Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stewart and the Keynesian Anti-Zugzwang.


It may be hard to believe it, but it seems I'm starting to resonate to the thought of smart and interesting people.

A few weeks ago I mentioned -- in passing -- the old titbit that Keynes' quote "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" might be apocryphal. The story involves an unnamed critic reproaching Keynes' frequent -- and often contradictory -- changes of mind. M'Lord, perhaps with some irritation, would have replied with those words.

Imagine my surprise to find that John Kay ("one of Britain's leading economists", as his personal website helpfully notes) wrote a whole post ("Keynes was Half Right about the Facts", August 4, in the website of the august Financial Times) precisely about that.

It's a curious, if confusing, short note on the relationship between Keynes, facts, evidence, information, and the conclusions people are entitled to draw from them.

After a few preliminaries, Kay writes:
"[T]here are still some who valiantly struggle to form their own opinions on the basis of evidence".
And mentions Keynes: if facts, evidence, information do change -- Kay says -- then one's conclusions and opinions must change accordingly. Keynes' intellectual honesty and magnanimity impose it. No shame it that.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

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Then, Kay adds:
"But Keynes might have done better to say: 'Even when the facts don't change, I (sometimes) change my mind.' The history of his evolving thought reveals that, with the self-confidence appropriate to his polymathic intellect, he evidently felt no shame in doing so."
Facts, evidence, information may not change -- Kay contends -- but Keynes' conclusions and opinions may still change … His self-confidence and polymathic intellect allow it. No shame in that.

Makes … sense … !? Wait a minute … Oops.

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Unfortunately, I ain't no Jon Stewart (sadly, JS won't be JS any longer, either), but I sure miss him:



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A good thing about discussing aphorisms, idioms, one-liners, proverbs, and quotes, even apocryphal ones, is that they remind you of related things.

This time, for example, I was reminded of "damned if you do, damned if you don't". You've surely heard that: roughly, what Germans mean by Zugzwang.

You saw it here first, ladies and gentlemen: the first documented instance of the Keynesian anti-Zugzwang.

Blessed be M'Lord for sticking to evidence … and for ignoring it.

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By the way, ("we can't do anything, until we know everything") I smelled something while reading this.

Following your advise, Jon, I've just said something.

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