Thursday, July 12, 2007

How to Be an Apostate

I have been thinking about this comment from my friend and former mentor Alan Blinder:
“What I’ve learned is anyone who says anything even obliquely that sounds hostile to free trade is treated as an apostate,” Mr. Blinder said.
Alan is right that many economists look upon him as a bit of an apostate because of his recent work on offshore outsourcing. But I don't think Alan correctly diagnoses the phenomenon. The following combination of four ingredients explains the reaction:

1. Alan's views are a challenge to the economic mainstream.

2. Alan did not present his new views in a refereed academic publication but instead in Foreign Affairs, a publication aimed at the broad policy community, and then in the Washington Post.

3. Alan's new views are conveniently consistent with the political party with which Alan is affiliated.

4. Alan's arguments are not persuasive.

It is as if I wrote an article saying that the broad-based income tax cuts raise tax revenue and then published it in the Club for Growth Newsletter with a summary on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. My fellow economists would look upon me as an apostate, and they would be right.

Update: In the comments section, Alan responds as follows:

I never blog, and may never again. But this one is over the top, Greg.

"Anonymous" who posted at 2:28 has it exactly right:

1. Out of the mainstream? Both my friend and former student and I teach introductory economics to some pretty smart students. With me, the first lesson on international trade is that (and why) there are gains from trade. (I love Ricardo!) The second is that trade always creates both winners and losers, though the nation as a whole gains. Don't Harvard students hear the second?

2. This is silly. As Greg knows well, refereed journals don't publish "think pieces" such as mine in Foreign Affairs. And yes, I was tryng to reach non-economists. They are, after all, 99.999% of the human race. (I believe Greg also writes occasionally for nonprofessional audiences--though not in Econometrica.)

3. Consistent with my party's views? That's not what many in my party think.

4. Not persuasive? Well, persuasiveness is in the mind of the beholder. I clearly haven't persuaded Greg. But, then again, I never persuaded Milton Friedman to stop watching M2.

I could respond, but I won't. Since I picked this fight, I will let Alan have the last word. I am happy enough to be put in the same category as Milton Friedman.