2014-01-15

Smear

I don't talk about macroeconomics a lot anymore. I spent a fair amount of time in the 1970s and 1980s thinking about macroeconomics, but ultimately I didn't notice that I had a comparative advantage in that field.
Seldom is a man like Steve Sailer so forthcoming. In a very revealing post, Sailer describes the autobiographical reasons for his giving up on economics commentary in favor of reporting on what he calls "conflicts of interest."
So, today, I focus on simpler topics that don't attract much attention, such as conflicts of interest among the great and the good. The concept of conflict of interest is a very useful one, but one that the conflicted have largely lost interest in.

Dr. Fischer's career, for example, features a number of interesting conflicts of interest, but we are being told that those should be of no interest to us because he is the world's greatest macroeconomist, according to other great macroeconomists, who are his friends, students, bosses, and so forth. How do we know they are great macroeconomists? Because they are his bosses, students, and friends. The world's greatest macroeconomist wouldn't have friends, bosses, and students who aren't great macroeconomists, right?
A less self-serving way of saying this might be: "I don't know enough about economics to point out any legitimate reasons for objecting to Stanley Fischer's professional reputation on points of theory or practice; so instead, I like to try to dig up potential dirt on the guy and sully his personal reputation."

An even more honest way of saying it might be: "I want to object to Stanley Fischer, but I don't know enough about economics, so instead I'll resort to yellow journalism."

It literally stuns me that people can take a man like Steve Sailer seriously. Do I have a handy-dandy explanation for why we should not worry about these alleged conflicts of interest in Fischer's past? No. Do I have any vested reason to defend Fischer on any level? Do I support his selection over someone else's? No and no. Do I have enough economic knowledge myself to provide an informed opinion on Fischer's selection? Perhaps after doing some research, yes.

But does that mean that anyone should take these kinds of slinking, servile little insinuations seriously? No.

To be clear, if a real and undisputed conflict of interest were brought forth, I think we should examine it, by all means. But that requires real, hard evidence, not just a trail of what-ifs and how-odds and when-will-people-listen-to-me's.

To buy into Sailer's point of view on pretty much anything, one has to greatly relax the standards of proof and accept all insinuations that pad one's existing, chosen set of priors. One also has to shut one's mind to all counter-evidence against those priors. Imagine doing just that. If you did so consistently, you might find yourself in a situation in which you were willing to stop trying to understand and comment on an academic discipline, and instead set to drawing suspicious links between stories in the popular press.

Is there any better way to describe what Steve Sailer does?

UPDATE: Today in Forbes, Paul Gregory calls this "Vozzing."