This week brings a heated debate between Judge Posner and some prominent economists including Brad DeLong of UC Berkeley. The debate comes at the heart of my recent discussion with a lawyer who is also a faithful follower of Paul Krugman blog. I argued that certain opinions made by Paul Krugman are so political that readers should distinguish them from his academic accomplishment. Otherwise, the misjudgment may bring about misinformed opinion. Judge Posner took it one step further by questioning the ethical responsibility of academic economists in influencing public opinion through their academic tools. Here is a quoted entry from the Faculty Lounge by professor Kim Krawiec:
In his August 18 blog post for The Atlantic, Honesty about the Stimulus, Posner criticizes the August 6 talk by Christina Romer, chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, entitled "So, Is It Working? An Assessment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the Five-Month Mark." She is referring, of course, to the economic stimulus package, and her answer is “absolutely.”
Posner, however, does “not think her analysis is responsible,” and is “concerned with the fact that academic economists, when they become either public officials or public intellectuals (like Paul Krugman), leave behind their academic scruples.” Posner picks through Romer’s arguments in some detail, so you should read his post (and her report, linked above) in its entirety to fully understand the substance of the dispute. Posner concludes by questioning the ethical responsibility of economists who write for the media or join the government:
This raises the question of the ethical responsibility of academic economists, such as Romer (and Krugman, and Lawrence Summers, and many others), who write for the media or join the government, either to adhere to academic standards in their nonacademic work or to make clear to the public that they are on holiday from those standards and that what they say in their public-intellectual or governmental careers should not be thought identical to their academic views.
Yet, nowhere does he say “I don’t know what I am
talking about because I am a judge, not a macroeconomist.” Instead, in his role
as a public intellectual, he acts like he is an expert in the field. Ethics
DeLong launches a more extended critique. In Richard A. Posner's Ethical Lapses, he argues that Posner writes dishonestly about the stimulus package, and that Posner’s piece contained at least seven major ethical lapses. According to DeLong:
In my view, anyone holding themself out as a public intellectual has one duty: to be smart. Being smart involves (a) checking your arithmetic, (b) building up your intellectual tools, (c) using Google, (d) reading works until you understand them, and (e) not writing things where you have absolutely no clue about what you are talking about.
Does Richard Posner think that he is behaving ethically here? In my view, he has failed to satisfactporily [sic] perform any item of that checklist.
On August 19, Posner responded to DeLong, again on the Atlantic blog, in Christina Romer Defended by an Angry Academic Colleague, dismissing the bulk of DeLong’s claims and arguing that the piece reinforced his distrust of macroeconomists' analysis of the economic crisis. That’s all for now, but you know where to get the blow-by-blow if (when?) Judge Posner starts arguing with someone else.