Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To Debate or Not

Several readers have drawn my attention to this passage from Greg Clark:
Recently a group of economists affiliated with the Cato Institute ran an ad in the New York Times opposing Obama's stimulus plan. As chair of my department I tried to arrange a public debate between one of the signatories and a proponent of fiscal stimulus -- thinking that would be a timely and lively session. But the signatory, a fully accredited university macroeconomist, declined the opportunity for public defense of his position on the grounds that "all I know on this issue I got from Greg Mankiw's blog -- I really am not equipped to debate this with anyone."
Various bloggers have quoted this story as evidence for the sad state of the economics profession. My interpretation is more benign: The chairman of the department asks a professor to do something, the professor is busy and doesn't really want to do it, so he blows off the chairman with a tongue-in-cheek quip.

On a related note: I know a lot of academics who don't like debate formats. They find it too confrontational and incompatible with reasoned discussion. A prominent economics professor I know, who once faced off against Larry Summers in a debate, told me he would never put himself in that position again. But that decision has not stopped him from being a productive contributor to discussions of public policy.