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Dunno whether this is a fair review but it could well be

Had quite a lot of interaction with Delong over the years and some of it entirely delightful, even enlightening. This though has tended to be on interesting technical points – are we measuring the consumer surplus correctly? (Answer, no) – than in areas that might have more political application. There there can be a reversion to a certain partisanship of viewpoint. To be mild about matters.

Could Keynes have saved us from economic disaster? Don’t count on it

2/5
J Bradford DeLong’s new book Slouching Towards Utopia is an impassioned defence of Keynesian theory – but he’s too blinkered to other views

Could be, could be.

History gets rewritten by its winners, they say, but not if J Bradford DeLong has anything to do with it. In Slouching Towards Utopia, the Berkeley economics professor is determined to take a victory lap for the failed interventionism of Keynesian economics. The book’s argument, made at length, boils down to: “if only you’d listened to the Keynesians, you’d have heaven on earth by now”. DeLong’s grand narrative is one long attempt to draw a line under the past, assign all its failings to the free market tradition, and claim the future for big state spenders.

This also makes a lot of sense. There’s – in one sense at least – a rather Whiggish view of history here. If history is that sweep to ever greater perfection, and we’re here top of the tree right now, then therefore having us top of the heap is greater perfection, right?

And perhaps DeLong is right, at least that there’s a market for such high-toned sneering. The last few decades have seen the rise of what Thomas Piketty, one of DeLong’s boosters, calls the Brahmin Left. This highly-educated class prefers a statist stability which protects its own privilege over the disruptive energies and unpredictable opportunities of the open market. It looks down on anyone who thinks differently, as over Brexit. And it increasingly occupies every major position of institutional power that isn’t subject to a vote. Our technocratic elite may well be keen to swallow DeLong’s partial analysis whole. To judge from some of the high-flown names quoted on the back, that process may have already begun.

13 thoughts on “Dunno whether this is a fair review but it could well be”

  1. “There’s – in one sense at least – a rather Whiggish view of history here. If history is that sweep to ever greater perfection, and we’re here top of the tree right now, then therefore having us top of the heap is greater perfection, right?”

    Yes. And that greater perfection is because markets just work better, even with a thumb on the scale of government preferring something else. We constantly privatise. And I don’t mean like what Mrs Thatch did, but in how we stop using what the state provides and use a private thing instead that solves the problem.

    Compare something like the BBC with YouTube. The BBC absolutely spunks money on making programmes. In London, with an army of people. And what they make isn’t very good. YouTube is various teams of handfuls of blokes making stuff that costs sod all and gets the views.

    Or rail with cars. Rail gets loadsamoney thrown at it, but it’s still as shit as it was 40 years ago. Compare that with cars. How great a modern Honda Civic is compared with a 1980s Ford Escort. If you want to know which is more reliable, cheaper, more flexible it’s the car.

    Like I think that even if we don’t privatise the NHS, privatisation will come to it.

  2. My father explained to me what he understood about Keynesian economics when I was fourteen or fifteen.
    It seemed to turn on fooling businessmen into investing by artificially stimulating demand, with a view to reversing the process if too much inflation appeared. He opined that politicians would be loath to reverse the process.

    Apart from that, I asked, how could Keynesianism work twice? Wouldn’t people learn from being fooled?

    He agreed: he’d never understood how it could work repeatedly. I still have never heard a persuasive answer. Mind you, it may not have helped that the two Keynesian economists I’ve quizzed on the subject didn’t seem very bright, or very well read, to me. Is that common experience? Maybe people my age took economics degrees because they weren’t good enough at maths to study physics or engineering.

    Whatever you think of old Maynard he was undoubtedly a very bright fellow. How did he miss the point? Or did he dismiss it as being a problem only in the long run?

    And another thing: the expression “Keynesian economist” is striking. Nobody talks about being a Newtonian physicist, or Maxwellian, Planckian or Einsteinian physicist. Is this simply a sign of economics, or at least macroeconomics, being a dogmatical rather than an empirical discipline?

  3. dearieme

    “Is this simply a sign of economics, or at least macroeconomics, being a dogmatical rather than an empirical discipline?”

    I think it’s the sign of an area of interest dominated by extremely noisy low-quality data whose interpretation is always contaminated by politics and incompetents.

    But that’s because I feel optimistic today

  4. Since we got our new Sky box we can watch You Tube on our telly. My daughter, living with us temporarily, likes this woman who is an expert on period costumes. She analyses period dramas and gives a verdict on how well they got the costumes right. I think that her shows are compelling because she is not only incredibly knowledgeable but also really passionate about her subject. I can’t remember when I last watched something on the BBC, probably some athletics.

  5. “Like I think that even if we don’t privatise the NHS, privatisation will come to it.”

    This is already happening. I’ve read a couple of bloggers who have talked about going private. These are not rich people, they are people with a bit of money put by who have been let down by the NHS.

  6. Dennis, Inconveniently Noting Reality

    To the extent Brad DeLong is known at all, it is for being Renfield to Paul Krugman’s Dracula. Not much of a legacy in that, is there?

    And like Krugman, he’s the sort of guy who will offer all sorts of criticism as he watches you build a fence, and when you ask him to help with that fence the right way, he then says he can’t… Because he’s never learned to use a hammer.

  7. Dennis, He Who Has A Degree In Economics

    DeLong’s grand narrative is one long attempt to draw a line under the past, assign all its failings to the free market tradition, and claim the future for big state spenders.

    Repackaged Lester Thurow. How original.

    Note that Keynesians are just like Communists, in that they always wave off the myriad failings of their faith by claiming “real” Keynesian Economics, like “real” Communism, has never actually been tried.

    And of course, it never dawns on these people why the “real” thing they are advocating never happens.

    DeLong is just another over-educated, self-satisfied wanker who’s never actually done anything.

  8. Well, Marc Sidwell is thoroughly sound on all the issues, so I’d say it was a fair (and fairly scathing) review…

    DK

  9. Dearieme: “Maybe people my age took economics degrees because they weren’t good enough at maths to study physics or engineering.”

    Different kind of math, requiring different thought processes. Calculus and statistics are two completely different disciplines with each their own pitfalls..
    Any proper scientist needs proficiency in, and awareness of, the pitfalls of both. ( plus nowadays at least basic proficiency in Quantum/Fuzzy math.)

    Economists…. not so much.
    Except for a tiny fraction of mathematicians who study economics as a model. But they generally lack the …political and social skills you need to become a “proper” Academic..

  10. “There are now a record 544,316 pupils at 1,388 ISC member schools”
    Their records go back to 1974 so may not actually be a true all time high, but I think the excellent chap on the M4 has this right.
    The private education service is growing slowly. It is worth it if you can afford.
    Public libraries (the non-academic ones) barely attract any footfall apart from tramps and child care providers.
    Over time health care (A&E excepted) will go the same way.

  11. Bongo,

    Libraries are a very good example. Books became so cheap that libraries are not worth it in some places.

    I’m never sure about schools as a market. My view on private schools is that the results are mostly correlation, that if you get smart kids in, you get good results (this also applies to many “good” state schools).

  12. And another thing: the expression “Keynesian economist” is striking. Nobody talks about being a Newtonian physicist, or Maxwellian, Planckian or Einsteinian physicist. Is this simply a sign of economics, or at least macroeconomics, being a dogmatical rather than an empirical discipline?

    See also Jungian, Freudian etc etc psychologists.

  13. Shouldn’t you find out if it is fair or not before you… blather?

    My response Letter to the Editor of the Telegraph:

    > Dear Mesdames and Sirs—

    > I read in the “Telegraph” of September 14, 2022 a review of my book “Slouching Towards Utopia” that begins: “The Berkeley economics professor is determined to take a victory lap for the failed interventionism of Keynesian economics… draw a line under the past, assign all its failings to the free market tradition, and claim the future for big state spenders…”

    > However, in the book I do write, about post-WWII Keynesian social democracy: “That institutional setup failed its own sustainability test. And so we are still on the path [to finding the right institutions], not at its end. And we are still, at best, slouching toward utopia…”

    > On page 7.

    > I understand your difficulty in finding someone to review a 600-page book that even my friends call “sprawling”.

    > But, really, page 7? Page 7?

    > I really think you can do better in the future.

    > Yours, Brad DeLong :: 2828 Webster St. :: Berkeley, CA 94705 :: USA

    You can do better too. I am disappointed.

    Brad

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