is to argue that the other guy really has to read the vast literature produced by some school of thought before daring to critique it. The vast literature gets critics bogged down, the brilliant metaphor is that this is like a mud moat around a castle which got attackers bogged down. The standard response is to refuse to read the literature and to abandon the discussion. This is not good.

Noah’s brilliant proposal is to demand that those who mention a vast literature cite two valuable articles in that literature. Reading two articles is not too burdensome. If the articles are weak, the literature can be dismissed as weak and weaker or the interlocutor can be dismissed as someone who hasn’t mastered the vast literature that he uses as a mud moat.

Noah says there are vast literatures which arenĂ t worth reading. He gives an example. He says there was a vast pre-Lucas critique macro literature which is now obsolete. You know where this is heading ?

In fact, I think the pre-Lucas macro literature is very valuable. For one thing, I think Lucas correctly made only very weak claims of originality in his paper “Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique”. He said (and with citations showed) that most leading macroeconomists were well aware of the problem. I think the revolution consisted of brilliant rhetoric setting up a straw man. I think the vast pre-Lucas macroeconomics literature is anything but a mud moat.

You know where this is going right ?

I now have to name two papers which will demonstrate that this is a vast valuable literature which should be read by all macroeconomists.

Clearly one is simple. The seminal paper which started the literature most directly critiqued by Lucas is Analytical “Aspects of Anti-Inflation Policy” Paul A. Samuelson and Robert M. Solow
The American Economic Review Vol. 50, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Seventy-second Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1960), pp. 177-194

I am on record saying it was a decade ahead of Lucas 1973 (really 13 years). See also the much better title and edited down version Robert Waldmann: Policy-Relevant Macro Is All in Samuelson and Solow (1960)

I have to think about the second paper. I am sure the author is James Tobin. I guess his AEA Presidential Address is an OK place to start (pdf warning). Actually best to start with Tobin Was Right (Implicitly Wonkish)

Two paper challenge accepted. Now I think Noah should re-read them.

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