A comment at EconLog reminded me of some good essays by the Paul Krugman of old. I’ve elsewhere extolled Ricardo’s Difficult Idea, but perhaps I’ve given too much of the spotlight to that one and neglected some others. This post’s title refers to The Accidental Theorist, which is both a defense of silly “unrealistic” theorizing in economics and an attack on William Greider. Greider’s thesis gets thoroughly destroyed by Krugman in a couple columns (I guess he was popular then, though I don’t hear about him anywhere else). Not content with mere theory, he brings out the statistics to crush Greider’s anecdotes in Is Capitalism Too Productive?, although the idea itself might have seemed too stupid on its surface for other economists even bother refuting. Not only does he support my prejudices regarding statistics vs anecdotes, he also fits with my hierarchy of evidence regarding formal vs informal economic theorizing in Two Cheers for Formalism. As with his essay on Ricardo, the takeaway point is that dissenters generally dislike results economists have arrived at, don’t understand how they did so, and from that infer the defectiveness of their method. Sounds a bit arrogant when I put it that way, but there are worse things than arrogance, like arrogance combined with ignorance.

On a completely unrelated note, agnostic has done the world a big favor by highlighting a graph of homicide rates for the past 800 years. The next time someone pines for the good-old days and says modern depravity would have been unimaginable back then, just show them that.

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