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Losing My Temper

I should probably sleep on this post before writing it but, what the hell: it’s Friday, I’m tenured, and I haven’t yet had a drink today (which guarantees that, while I might be high on adrenaline, I’ll not be intoxicated during the composition of this post with vin).

Commenting on this post, Ronald Warrick writes:

I am growing weary of the transparently fallacious and misrepresentational attacks on Piketty (I don’t want to dislike the Koch brothers but I can’t help seeing their money behind this). Piketty is historical, not mathematical, as McCloskey accuses him. I think his book shows he understands microeconomics quite well. Just because he does not think microeconomic theory provides sufficient optimism about concentration of wealth is no reason to suppose otherwise. His survey of history, while not decisive, casts too much doubt on that insupportable optimism to be dismissed with nitpicks about a few “technical flaws”. But feel free to publish a column enlightening me how price theory guarantees Piketty is wrong. You have published some that suggest to me he might be wrong, but nothing to lead me to be as sure of that as you seem to be.

Really, Mr. Warrick? Is this the best you can come up with? An accusation that Deirdre McCloskey is a mercenary for Charles and David Koch, and perhaps that I, too, am such a hired gun?

Have you any idea who Deirdre McCloskey is? She’s been at the forefront of economic scholarship for nearly a half-century – almost all of that time as an advocate of free markets. Her advocacy came from a careful study of economic theory and economic history. She’s written countless pioneering scholarly articles, scholarly books, and best-selling textbooks (including one on intermediate microeconomic theory). Agree with her or disagree, she is known and has always been known for being an unusually strong and independent scholar. The notion that she writes what she writes because the Koch brothers pay her is beneath contempt.

You would be cheap, crude, rude, ignorant, and moronic even to insinuate such an accusation; your cheapness, crudeness, rudeness, ignorance, and moron-ness are tripled given that you made your accusation explicit.

A wise and mature person does not accuse, without firm and objective evidence, someone with a different opinion of being bought off.  Moreover, a person more intelligent than you appear to be would at least have reached for something more creative than the easy-at-hand accusation du jour that anyone who defends free markets is on the payroll of the Kochs.

You libeled one of today’s greatest and most respected living scholars. That you did so angers me; that you did so on my and Russ Roberts’s blog infuriates me. (Russ, you should know, was a student of Deirdre’s at the University of Chicago.)

You also, by the way, insult the intelligence of the Koch brothers. I do not agree with them on all matters, but I do know them well enough to testify that they are too intelligent to pay mercenaries for intellectual support, for any such ‘bought’ work would be, at best, mediocre and unpersuasive. Believe it or not, Mr. Warrick, the world has plenty of people – many of whom are able and celebrated scholars, such as Deirdre – who accept the intellectual and moral case for free markets; these people are not paid to hold such views. (Also, I add for the record, I know the Koch brothers well enough to testify that they both have a principled commitment to free markets and limited government. Their track record in defense of a free society is long and beyond question to anyone who bothers to seriously investigate it. And this commitment is of a sort that is shared widely by many people across the income spectrum; indeed, I suspect that this commitment is concentrated most heavily among members of the middle class.)

I myself – although I cannot hold a candle to Deirdre as a scholar – became an advocate of free markets when I was an 18-year-old student at Nicholls State University. Economics as taught by my professors Michelle Francois and Bill Field is what led me to that position. Or do you suppose that the Kochs were so prescient and desperate in 1977 that they funneled money to me back then in order to buy my agreement with their views and a forward contract on my intellectual output to support those views? I write what I write and say what I say because I believe it to be true and useful; no one pays me for my opinion. My opinion and scientific judgment aren’t for sale and never have been for sale. And I know Deirdre McCloskey well enough to assure you that her opinion and science are not for sale either.

As for Piketty’s microeconomics, it is indeed flawed – when it isn’t non-existent (which is most of the book). The book has several microeconomic howlers, some of which (had you bothered to read carefully) are detailed in Deirdre’s essay (the longer version of which is here). (I mention some other of these howlers here.)

That, at least, is my opinion (which I believe Deirdre shares). My opinion might be wrong; I’m confident that you disagree with it. Should I infer from your disagreement that you’re paid by George Soros to disagree? (To be clear, I in fact am confident that you are not paid by Mr. Soros for the expression of your opinion. I just wish to reveal how easy and cheap it is to issue such an accusation, one in equal parts juvenile, stupid, and scurrilous.)

So, Mr. Warrick, grow up.


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