Questions that are just a little too long to fit into 140 characters

by Henry Farrell on October 8, 2013

If a “devoted choir of lemmings”: were to go head-to-head against a “squadron of rabid, venom-unleashing command-lambs”:, which would win? The command-lambs might look at first like the obvious choice, but I can’t help feeling that the mysteriously compelling harmonies of the lemming-choir’s deadly siren song would give the crafty rodents a decisive strategic advantage.



Mike Huben 10.08.13 at 9:09 pm

Is this a Sokal test?


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 9:09 pm

Silly rabbits. (Lemmings, lambs, whatever). Rhetorix are for kids….


Daragh McDowell 10.08.13 at 9:11 pm

“These claims often are based on a rather superficial, if any, study of what the people involved actually wrote.”

Translation – according to our new owners, the Koch brothers, official Cato institute policy is that Ignorance is Strength.


jake the snake 10.08.13 at 10:02 pm

hasn’t “strength through ignorance” long been the motto of the conservative elites.


Daragh McDowell 10.08.13 at 10:15 pm

@jake – ‘Ignorance for thee, but not for me’ is the traditional formulation. This is a whole new level of hackery.


Dr. Hilarius 10.08.13 at 10:34 pm

“The talent of predicting and the talent of understanding are largely uncorrelated. The judgmental forecasts of individuals are poor ways to evaluate any serious economic or scientific theory. ”

res ipsa loquitur


John Quiggin 10.09.13 at 12:09 am


Dr. Hilarius 10.09.13 at 12:32 am

John@7: Indeed. Saying no to empirical testing means never having to say you’re sorry.


Daragh McDowell 10.09.13 at 12:42 am

Hilarius @8: True – it can also lead to an extremely well paid job as a propagandist at all sorts of media outlets. In the meantime I apparently work for ‘exposure’…


Lee A. Arnold 10.09.13 at 1:40 am

Krugtron sounds undefeated here.

Daily Kos sounds like it could be a scandal, yet Brooks’ words are carefully chosen: “the strange correlation between Armstrong contracts and Kos endorsements. He further reported that the S.E.C. has filed court documents alleging that in 2000 Armstrong touted a dubious software stock on a Web site in exchange for secret payments. Armstrong was accused of building Internet buzz to make money for himself.” — Sounds more like “all in a day’s work,” for Karl Rove’ profession, but it will bear watching.

The response to Niall Ferguson is, “So? Raise taxes a little in the future, to meet future needs. And work now to get healthcare costs further down. Stop being such a scaredy-cat.”

The response to John Cochrane is, “So? Raise taxes on the rich a little now.”

I predict: no economic crisis, either way. Will we please test this hypothesis?

Cochrane writes, “The talent of predicting and the talent of understanding are largely uncorrelated.” — Is this itself a prediction, or an understanding? Or does he mean something like, deduction is not induction?


TheSophist 10.09.13 at 2:12 am

I’m confused (at least more so than usual.) Isn’t the Brooks story from 2006?


Henry 10.09.13 at 2:40 am

Yes – I’ve blogged it before, as a classic of muddled metaphor. The choir of lemmings is maybe not quite up there, but it’s a valiant effort.


m0nty 10.09.13 at 2:58 am

A clash of wonks and netroots, the winner would depend largely on the terrain of the battlefield. Lemmings work best on rocky terrain, especially cliffs – fiscal or otherwise. Lambs are better in grassroot areas.


bad Jim 10.09.13 at 3:49 am

I’m thinking along the same lines as m0nty. Put the lemmings on the front line, in the expectation that they won’t be able to do much, and mass the sheep behind. Then, when the enemy scatters them, they’ll run into the well-disciplined, battle-hardened goats.


Glen Tomkins 10.09.13 at 4:19 am

All I know is that the octopus of fascism has sung its swan song, and that both drowns out lemming choirs, and jams the operating frequencies of command-lambs.

We have to have some eternal verities to hang onto.


JW Mason 10.09.13 at 4:42 am

The thing is, though, Cochrane is totally right on the merits. Krugman the academic economist has spent his career working with New Keynesian models based on intertemporal optimization under rational expectations. Krugman the public intellectual presents simple Old Keynesian models based on a completely different set of premises. He tries to present the latter as somehow just the simple textbook version of the former, but it’s really not, all the reasoning and almost all the substantive claims are incompatible. Cochrane is 100% right to call him out on it.


JW Mason 10.09.13 at 4:49 am

To be clear, I think Krugman the public intellectual is right and Krugman the economist is wrong, while Cochrane pretty clearly thinks the opposite. But the point is there’s something really profoundly dishonest about the way Krugman presents ISLM as expressing some consensus ongoing academic economists. And he is flat-out dishonest about his own work. You would never guess from his blog, for example, that his famous paper with Gaudi Eggertsson says that raising the payroll tax is expansionary. Nor would you guess that standard New Keynesian models say that the only channel by which government spending can raise output, is via higher inflation. When Krugman presents his policy interventions as growing out of his scholarly work, he is just lying. There is no other word for it.


bad Jim 10.09.13 at 6:21 am

The swan song of the octopus always evokes for me the image and sound of bagpipes, which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I actually like. A choir of lemmings is a bit of a struggle to imagine. For a few years I attended Unitarian-Universalist services, so I can almost but not quite summon the sound of massed rodents squeaking out “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with ME”, but can’t shake the thought that it needs more theremin.


John Quiggin 10.09.13 at 6:42 am

@JWM Here’s Krugman on Old and New Keynesian views of the economy.

I think he has been reasonably open about the fact that his views on this have changed, and in putting the defence apocryphally attributed to Keynes, “when the facts change, I change my mind”.

To spell this out a bit, the big difference between old and new Keynesians is whether the long-run growth path is independent of macro shocks. If it is, then the NK strategy which takes intertemporal optimization as a starting point, then tweaks it with imperfections makes a lot of sense. And with the right tweaks you can still extract something like an IS-LM model in the short run

That seemed plausible during the Great Moderation, but now its obvious that the economy can stay depressed long enough to affect the long-term growth of the capital stock, labor force, skills etc. So, intertemporal optimisation is a matter of animal spirits as Keynes said, and the natural starting point is the Old Keynesian model circa 1958, as I’ve said in the past.


John Quiggin 10.09.13 at 6:51 am

This is a more useful link

It’s absolutely the opposite of your claim that “Krugman presents ISLM as expressing some consensus ongoing academic economists”

What he does concede, broadly consistent with your claim, is that New Keynesian academic economists let themselves be bullied into concessions to the RBC viewpoint. I’ve seen but can’t find posts where he admitted to wrapping up basically Old Keynesian points into an NK package to make them publishable in the 1990s. But I don’t think there’s any contradiction between what he currently says as a public intellectual and as an academic economist.


robotslave 10.09.13 at 7:47 am

I am quite intrigued by this idea that Ecomomic Theorist K is doing solid, rigorous work in the private, scholastic publications, but just spewing party-line propaganda in the pop-sci, fake, totally-not-worth-reading publications.

We are an ever so modern world, are we not.


Warren Terra 10.09.13 at 8:38 am

I don’t know from John Cochrane, and I’m willing to grant it’s quite possible that Krugman has made bold predictions of things that have not come to pass. But I do know from Niall Ferguson, and that raging nutzoid wouldn’t know Reality or Probity if either or both, embodied and helpfully labeled, were to smash into him and jump up and down on his prone body shouting their identities. He has written several articles now (the cover story that helped kill Newsweek comes to mind) that were case studies in Advanced Mendacity and his (shudder) Reith Lectures made me despair not only for the BBC but for the English-Speaking Peoples. If he told me it was raining and I got wet out of doors, I’d still suspect that wasn’t actually rain. The man has completely lost the plot, and anyone who purports to assess a public debate that involves him as if he were remotely credible should be treated accordingly.


afeman 10.09.13 at 1:40 pm

robotslave: To be fair, this is what the remaining climate confusionists in academia do. Then again, their academic work is supposed to not be as rigorous as it once was.


mds 10.09.13 at 5:10 pm

I don’t know from John Cochrane, and I’m willing to grant it’s quite possible that Krugman has made bold predictions of things that have not come to pass.

Perhaps, but it’s still impressive that Cochrane was able to notice, what with the enormous beam poking out of his own eye. Where did the runaway inflation go, John? (May I call you John, or do you prefer “Flagrantly mendacious hack?”)


rea 10.09.13 at 6:46 pm

Put the lemmings on the front line, in the expectation that they won’t be able to do much, and mass the sheep behind. Then, when the enemy scatters them, they’ll run into the well-disciplined, battle-hardened goats.

Oddly, this was Daniel Morgan’s strategy at the Battle of Cowpens.


Z 10.09.13 at 7:19 pm

If he told me it was raining and I got wet out of doors, I’d still suspect that wasn’t actually rain.

Well put.


bad Jim 10.10.13 at 8:34 am

Rea: of course, and also Guildford Courthouse, although Alvin and the Chipmunks are always on my mind.


bad Jim 10.10.13 at 9:06 am

Link for the battle of Guilford Courthouse. Elsewhere I’ve read that Morgan was sidelined due to gout and had to spell it out for Greene: first hummingbirds, insanely fratricidal, then the more congenial choral lemmings, sheep despite their rabidity and venomousness, then the dour and unremarkably resolute ranks of goats.

How otherwise could one interpret the separation of sheep and goats in the Gospels than the arrangement of them in battle formation?


eddie 10.10.13 at 1:53 pm

Is Rogoff the economics equivalent of a child-abusing priest getting to move to a new parish instead of going to jail?


Barry 10.10.13 at 1:57 pm

Eddie, he’s the equivalent of one who didn’t have to move, because IOKIYAR.


Richard 10.11.13 at 12:33 pm

bad Jim @ 18, “The swan song of the octopus”.

“As the Short-Sighted Octopus of Fate mounts the Bagpipes of Destiny …”. ISIHAC, may years ago.

(If that’s over-parochial – I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue; long running BBC radio comedy prog.)

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