Paul Krugman vs Roger Farmer

Recently Roger Farmer published an open letter criticising Krugman’s commentary on modern macro.  He points out that Krugman frequently alludes to the fact that the Great Recession is due to self-fulfilling prophecies, without citing Roger’s prior work.  Krugman replied, explaining that he hadn’t read Farmer.  He’d tried, but found it too difficult to understand.  Steve Williamson characterised this as ‘show me your trailer or I won’t watch your movie’.  [And then proceeds to write a good trailer for Roger’s movie himself].

To all this, I add a few remarks.

1.  It’s not necessarily the job of scholars to perfect the marketing of their own work for the busy reader.  The incentives for many are simply to get it to the point where journal referees understand what’s been done and why.  Don’t blame scholars for not doing this, blame the market for their talents in which they are selling them.  Many lay readers will side with Krugman for not reading stuff that seems difficult, thinking it perverse or incompetent of an academic not to write things that are easy.  But those readers won’t appreciate that everyone has their own specialism, and scholars have their work cut out just formulating coherent macro models and testing them, pretty much the sole thing their academic market value will rest.

2.  It’s not good enough to plead that you haven’t read Roger (or anyone like him) IF you set yourself up as an authoritative mouthpiece on macro developments, and on developments in macro research (exactly what Krugman does).  Consequently, if you don’t read him, don’t write as though you are sure you have something original or watertight to say, because the implication is that you haven’t been keeping up.  It’s ok to drop Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, if you are an economics writer, [I confess I did], but not if you are an oracle on American Literature.

3.  It’s striking that PK says he tried and gave up.  It’s not that hard to grasp the basic points, even for those on the lower ranks of the academic food chain [eg me].  And it must have been clear to PK that Roger was writing about exactly what PK was thinking about.  So surely his curiosity was piqued?  Surely an alarm bell must have gone off that this was exactly the kind of macro work he should get to the bottom of?  After all it sought to bring the same house down that he had been trying to bring down latterly with his journalism?  Why didn’t PK drop Roger an email if he got stuck?  If he is stopped by such modest obstacles as these, even with his own evidently prodigious talents, on a topic squarely at the focus of his own writing, how much effort does he put into reading further away from his concerns?  What else hasn’t he read that’s hard?

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