Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Elevating the NBA and Marginalizing a Harvard Economics Professor

Have y'all noticed how exciting the NBA playoffs have been this year? Unfortunately many people likely have not. They gave up on pro basketball years ago. I am a basketball junkie who's persevered through the low-scoring, over-coached play of the last 10-15 years. Also smothering the NBA's renaissance are the extremely late games. Everyone should get a DVR and watch the games the next day. I generally watch the first quarter or half at night and then the end of the game around 6am with my crepuscular infant son.

The ONLY reason the play is more exciting is the recent removal of the illegal defense rule.

As I articulated so well (and accurately) in a prior blog:

About twenty five years ago, they instituted the illegal defense rule which basically eliminated zone defenses. The league didn’t want teams double teaming its headline stars. In other words, they wanted to cultivate the superstars in hopes it would drive ticket sales.

But in the real world, actions have reactions. In this case, the elimination of zone defenses forced teams to guard every single player, whether they merited it or not. This misguided rule protected guys who couldn’t shoot because an opposing team couldn’t penalize these non-scorers by leaving them open. Anyway, scoring declined steadily until last year when they eliminated the illegal defense rule. So the points are on the way back, but time will tell whether on not the fans return.

The Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs are slow-it-down, walk-the-ball-up low-scoring teams. With both of them bounced from the playoffs, I optimistically see it as vindication for a renewed up-tempo and high scoring era of pro ball. Time will tell.

Now is as good a time as any to Marginalize Cedric Maxwell. Last year he went on the radio in Boston and made the outrageous claim that Dirk Nowitski (pictured above) is a better player than Larry Bird. I won't even deign to argue with him - but do click on the link to hear his case. Now bear in mind, that Maxwell actually played with Bird and won championships with him, yet has this ridiculous notion in his head. The only explanation I can think of is that Max simply snorted too much cocaine during the 1980s Celtics championship runs. That is after all why the team eventually got rid of him. (The rumor I heard at the time was that he was trying to get Kevin McHale into cocaine.)

To a math guru like myself, mathematical induction is one of the most elegant forms of logical proof. I apply this philosophy in my Marginalization strategies.

For example, it seems widely accepted that Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe is one of, if not the "best" sportswriter in the country. So I have fired many emails out to him pointing out his errata, misconceptions, canards, and outright distortions. He always responds, quite pathetically I must add, and perhaps one day I will publish these exchanges. My point is that if he is "the best" and a lowly part-time fisker like myself can effortlessly expose his incompetence, then I don’t have to waste my time correcting or debunking the rest of the sportswriting dolts. Marginalizing Bob Ryan inductively makes tidy work of his compadres as well.

Lately I have been applying the same inductive Marginalization to a Harvard economics professor. Dr. Greg Mankiw recently started his own blog, ostensibly as some sort of adjunct to the undergraduate econ classes he teaches. I don’t think he really knew what he was getting into when he decided to put his thoughts and teaching on display for the World Wide Web. I have posted several Captious comments on his blog, most of which rip his posts to shreds. He hasn’t responded to me once, nor to any of the other eviscerating commentators. I can tell y’all right now, Dr. Mankiw hates me and has deleted at least one of my comments.

Why waste my time provoking this guy? Well, it goes back to preference for induction. It’s very efficient just having to show the inanity of a Harvard professor, so I don’t have to bother with others. The man highlights so much of what’s wrong with taxpayer-funded education and displays an astounding amount of generalized cluelessness.

Here is an example of his head-scratching babble:

Am I eating a free lunch?

For the past several months, I have been using the Blogger service to create this blog. Blogger is a subsidiary of Google, which offers the service for free to the public. Google makes money from its search engine by selling ads, but my blog does not have ads unless I authorize them. I keep waiting for Blogger to offer to sell me some add-on services, but that hasn't happened yet.

What's in it for Google and its shareholders to give me all this free service? I am puzzled. I hope one of the commentators can enlighten me.

Can you freakin' believe this guy? He's a Harvard professor and though exudes a remedial understanding of business.

Hey Greg, do you freakin' realize that your supermarket likely sells milk and eggs to you at a loss? Do you need that cosmic mystery explained to you as well?

The guy is technically a "macroeconomist". I put it in quotes because it's an almost meaningless term. Macroeconomists deal with aggregate measures of economic activity. Since aggregates are tough to measure, macroeconomists have (or give themselves) plenty of intellectual license. More often than not, they're merely political propagandists, though very fluent in the abstract rhetoric of their own creation.

Query - How can one make the jump to a "macro" economist when they can't comprehend the most elementary theories of microeconomics? For instance, shouldn't they have a clue about how a company like Google prices its products?

Confoundingly, gross econo-illiteracy pervades much of this Harvard econ professor's posts. His blog is plastered with links to the socialist NY Times yet hasn't once mentioned anything from Forbes - the preeminent capitalist publication. He's got the obtuse notion in his head that economics can be intelligently taught/studied without any direct knowledge of business realities.

Firstly, the guy has never himself worked in the market economy. He's spent the last 25+ years at Princeton, MIT, Harvard, and briefly worked for the Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Taxpayers have involuntarily paid his salary all these years. At root, he is a consumer of wealth created by and confiscated from risk-takers in the market economy.

In his post I Am Not Accountable he declares:

I have often thought of professors as, in some ways, self-employed producers of intellectual output.

Does anyone think this economics professor has a clue about who pays him?

How the bleep can someone so smart claim in the same breath to be both "unaccountable" and "self-employed"?

Greg doesn't have the slightest experience working for so much as a safe large corporation, never mind going it alone in the business world and risking his own personal assets.

Not only is Dr. Mankiw bereft of any time spent in the market economy, he also advises his students to steer clear of wealth creators. Why muddle up good theories with messy facts, I guess.

I recommend that every student planning a career as a professional economist try to spend a summer, or even a year, working at a place like the CEA, CBO, or the Fed.

He's one of these prototypical Overnuanced Morons. He occasionally self-deprecates, but never with due precision or force. Let's just say, that what he thinks are his foibles, biases, etc. and what I think diverge greatly. In one post, he responds to the Wall Street Journal's generalized criticism of professors as,

"...narrowly educated experts" with little experience outside academia. They are "poorly equipped to help college students sort out" their lives."

Dr. Mankiw agrees and chalks it up to higher ed's preference for instructors who've done a lot of research versus those with good teaching ability. Greg loses all of his self-deprecation points with this absolutely pathetic response.

I am open to the idea that we should take a broader view in promotion and hiring than we do. I would increase the weight given to teaching relative to research. I would give some weight to life experiences outside of academia, such as working in policy jobs, writing op-eds, writing books for nonspecialists, and so on. But my perspective is a minority view in my department and, I believe, in research universities more generally.

This dolt wants more emphasis on teaching. Hey dunderhead, all the emphasis in the world isn't going to help if your teachers have no practical knowledge to impart!!!

But even worse was his suggestion to "give some weight to life experiences". Only SOME weight Greg?

How about his jarringly ignorant concept of "life experience".

Working for Big Government and writing op-eds??????!!!!!!

Only in an alternate reality is "writing op-eds" considered a life experience AND mind you it only holds SOME weight in Dr. Mankiw's utopian criteria.

I'll bet my blog readers think I've milked every ounce of inanity from this post.

Think again.

Prior to Mankiw's "some weight to life experience" post, he wrote a blog titled How to Improve Journalism. In it, he agreed with a Wall Street Journal article that deplored the quality of economics journalism. Furthermore, it blamed vapid "communications" courses, "a heavy emphasis on process and theory", and implicitly journalists' lack of specialized knowledge.

Mankiw's suggestion of course was to force more theory on the reporters - though not surprisingly, that of his own.

Here's my radical suggestion to the editors of the world: Require all your economics reporters to have an undergraduate degree in economics. And give a raise to those who spent the extra year or two getting a master's in economics as well.

Note that Greg doesn't suggest not hiring the econo-illiterates in the first place, but rather a company subsidized academic junket that just may in fact drive sales of his textbook.

Greg simply doesn't get it. An academic degree does reporters no good without real world experience. He is the trenchant case in point. He doesn't even understand the concept of a loss-leader (milk, eggs, Google's free blog hosting, etc.) A term which I first learned of over a decade ago while listening to college dropout Rush Limbaugh - an intellectual Neanderthal who unlike Dr. Mankiw, has spent zero semesters at MIT, Princeton, and Harvard. When a renowned scholar like Mankiw clearly doesn't understand basic truths about the economy, I think it's safe to indict all of academia.

There are plenty more econo-illiterate examples on his blog, including one discussion of rising healthcare costs where Mankiw doesn't even mention the albatross of Medicare's role in aggravating prices. This salient point had to be mentioned by a plebeian anonymous commenter.

It's really a quasi-blog because Mankiw hardly ever responds to crippling criticism. He only responds to fawning students who mention how much they've learned from his published textbooks. On second thought, he has responded twice to me, once indirectly when all he could muster was, "I am a bit surprised by the tone of the commentary" and another where he deleted my expressed hope that he "leaves the politics out of the classroom."

Bravo Greg. Ignore most substantive criticism, delete some, and shamelessly highlight the obsequious comments.

What politics one may ask? Well he's routinely posts about non-economic issues like the legalization of drugs, the War in Iraq, obesity, and "global warming" (click here, and here). Like I said above, he inhales the agitprop of the New York Times and like most of its readers, he likely wouldn't know what to think without it. It's simply amazing the level of groupthink produced by our supposedly "intellectually free" academics.

A most nauseating trait of Mankiw is his penchant for diplomatic intellectualism. He is more concerned with being liked (or at least not hated) by unmitigated socialists like Paul Krugman and Brad Delong than he is with the naked truth. For example, in one post of his, he takes former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich to task over an article Reich wrote on rich people and Bush's tax cuts. Though Mankiw catches Reich lying, instead of calling Reich the deliberate socialist that he is, he opts for more friendly diction.

..."facts" about the current tax law that I found so surprising...

These data (which include all federal taxes, not just income taxes) seem hard to square with Reich's second claim...

I don't know what data Reich was using when he made his claims.

If there are data backing up Reich's claims, it would be interesting to figure out why they are inconsistent with CBO data. Comments and explanations from readers are welcome.

As I said in the comment thread:


How come when you catch a lying socialist you wonder,

Why, it would be interesting to see why their thesis is inconsistent with the data

Why can't you just call a spade a spade?

How can you possibly think agitprop innocuous?

I am not holding my breath for a response. But this is what it boils down to, professors like Mankiw do in fact think socialism is innocuous, or at least they're scared of an honest treatment of it. After all, Harvard would never have hired Mankiw if they feared he might passionately propagate the truth about capitalism. Personally, as an economics professor, I would consider myself a failure if thousands of little Commi nerds left my classes with A's and B's.

Not only is there no reason to fear haughty Harvard intellectuals, in fact, there's barely a reason to respect them.

To read all of my comments posted on Mankiw's blog click here.

In particular, the comment thread on his Intellectual Property post further illustrates my overall point.


Charles Foster Kane said...

Princeton, MIT, and Harvard are examples of "tax payer funded" education?

CaptiousNut said...

Massive federally funded student loans...

What about the grants?

Economically, there's really no difference between propping up an entity directly or indirectly via customer subsidies.

The Unbeliever said...

Considering the tuition at Harvard is around $60k/yr, vs roughly $5k/yr for state universities, I'd say there's at least some difference between direct support and indirect subsidies.

CaptiousNut said...

I am not sure what's worse, your erroneous numbers or your logic.

Tax Shelter said...

I agree with you with respect to progaganda. Because the current education system is funded by the government, there is a lot of propaganda going on to advance the interest of big government. The current system is designed to brainwash the students, instead of teaching them how to think for themselves.

Macroeconomics, invented by Keyens, is a field that studies how the market should work, instead of how the market actually works. That is why Keyens went bankrupt speculating in the market; when the market went against his theories, it took all his money. How could anyone not reject macroeconomics is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Mankiw is a macroeconomist. It should be possible to add insights about business cycles without knowing how businesses price at a micro level. Don't reject all economists just because M. is respected and (possibly) unknowledgble about basic pricing practices.

You want to know if economists know how industries work, talk to people who do 'industrial economics', and not macroeconomics. Otherwise, your induction argument frankly gets quite stupid. Why not just listen to Chomsky, he is a professor, an "understand" that all science is bullshit since C. is a moron. Doesn't work that way, the world is more complicated. As Mankiw probably knows, but not you...

CaptiousNut said...

It should be possible to add insights about business cycles without knowing how businesses price at a micro level?????

Should be possible?

This is just the type of vacillating nuance that adds nothing to any discussion. And it goes hand-in-hand with,

"...you don't get it....the world is more complicated..."

Apparently the world is so complicated that substantive counter arguments can't even be articulated.

This reminds me of a recent critic of mine. He complained that my posts were too long. Yet he also categorically dismissed my posts as "over-simplifying very complicated issues".

Of course he never bothers to formalize his dissent in a written comment.

Mankiw's manifest ignorance certainly does not imply all economists are hacks. But they all don't teach at Harvard or come with the "credentials" he does.

Like I said, the guy hardly ever responds to his critics.

As for indicting all scientists....that is up next.

McLovin said...

"As for indicting all scientists....that is up next."

Yeah, I'm waiting, smart guy. Let's see what you've got.