Or if not an ivory tower, at least an unawareness -- or unwillingness -- on the part of too many smart people to acknowledge the existence of a gutter, and from time to time, to be willing to wallow in it a bit, to see what's really flowing on down there.
Michael Tomasky blogs about a column by the Financial Times's Martin Wolf, in a post titled "If FDR had been elected in 1930." Wolf, like Paul Krugman and distressingly few others, thinks the real problem with the economy is that the stimulus package put together in early 2009 was not big enough. And of course, Wolf, like distressingly too many others, believes this is entirely #obamasfault.
Here's a nice bit: It's so good I now blockquote at length.
But the column completely ignores the fact that there's this thing called Congress. There was simply no way to get a $1 trillion-plus stimulus bill through Congress.
This is a big problem with a lot of economics writing, and a lot of social scientific writing on politics in general: it takes no account of politics. Paul Krugman, in one of his recent books, explained that he spent years ignoring politics because he figured that the political system was basically sort of corrupt and filled with second-raters, but that when politicians were met with empirical economic evidence that said "do X," they by and large accepted it and went out and did X.
He was very slow to learn, in the age of modern conservatism, that empirical evidence isn't worth a postage stamp. And so he recalibrated his polemics accordingly.
Similarly, there was a big book a couple of years ago by a political scientist named Larry Bartels, Unequal Democracy. He showed that growth has been greater under Democratic presidents than Republican ones since World War II. And he did it in an empirical way that (I presume) satisfied the peer-reviewish demands of his trade.
But Bartels too basically acknowledged in his book: I didn't used to think politics was such a big deal. Or he used to think pols were basically rational actors. In other words it took these social scientists a long time to cotton on to something that was obvious to a lot of us who cover politics, which is that while one side may occasionally play fast and loose with numbers to serve its agenda, we had another side that was just making stuff up all time.
So I don't understand how Wolf can write a column like that and not place the blame for the size of the stimulus where it belongs. And maybe he thinks Obama is a failure now, and that's his right. But what kind of failure would Obama have been if he'd tried to pass a $1.3 trillion stimulus and failed, as he almost surely would have, and we'd had nothing, and today faced unemployment of 15%, while Obama would have been tarred just one month into office as "too far left" for even his own party?
Say it again, and this time in boldface, because these truths needs to be shouted:
He was very slow to learn, in the age of modern conservatism, that empirical evidence isn't worth a postage stamp.
In other words it took these social scientists a long time to cotton on to something that was obvious to a lot of us who cover politics, which is that while one side may occasionally play fast and loose with numbers to serve its agenda, we had another side that was just making stuff up all time.