2015-08-03

"Status"-Type Thinking

It's practically a truism that we seldom accuse others of a behavior that we ourselves do not regularly engage in. The compulsive liar is always the first to suspect others of dishonesty. The serial manipulator is always hyper-sensitive to others' ulterior motives. Pretentious people always criticize the supposed pretentiousness of the things they dislike.

So I thought Tyler Cowen's recent blog post entitled "What kind of blog post produces the most comments?" particularly rich, and not in a good way. In fact, I have seldom read a blog post by Cowen that was as nasty as this one.

After providing a hypothetical list of people who deserve to be "raised in status," and another one comprised of people who deserve to be "lowered in status," he writes (emphases added):
You might get a kick out of it the first time, but quickly you would grow tired of the lack of substance and indeed the sheer prejudice of the exercise. 
Yet, ultimately, the topic so appeals to you all. So much of debate, including political and economic debate, is about which groups and individuals deserve higher or lower status. It’s pretty easy — too easy in fact — to dissect most Paul Krugman blog posts along these lines. It’s also why a lot of blog posts about foreign countries don’t generate visceral reactions, unless of course it is the Greeks and the Germans, or some other set of stand-ins for disputes closer to home (or maybe that is your home). Chinese goings on are especially tough to parse into comparable American disputes over the status of one group vs. another. 
I hypothesize that an MR blog post attracts more comments when it a) has implications for who should be raised and lowered in status, and b) has some framework in place which allows you to make analytical points, but points which ultimately translate into a conclusion about a).
Cowen ends his post as follows: "Sometimes I am tempted to simply serve up the list and skip the analytics."

Why would he be tempted to serve up the list? To "produce the most comments," of course. Why would he want his blog posts to produce the most comments? To have a popular blog. And why would he want a popular blog?

...To elevate his own status.