03 Dec 2008

Brad DeLong Doesn’t Even Know Who He’s Dealing With

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UPDATE below.

In this well-reasoned post, Brad DeLong says Mises’ Theory of Money and Credit is “readable in a rhetorical-excess-train-wreck mode, for it is also totally bats— insane.” (BTW, because of my charming innocence, upon my first reading I didn’t even catch the “bats—” adverb. [You want to say batsh*t is a noun, but I’m pretty sure it functions as an adverb here. Insane is an adjective, and what kind of insane is the book? Why it’s batsh*t insane.])

Needless to say, DeLong literally does not offer a single example of why he levels such a strong claim against one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. (I understand DeLong doesn’t consider Mises to be such, but DeLong is wrong on all kinds of stuff. His ignorance is no excuse.) The only work he actually does, besides providing lengthy quotes of Mises, is to claim that Mises misrepresents two of the authors he quotes. (I am not familiar with the passages so I can’t say.)

Here is my comment:

Professor DeLong,

Like some of the other readers, I do not see that batsh*ttiness in the quotations you provide above. I am not familiar with the two authors you claim Mises is misrepresenting, but I have never caught Mises quoting people out of context before with writers I know. (In contrast, I think Rothbard was unfair with his enemies on a few occasions so I would be more disposed to believe your interpretation if you had leveled your charge against him.)

The only demonstrable “mistake” in what you quoted is that Mises seems to be saying representative government can’t last without the gold standard, and presumably we still have democracy. OK fine, Mises may have overstepped there, just like Hayek in _The Road to Serfdom_ if you take him strictly. But Nazi Germany certainly wouldn’t have occurred without the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic, and that wouldn’t have happened if the mark had been strictly tied to gold.

Last thing: This book was amazing in what it accomplished. Mises literally integrated micro and macro. His regression theorem solved the “infinite regress” problem and allowed the deployment of subjectivist price theory to units of money. He also provided a theory of the business cycle that, in my opinion, explains what the heck happened with the housing crisis. Not too shabby.

To blow off this book the way you did above would be analogous to me calling Arrow a two-bit math jock who wrote a crazy paper about voting.

One of my former students, Shannon P. (who posts here occasionally), won an award for her paper on this book. Maybe she has something to say?

Oh, if you check out the MR thread that spawned DeLong’s ill-advised remarks, you’ll see I threw down with some punks there too. It’s a wonder I get anything done. “I’m sorry sir, I know I promised you the analysis by 3, but there are so many idiots on the Internet!!”

UPDATE: Someone notified me that my comment had been deleted from DeLong’s thread, and lo and behold, he’s right. DeLong has a comment near the bottom that says: “OK time to cut this off and prune it down to something useful…” and then after one other guy’s (non-useful) comment, it says comments on the thread are closed.

Since there are still plenty of potty jokes (literally) still in the thread, I was initially stunned that he deleted my comment (above). But then I thought, “Well, maybe he just truncated the thread after a certain point, and so it’s not that he was picking on me per se. I.e. maybe there are 14 of us whose posts got booted, and I’m only noticing the absence of mine, rather than those of the 13 guys making puns about toilets.”

Eh, I’m still suspicious. If you look at the time stamps of DeLong’s “OK time to cut this off” (6:34pm PST) and my original post here on Free Advice (which was 8:32 pm EST), there was about an hour gap. Now it’s possible that what happened is a bunch of Austrians flooded his thread with negative remarks, because I tipped off a Listserv about it right before I posted my own response.

In any event, my opinion of DeLong has sunk even further. I can’t even imagine posting a thread here at Free Advice saying, “Krugman is batsh** insane” and then just quoting him, and then deleting the comments halfway through when angry Krugmanites show up to defend his honor. In particular, look at how polite my comment above was! I bent over backwards to show I wasn’t giving a knee jerk “well shut up you socialist!!” response.

C’mon Professor DeLong, even Bill O’Reilly ends his show by reading hostile viewer mail. If you’re going to title a post, “When Reactionary Goldbug Austrian Plumber-Economists Attack!!” common blogosphere ethics demand that you allow the reactionary goldbug Austrians their say in the comments, particularly if, after your pruning, you are going to retain such “useful” comments as “Even an Austrian might wonder about a list in which _Theory of Money and Credit_ follows three books about shit.” and “A favorite fun fact: the von Mises Institute is a non-profit organization. Apparently, Austrian economics cannot compete in the commercial free market.” (Those comments occur in the thread about 3 from the top.)

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