How Giles Wilkes learned to love the economics blogosphere

This possibly gated but excellent nonetheless piece is from the FT, here is one excerpt:

A few weeks ago was typical. After some time off, my feed aggregator displayed 794 blog posts, 56 of them foolishly filed into the “must read” folder. Here lay a polemic blasting the FT for worrying about China’s debts; there a graph strewn post about US inflation expectations. Virtuoso “infovore” Tyler Cowen had dug up a fascinating passage on how China runs monetary policy. Another polymath, Brad DeLong (former Clinton staffer and tireless scourge of rightwing bunkum), had spent some minutes producing a few hundred words on “the intellectual role of the economist in public life”, throwing out references to pre-Christian philosopher Hermippos of Smyrna as a warm-up. Another writer, an anonymous retired trader with a bad back, explained how quantitative easing exposes central bankers as a bunch of bungling frauds. It felt like his fifth such post in a week.

And so on…

And yet in 10 years of trying to make sense of the economic world around me, I have found nothing as reliably good as the blogosphere.

And so on!  How can you not love an article that refers to an “omni-reading angel in the celestial library”?

There is a hat tip to Scott Sumner and a nice appreciation of Steve Randy Waldman as well.


Is Brad DeLong really a "polymath?" He seems closer to the Paul Krugman Pole of being an expert on economics, "Foundation," and Blue Oyster Cult than to the Tyler Cowen Pole of knowing something about practically everything.

I agree -- and none are polymaths, in any case. I'm not sure it's even possible for a polymath to exist anymore, unless one is willing to significantly water down the meaning of "expertise."

The Professor on Gilligan's Island was, for his time, fairly realistic, and was a polymath, and that is not so long ago.

Brad DeLong seems very ignorant when he gets onto subjects he doesn't really know. Stephen Bainbridge pointed out what nonsense DeLong wrote about corporate law, although I believe DeLong deleted Bainbridge's comments, so I guess DeLong must have been right.


Brad DeLong deletes any substantive comment that makes him look dump. Since almost any substantive comment makes DeLong look ignorant, he deletes a lot. Predictably, he deletes almost everything (useful) from his own blog. As a consequence, his blog is wasteland devoid of substance. Of late, DeLong has moved on to deleting comments over at Project Syndicate. Amazingly enough, Project Syndicate tolerates this abusive conduct on DeLong's part.

Just as predictably, Brad ignores hostile comments lacking substance. Real comments get the delete key.

The best way to understand DeLong is to look at the history of propaganda under Stalin. Opposing views must be crushed because they might undermine the status quo. Stalin knew this. So does DeLong.

That's a striking analogy. As people like Hayek and Friedman pointed out, even if a Communist government were established by saints, such a system rewards people with Stalin's characteristics, and inevitably exalts them to the highest positions. Likewise, our current academic system exalts hostile, abusive, intolerant ideologues like DeLong to positions of power and authority. That is why I mostly avoid the blogosphere; my life is too short to spend it reading people like that.


DeLong as a "polymath"? I doubt it. Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was a real polymath. DeLong doesn't measure up. Is he at the Krugman level. Perhaps. Of course, he is no danger of winning the Nobel prize (his academic work isn't that good, and the Nobel committee actually cares about that sort of thing).

DeLong is a reasonably smart guy. However, his leftism and (much worse) extreme cosmopolitanism (he boasts about it) make him a propaganda martinet, not a reliable source. To use an (obvious) analogy, Lewontin was both a Marxist and a brilliant biologist. However, when Biology and Marxism clashed, Marxism won.

In the end, that made Lewontin a fraud. Reality and DeLong have a similar relationship. When reality contradicts DeLong (as it frequently does), reality gets the delete key.

I fear I spend much too much time reading these kind of ramblings. Wonderful how they make so many interesting ideas accessible to us laymen... without requiring too much math. The comments sections are also a dangerous seduction that gives one the feeling of actually flirting with these brilliant minds without much danger of being disqualified for lacking any disciplined familiarity with the material. No bouncer kicking us riff-raff out.

As entertaining as it is to consume the immense output of so many clever folks, especially when dedicated to hot takes on the hottest of controversies, I can't help often feeling it's more like mental junk food than nutritious sustenance for real intellectual growth.

Am I the only one reminded of this "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." perhaps modernized to reflect the new electronic distribution?

So I'll not give up my "junk-food" habit, I just have to limit myself to a healthy amount of distraction while I try to get on a more disciplined and sustainable path of learning.

"while I try to get on" - good luck with your studies. I have three degrees including a doctorate. But it's true that in the blogosphere anybody can be anybody. If the mono-thematic Scott Sumner gets a 'hat tip' then either Giles Wiles can't be that bright, or, he's just catering to his priors. All of economics, our host included, is just politics under the guise of being a 'science'.

A doctorate? Elaborate.

'How can you not love an article that refers to an “omni-reading angel in the celestial library”?'

Because it is gated?

You could google a block of text from the article to get around the gate. Oh, if only someone had posted a block of the text!

Man in FT writes article sucking up to bloggers in confident expectation that he'll be widely quoted and therefore clicked upon. Golly, he lays it on with a trowel.

Though I hadn't known that Broad DeLarge was a former Clintonite; I suppose that explains his taste for censorship.


From a prior comment of mine about DeLong (with a reference to Clinton/NAFTA)...

"So why does DeLong support globalization policies that wreck the lives of tens of millions of Americans and make America a poorer, weaker, nation? He answer the question with his unabashed “cosmopolitanism”. Typical (absurd) quote from DeLong.

““The U.S. is still a ne plus ultra superpower of a relative magnitude exceeded only perhaps in the mid-nineteenth century when Britain was the only industrial nation and the sun never set on the British Empire. A hegemon of such a magnitude has a strong moral obligation to the world as a whole–and to its own long-run comfort and, indeed, survival once it ceases to be a hyperpower–to be cosmopolitan, and to look at the broad effects of its policies on the world outside its borders.””

Aside from the factual errors (China’s now has the largest economy in the world), the notion that the U.S. should sacrifice its own economy to ensure its future “survival” is crazy. America’s security has always depended on the talents of two great Admirals (Admiral Atlantic and Admiral Pacific). Add to that, the enduring charms of nuclear fusion and the basis for future American security is well defined. Destroying our own economy, to make foreigners richer, won’t garner the U.S. any admiration, respect, or appreciation 50 years from now. Contempt is a far more likely outcome and contempt is dangerous.

So why does Delong still defend the indefensible? Some obvious reasons include shame, guilt, and remorse. DeLong was one of the principal architects of NAFTA (and still tries to defend NAFTA). Anyone who advocated NAFTA has much to answer for. Rather than admitting guilt, DeLong tries buster and BS instead.

Of course, the real truth is probably much worse. Globalization is bad for America but the “cosmopolitan” thing to do. Like any good cosmopolitan anti-American, globalization is good precisely because it hurts America. He even boasts about it. Typical quote Alex Tabarrok is a rootless cosmopolitan. I am proud of him, and proud to know him.”

Of course, DeLong wants to blame it all on the Republicans. The truth is that DeLong is a card-carrying member of the “Diversity Über Alles” faction of the Democratic party who don’t care about what happens to ordinary Americans as long as the “diversity” and “tolerance” agendas move steadily forwards."


And how did you decide that anyone who defends NAFTA "has a lot to answer for"? Most studies show it a net gain for the US, if not by nearly as much as some of its advocates were promising. The nation that might have the most grounds to complain is Mexico, where growth has been weak, although the entry of China into WTO had a lot to do with that,more than NAFTA. There is strong evidence that the latter, the entry of China into WTO, hurt many in the US economy, but not NAFTA.

You have been listening to too much stupid and ill-informed propaganda, Peter.

BTW, I do not approve of Brad's propensity to delete critical remarks on his blog.


We have been debating NAFTA for ten years now (literally). The biggest downside for the USA (from NAFTA) has been the impact on immigration.

As for Mexico and China. No doubt, Mexico has suffered dearly from the rise of China. Mexico was supposed to get the cheap labor jobs exported from the USA. They went to China instead. Great for China, quite bad for Mexico.

I would be the first to agree that China/WTO has had a larger adverse impact on the USA than Mexico/NAFTA. The U.S. trade deficit with China was $367 billion (goods - 2015). The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico was $61 billion (goods - 2015).


I have referenced the following paper several times...

"The China Shock: Learning from Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade" by David H. Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson

"China’s emergence as a great economic power has induced an epochal shift in patterns of world trade. Simultaneously, it has challenged much of the received empirical wisdom about how labor markets adjust to trade shocks. Alongside the heralded consumer benefits of expanded trade are substantial adjustment costs and distributional consequences. These impacts are most visible in the local labor markets in which the industries exposed to foreign competition are concentrated. Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income. At the national level, employment has fallen in U.S. industries more exposed to import competition, as expected, but offsetting employment gains in other industries have yet to materialize. Better understanding when and where trade is costly, and how and why it may be beneficial, are key items on the research agenda for trade and labor economists. "

Brad Delong is well known for writing this slam against Hillary Clinton in 2003:

"My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly."

"Hillary Rodham Clinton has already flopped as a senior administrative official in the executive branch--the equivalent of an Undersecretary. Perhaps she will make a good senator. But there is no reason to think that she would be anything but an abysmal president"'

DeLong later recanted.

Yes, just as Rubio, Christie, Carson, Ryan, and many others have 'recanted' their views of Trump. So it goes with partisanship, the refuge of the weak-minded.

Cowen and Mark Thoma are top bananas among economics bloggers, because they read and provide the links to such a wide array of articles and essays relating to economics. I'm not sure how Cowen and Thoma do it, especially after listening to the recent podcast of David Beckworth's interview of Thoma (an excellent interview), but I'm grateful. As for DeLong, insufferable comes to mind, not so much because he is a know it all (although he is), but because he exaggerates minor differences, as if to prove that he is smarter than everybody else, even those who agree with him. I admire those who use agreement with an adversary in order to gain an advantage in a debate over their differences. But then I'm a cradle Episcopalean.

DeLong is a fraud and a flake. A smart guy, no doubt (in abstract). In real life, he can't handle even a trivial counterargument. His approach (if he can get away with it) is to delete anything that makes him look foolish. Since any substantive argument makes him look dumb, he deletes a lot.

Type "J Bradford Delete" into Google for some of his (recurring) failures. Typical comment from

"Knzn, Im appalled by DeLongs antics. AS I mentioned to you before, he did that to almost every comment I ever put there. And Ive never put any there since. Why would I? Once, I was in a debate with his readers and my comment just vanished. Thing is, I thought it was even insulting to his readers since they had all *referred* to my comment when they made theirs. It was completely shameless of him; he made no secret of deleting it. And, further, the comment was very respectful. I would never, ever, put an abusive or obscene comment anywhere. It was all the more galling since he claims his site is "fair and balanced"; and based at the home of free speech. I said this before to you, but his deletion was a signal to me that this guy was a fraud. Such hypocrisy to claim the media is biased when he himself is shamelessly so. Could you imagine if this guy was in public office?"

"So in time, his comments will be completely biased. Im disgusted with this fatuous fraud."

What most folks don't know is that DeLong is a well-known professor at Berkeley... And well-known to be the worst professor at Berkeley...Typical student quotes

“This guy is a legend at Cal...because everyone knows he's the worst prof on campus.”
“This is probably one of the worst class i took at Cal. Extremely boring, not helpful at all.”
“Stay away! DeLong is the worst professor I have had at Cal, and ruined a class I was otherwise very excited to take. He is incredibly disorganized (or just doesn't care) and yet - at the same time! - incredibly arrogant.”
“The worst of the worsts. I want to learn economics, not the history of economics. He is full of himself.”
“Professor DeLong is the worst lecturer I have ever had.”
“Stay away from this guy...Worst professor I've had at Cal so far. Extremely boring and pretentious pretty much sums him up.”

"There ought to be an ugly Germanic word for it, the anxiety at not having read enough (I like NichtLesenAngst)."

How timely. Reminds me of yesterday's post.

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