The Corner

Reader’s Speak

Reader e-mail round-up:

[On economics]

“All comparative advantage says is that a nation of ignorant couch potatoes

that trades with India will be better off than a nation of ignorant couch

potatoes that refuses to trade. That doesn’t mean a nation of ignorant

couch potatoes isn’t heading for trouble – just that free trade isn’t the

problem.”

[Same topic, another reader]

“I am not an economist and can’t judge any better than you the argument

between Kling and Paul Craig Roberts. Nevertheless, I would go with Kling.

In my experience, when you have one person saying that some phenomenon is

causing everything to go to hell and the other person saying no it’s not,

the second person is invariably right. Every prediction of disaster that I

have heard for the past 35 years — since I have begun noticing such

things — has been wrong. Well, the Episcopal Church might be one

exception. But aside from that….”

[Same topic, a terrifically well-credentialed reader]

“Kling is dead on. It is simply impossible not to have a comparative

advantage in something. Anyone who talks about losing comparative

advantage in everything (which is said all the time) is simply throwing

around a term he doesn’t understand. Kling is a little imprecise about one

thing. Trade can cause losers, it’s just that the gains of the winners,

country by country, offset the losses of the losers. If America can

outsource Hindi to English translation to India, then American Hindi

speakers will lose, since they no longer have such a rare skill. But the

amount that American translation buyers gain will be more than the American

translators will lose. Back to ‘Whom should the non-expert believe?’ My

answer: Non-academic economists are almost without exception complete

hacks. … Kling seems to be the only exception I can think of. By

non-academic, I mean anyone not currently an economics professor. (I

understand that includes myself, but my job is an exceptional oasis for a

researcher). Having a Ph.D. seems necessary but not sufficient. A basic

fact, again almost without exception, is that Ph.D graduates who take

non-academic jobs do so for the simple reason that they can’t get an

academic position. Further, those who start with academic positions but

leave almost always do so because they fail to get tenure at their first

institution, nor any other academic institution lower in the pecking order.

So the ‘business economists’ and political type economists (like Arthur

Laffer and Paul Craig Roberts) and so forth out there are the flunkies.”

[I sent the following reply to that last guy]

“Hold on… I used to work for First Boston, which had an Economics

department headed by a very charming gent with a Polish name I can’t

remember. He always sounded to me absolutely brilliant. Much more to the

(economic) point, the firm paid him a ton of money for his opinions — much

more, I am sure, than any academic ever got paid. I note also that our own

Larry Kudlow, a non-academic business economist, is rich beyond the dreams

of avarice. So… is this an exceptionally inefficient market? Or what?”

[On America’s wonderful universities]

“It may very well be that American higher education is the envy of the

world, but I view it as a Trojan Horse. It is all well and good that we have

the finest science and engineering faculties but we also have the social

sciences and the humanities, the latter being nothing more than left wing

madrassahs.”

[Same topic, another reader]

“I am doing my PhD in Political Science at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in

Barcelona. The Spanish government (which, in my opinion, is totally

under-rated for many reasons and in many ways) explicity formed a top-tier

university in Madrid to be free from the stultifying traditions at

traditional universities. Catalonia, which fancies itself its own country,

demanded one of their own: the result, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. It

seems to be working despite some kinks.

“The teaching at the PhD level at the UPF is outstanding. We have visiting

professors from Notre Dame, Univ. of Chicago, MIT, etc., as well as very,

very solid professors here in Barcelona that are from all over Europe. The

department is small which means that the options are limited, but if you are

doing political theory or comparative, you’re in the right spot. There are

some complaints about funding for PhD students but, admittedly, the tuition

for the unfunded is really pretty low.

“Even better, we are blessedly free of politically correct nonsense. No

lesbian studies; no queer theory; no womyn’s issues. In my Theories of

Demomcracy class we are spending three sessions on Greek thought (we read

Thucydides today); in my economic sociology class we are marinating in Weber

and Durkheim; for my federalism class, we are read Elazar (Jewish, and a

teacher at Temple and somewhere in Jersualem). There is a refreshing rigor

and lack of sentimentality over here that is bracing like a just too cold

breeze.”