Friday, May 29, 2015

Kooks, Krusaders and …


"By the early 1930s, Keynes and his followers felt a sense of urgency, almost of desperation, to get their ideas accepted. It became the hallmark of Keynes's coterie to regard every economist outside Cambridge as mad or stupid (…) The Keynesian position -- and this partly included Keynes -- was much more peremptory: error must be extirpated to prevent catastrophe." (Robert Skidelsky, here).

French Jews executed by burning. [A]
Sometimes respondents to blog posts add valuable insight, consciously or not, to the posts they comment on.

Take, for instance, this guy's comments (let's call him X) to a recent post in Mark Thoma's blog (for obvious reasons, I will not post the relevant links).

Before proceeding, let me be clear about my opinion on X: he seems to be intelligent, articulate, and educated; he is a believer in some kind of Keynesian economics; he is passionate, and probably sincere in his leftish beliefs (including his gut-level hatred towards Marxism and Marxists); the other side of that passion/sincerity coin is X's intolerance and zealotry -- extending well beyond Marxism -- which make him very vocal.

Readers, even if they have never crossed paths with X, may know the type (here is my  fictional Klose Encounter of the Third Kind with one such character).

Thoma's original post appeared at 12:24 AM (his local time), a few days ago. Including title and date, it contains exactly 250 words, mostly from a long quote to an external article by another author. As is well-known, Thoma not only writes his own posts, but also refers his readers to others' writings. X's contributions were added to one such post.

X's first comment appeared at 05:02 AM; his last, at 02:58 PM, the same day: X devoted, at least partially, eight hours to evangelising the heathens.

The table below sums up the reaction that post generated (as of May 24, 07:59AM, AEST) and X's part of it and suggest a measure of X's personal involvement:

       Comments    %   |  Words    %
-------------------------------------
X          14      11  |  2,632    30
Total     126     100  |  8,945   100

Note: "Words" include automatically generated text: time
stamp, headings (A "said in reply to" B).

X's response alone represented 11 times Thoma's literary stimulus (250 words). That's what I call a Keynesian multiplier!

Beyond the funny side, that's telling, isn't it?

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X's case offers insight in a more sobering way.

Prompted by a comment, in one of his interventions (an 802-word long comment that could qualify as a blog post in its own right) X offers a good summary of Keynes' thought and some of the reasons why "Austerians" oppose it.

He starts:
"Let's not be naive about all this. Conservatives regarded Keynesian economics as a socialist Trojan horse being wheeled into the academy by the reds in Cambridge, England (…) And the rich and privileged saw Keynesian economics as a direct attack on their personal bank accounts."
Then, X gives a brief but intelligent overview of Keynes' argument, at least as seen by X. For brevity's sake, I'll omit it here entirely.

X (remember: himself a leftist of sorts) adds:
"Keynes was rhetorically deft at softening the blow of his radical proposals by considering them as a more conservative alternative to full-blown socialism".
After a long quote from the Master, X concludes:
"Because the global context in which Keynes was writing was one in which there was a politically powerful state socialist alternative to his left, Keynes was able to present his more moderately semi-socialist position as 'moderately conservative'. But of course, this rhetoric was not likely to be compelling to the banking and financial class, the rentier class and other high-flying capitalist entrepreneurs and industrial barons (…)."
It's not the first time I hear that. Frankly, I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it, now. But, for the sake of the argument, let's assume X's views: Keynes was selling his actually "semi-socialist position" as "moderately conservative" to "the rich and privileged" to cajole them into the Diet Coke of socialism.

Can you blame them for refusing that?

I, however, suspect X -- giving him the benefit of the doubt -- is innocently selling Keynes' actually "semi-conservative" position as "moderately socialist" to the working people, to cajole us into accepting something capitalists did not (and never will) accept: at best, futile, at worst, suicidal.

Can you blame us for refusing that?

And that's the thing with X: in his argument there is no reference whatsoever to the invisible working people; apparently he assumes we must accept his Revelation -- actually, his version of his Lord's Gospel -- in blind faith. When we don't, his wrath and that of The Lord befalls upon us.


(From Verdi's "Messa da Requiem", conductor Claudio Vandelli, New Russia State Symphony Orchestra)

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To put X in perspective. He may be annoying, fanatical, and ultimately irrational, but at least he is literate. How much worse are those who pontificate with the same feverish zeal, but with no knowledge?

Incidentally, now it's Prof. David Ruccio's turn to endure one such missionary. Looking at the bright side, at least one thing is appropriate: this person's nom-de-guerre is CardiffKook.

Priceless! See now how you can gain insight from your commenters?


Update:
31/05/2015. Added the video.

Image Credits:
[A] "French Jews are being executed by burning" (c. 1410). Author: Unknown. This image is in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

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