Robin vs. Brad

by Gimpei | 10:54 in , |

Things are really heating up in the comment section to my post on Brad Delong's blog. A little context, Robin is taking issue with Brad Delong's critique of the media's reportage of a book by Amity Shlaes that questions the success of the New Deal. Brad thinks the book is deeply flawed and that its flaws aren't being properly emphasized by the media. Robin's response follows.

If a book says the earth is not round and congressmen and congresswomen are quoting it, then I do want to know what the hell they're thinking, or not thinking. Like Bush, I don't want to hear their whole argument or reality's forceful rebuttal. I just want to get a sense of this phenomenon on its own terms -- which de long is unwilling, but not ill-equipped, to do. I also want to know the arguments for the world ending in 2012 -- I don't need Brad DeLong to tell me it's not going to end on that date. And I don't really need a piece in the article saying "Experts say the world isn't going to end."

I think, Brad -- whether you be real or fake -- that you over-estimate the imprimatur those articles give Shlaes's opinion and under-estimate how interesting people like Shlaes and their arguments are, whether or not they're right. And i also think you over-estimate how effective your rebuttals are.

For instance, your attack on Updike got all the right points about where Updike was wrong about Shlaes being factually wrong. Good stuff! But you really couldn't think why anyone would want to know Updike's take on this book, whether or not he knew anything about Aggregate Demand? I loved your dismantling of all his and her errors. But you didn't give any credit to Updike for being sarcastic about her book throughout his summaries -- the rebuttal doesn't come at the end, it comes in little stabs like "in a bold stroke of pyschologizing" "[FDR] was more charming, she has to admit, than Hoover" and the condemnation of her style and structure - which for Updike perhaps isn't all, but enough to expose her as a sham. The point is he didn't need to be an economist to see through her. His mockery of her is as effective as yours, if not more so, for being so wry and charming in its Updikean way. And you also condemn him for his little novelistic take on the 1930s at the end. Jesus! I found that part really interesting, but I guess only economists can discuss those 10 years of history now. god forbid the New York Times ever quote Steinbeck again. Or Dos Passos. I'd actually enjoy your reading of Steinbeck, even though you'd apparently be utterly deaf to his style (or lack of it).

I'm objecting to the tone more than anything else: you get angry in a way that your supporters will cheer and the people who disagree will look elsewhere and the people who don't care will wonder why you're shouting. And you also come across as something of a cultural commisar, which is mean and absurd to say, given how generous you are with your thoughts when in a good mood and given that you're blogging. But your attitude when you want to fight your corner is basically what made Pravda so boring and useless: no need to give any time to enemies of the state, the central committee already established months ago they were ideologically and factually unsound.