A few weeks ago (when I constructed the skeleton of this post), Paul Krugman bemoaned the lack of a unifying analogue to our Civil War in Europe. He apparently caught some flack (which I didn’t read), which he responded to by noting that the Franco-Prussian war only unified Germany when “the point” is unifying Europe (something Europe is “seeking”, even as it schizophrenically rejects it whenever a referendum comes up). I don’t think it makes for a good analogy. I once actually believed like Krugman that the U.S was not referred to in the singular before the Civil War but was as a result. This story appears to have little support according to linguists. The U.S of course had a unified defense budget before the Civil War and didn’t have Social Security until F.D.R or Medicare until L.B.J. Additionally, it was full of Anglo-Protestants, founders like John Jay spoke of that fortuitous homogeny (ignoring the slaves and indians). It is less surprising that such states would be unified than the various peoples of Europe who already have their own nations (and significant separatist movements within a number of those nations!). When you get down to it, isn’t it odd that the U.S is not part of a larger government structure with quite similar Canada, “the 51st state”? And that’s of course leaving aside Mexico, whose suggested integration would get a politician tarred and feathered. In a sense we are lagging behind the Europeans in integration, if we were similar there would already be the dreaded Amero and NAFTA superhighway. Not that I view political unification as a good thing, I am more radical than Scott Sumner and think the 50 (not nearly enough!) U.S states should be less unified than Europe currently is.
On a different note, in the comments to the Sephen Williamson post I linked to Williamson cited David Levine as a good example of an economist whose site does not quite qualify as a blog. I checked it out and found that Levine on his front page still had a post from 2009 responding to Paul Krugman’s criticism of the economics profession. Reading his open letter in the Huffington Post, it struck me as different from many attacks on Krugman. Usually people are exasperated that the famous Nobel-winning economist & widely read New York Times columnist is being dishonest/partisan and misleading people. Levine is unusual in that he seems to look down on Krugman, regarding him as an irrelevant old man left behind in the past. That led to a bloggingheads debate with philosopher Alex Rosenberg on falsifiability in economics and how the field has become a more precise predictive science. A number of economists have urged humility in the face of the crash and emphasized how little we understand and how complicated everything is, but Levine seems supremely confident in the state and progression of economics. But since he regards undergrad textbooks as embarrassingly bereft of the new insights of complicated dynamic models I know nothing about, I can’t evaluate his claims.