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Paul Krugman: The Trouble with Being Abstruse

by Rob_Boyter / February 17, 2014 10:00 AM PST

or full of Jargon, or Obscure and Unclear when you write about economics, society or History.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/the-trouble-with-being-abstruse-slightly-wonkish/
from his ongoing blog The Conscience of a Liberal.

" Political scientists who write clearly for a broader audience are upset with Nick Kristof for saying that political scientists no longer write for a broader audience. I'm not going to get into that fight. I do want to register one point, however: In my field there is indeed a problem with abstruseness, with the many academics who never even try to put their thoughts in plain language.

" And what is the nature of that problem? It's not that laypeople don't understand what the academics are saying. It is, instead, that the academics themselves don't understand what they're saying.

" Don't get me wrong: I like mathematical modeling. Mathematical modeling is a friend of mine. Math can be a powerful clarifying tool. So, in some cases, can jargon, which used right can both save time and add clarity to the discussion. If I talk about Dixit-Stiglitz preferences, or for that matter the zero lower bound, technically trained economists immediately know whereof I speak, where plain English would both take longer and leave room for misunderstanding.

" But it's really important to step away from the math and drop the jargon every once in a while, and not just as a public service. Trying to explain what you're doing intuitively isn't just for the proles ; it's an important way to check on yourself, to be sure that your story is at least halfway plausible."


The usual baffle-gab economists are often simply purveying their own private fantasies about the economy which they haven't tried to explain properly to anyone, let alone tried the ideas out in the real world.

For examplem perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of Karl Marx is intelligent, insightful writing on economics and society. The rest is fantasy football about how things would be wonderful under his new rules.

Well, Karl didn't get to advise an actual regime in implementing his ideas. And rather than occurring in an advanced industrialized society like Britain or France or Germany or the US as he predicted, Communism was imposed by a whole bunch of dictatorial SOB's who were mostly from the graduating classes of various Czarist prisons and work camps. They couldn't step back far enough from their hatred of the crushing agricultural feudal system that was Russia, the Ukraine and Siberia, to properly evaluate the effects of their policies and actions, which were more what used to be called "revanchiste", or the politics of vengeance exercised upon another economic or social class.

Moving from that historical analysis which I think you'd find almost any non-Heritage/Cato/Americans for Progress/American Eterprise related economist or historian would agree with, what has been going on in the US under most of the Administrations since 1980 is the reverse of that "revanchisme".

It is the pissed-off 1% who have convinced themselves that they are all-good and entirely entitled to every penny of their gains, ill-gotten or not, and that they owe the country and the government and the remainder of the American Public NOTHING WHATSOEVER for providing an encouraging, stable, wealthy country to do the work and to buy the goods.

They feel they don't owe the country all the employment they can provide (to their own benefit. Indeed they're so blind they don't see that a happy, reasonably well paid workforce would increase their wealth), nor do they owe the government any taxes for the support of all the institutions they depend on, Law Enforcement, Fire Services, the Interstate Highway system for shipping resources and goods, the Interstate Railway system for the same purposes and the Armed Forces who protect American interests both at home and abroad, the safety of food and medicines and the water we all depend on. What they want is to be left untouched by reality in their expensive gated communities and to offload the costs from which they benefit to a disproportionate degree, onto the shoulders of the Middle Class. To phrase it rather awkwardly I think that the Uppermost Privileged Class are the top 5% of income earners. Middle class begins at 95% and goes down from there to an as yet indeterminate point where Poverty kicks in. In my own crude estimate, I think that the bottom 25% to30% live in Poverty.

The US worked fine in the 50's and 60's and 70's though we took a number of hits from the quasi-Mafia called OPEC and the American Petroleum Industry. But Ronnie decided all of that wasn't good enough for the 1%. He wanted them to keep every dime, and to offer them handouts besides.

If taxation were to return even to Clinton Era levels, the situation in the US regarding its economy and indebtedness would resolve itself in less than 10 years. If the taxation level was returned to Carter era it might well resolve itself in 6. And I'd guarantee that 95% or more of the American people would be far happier and far better off. I'd also guarantee that the 1% would be just as nasty, tight fisted and mean spirited as they are now, and that a goodly portion of the intervening 4% from 95% to 99% would be equally unhappy.

All people delight in success of some form or another, and for the !% or the 5%, that delight comes from coming home saying, "Damn, I feel good and at least I'm not like those other "zhlubs". The Hoi-polloi, the great undifferentiated Middle. I'm above all that." And deeper down they're thinking "I'm American Nobility", even though America used to think of itselve as classless.

The question is, to whom does America belong? Does it belong to the 1% or even the 5%, or does it belong to the 100% of people who live in the US? (I rule myself out of that group, because I reside elsewhere and most of my taxes are paid up here.) It belongs to the whole of its people regardless of what crypto-fascist Konservatives or Tea Party Delusionaries think. America is for everyone, even the losers, because the loser's children may be the next Edison, or Jefferson, or Tom Payne or Joseph Stiglitz or Bill Gates, or any other successful person you may choose. My own bias as you know is toward Health Care, the next Jonas Salk or Alfred Sabin or Alfred Blalock or Vivien Thomas. (Look him up,)

Rob

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Here's the Nicholas Kristof article which prompted Krugman's
by Rob_Boyter / February 17, 2014 10:45 AM PST
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=MostEmailed&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article

One used to see Professors like John Kenneth Galbraith or the wonderfully amusing Julius Sumner Miller or folks from NASA or the JPL or people from Columbia and Harvard and every other University on the television. That's all gone now except for Bill Nye and various kids shows with non-academic performers looking for their next break in show-biz. My son had outgrown Bill Nye by the time Nye got his show, or at least by the time we got his show. in 1992 or 3

" One reason is the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as "a snob" for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research. Yet it's not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves.

" "All the disciplines have become more and more specialized and more and more quantitative, making them less and less accessible to the general public," notes Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and now the president of the New America Foundation."

The odious Rick Santorum condescending to the President who was Editor of Harvard Law Review, and a Professor of Law at university. What a disgrace. Like Santorum has found a cure for cancer, or his bunions, or that foul smell he trails every time he opens his mouth. Brush your Teeth Richard! and while you're at it, take your brain in for maintenance, because there's something seriously wrong with it, you hand puppet. (What? You actually think he comes up with the stupid stuff he says all by himself? He's got handlers who write his speeches and his comments for him. That's why you never see him in a proper debate. He needs people to explain to him what his opponent has just said, and then give him a reply to announce.)
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Sorry, just found another one I really enjoy
by Rob_Boyter / February 17, 2014 10:50 AM PST

" Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who writes for The New Yorker and is an exception to everything said here, noted the result: "a great, heaping mountain of exquisite knowledge surrounded by a vast moat of dreadful prose."

"As
experiments, scholars have periodically submitted meaningless gibberish
to scholarly journals — only to have the nonsense respectfully
published."

Clearly peer review isn't what it once was. Once upon a time articles which were sub-standard were returned to the authors with instructions to re-write, clarify, remove baffle-gab or in the case of multiple offenders, to find another publisher because no further articles would be accepted.

Rob

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And in the idyllic world you
by TONI H / February 17, 2014 7:55 PM PST

live in, once upon a time, journalists actually did their jobs and turned out people who investigated, researched, and vetted and dug out a story rather than look at an article or tidbit put out by someone over an AP hotline and run that story non-stop as if it was their own. Instead the majority have become so lazy and so left-leaning that they suck up and go with the 'pack' mode of journalistic mentality that actual news doesn't get reported anymore, or the coverage is so minimal that the population rarely hears about it.

I don't know which I'm more disgusted with now....the politicians that the journalists don't vet anymore or the journalists themselves. I think I'll go with the journalists because at least we have the ability to 'fire' the politicians every so often......the rag players, not so much.

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The trouble as I see it is that being a politician is seen
by Rob_Boyter / February 20, 2014 11:53 PM PST

as a career path, not a calling of sorts. In the US, without a cohesive party system viz. that vanishing breed, the moderate Republican, and that still scrabbling bunch of Blue Dog Democrats, and no real Leader of the Opposition in Congress, journalists have become the voice of opposition, and the group everyone loves to hate.

I doubt that journalists as a group ever attained the clear, dispassionate, seekers of truth we all wish they were. I remember clearly the amount of stuff that journalists let slide in the Reagan Administration that they wouldn't have tolerated under Nixon. I also remember the long knives that were out for Jimmy Carter from the get-go, and that similar pack behaviour in both cases.

In the case of Carter it was Republican journalists who were out for pay-back and liberal journalists went along with the mis-characterizations they produced. Yes, Jimmy Carter made the stupid mistake of empoying Bert Lance in his Cabinet. But it was clear to me then that he was trying with his heart and soul to do the right thing. Some of his advisors though were purely political men.

But after that brief upsurge in the investigative approach, journalism, particularly under Bush 2 became a mimeograph machine for the Administration. They thought that simply rephrasing press the releases from that crowd in the Administration was the entirety of their job, and you had to dig rather hard for even the slightest intellectually critical look at what was being done.

The press is now, as it has always been, in thrall to moneyed interests because they're the people who own the press. But where some balance used to be the norm, meaning some of the writers/broadcasters were more favourable to Republicans, and some to Democrats even in the same paper or on the same network, the FoxNews-ification of the cable universe hasn't done us any favours.

MSNBC at least has Joe Scarborough as a small counterweight to the generally liberal tone of the rest of its day. I don't see Andrea Mitchell as a raging Liberal mind you, but as a good reporter. The person I watch most often, and enjoy for her intelligence as well as her outlook is Rachel Maddow. She isn't a screaming leftie either, but she is certainly a left leaning Democrat. Given how far to the Right the playing field has shifted, that's just about middle of the road under Johnson and Nixon. She herself says she's an Eisenhower Republican. What I enjoy most is that she doesn't dumb issues down, which also seems to be the New Journalism of the 21st Century. She presents them warts and all, if youll pardon the cliche, and doesn't let the short attention span projected onto audiences by so many news gatherers affect her own work. If there is new information on an old story like the George Washington Bridge scandal, she'll put it out there, even if it is a story from last September.

Certainly living in an ideal world might seem to be idyllic, but actually an ideal is always a work in process, constantly being revised and tinkered with. Think of the ideal world simply as the house or apartment you live in we all try to make it as pleasant as possible to the limit of our abilities. Our homes are never finished. They're not frozen, they're open to change, to new technologies, and new fads regarding decoration. Just how well would sponge painting a wall have gone over in the conformist 50's, or even the 60's or 70's. The idea is to replicate the sun bleached outer surfaces of stuccoed houses in Italy, and done well it can be quite lovely and calm and soothing, but it's not for everyone, nor is it likely to last as a style.

Rob

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