The website Zero Hedge recently directed its readers to an “excellent interview” in which the investor and commentator Jim Rogers declared that “we are all going to pay a terrible price for all this money printing and debt.”
I ask the obvious question: How long has Mr. Rogers been predicting a printing-press-and-deficits disaster?
The answer is a very, very long time. In October 2008 – six full years ago – he went on CNBC and declared that we were setting the stage for a “massive inflation holocaust.”
Now, you might have thought that after years of being completely wrong, one of two things would happen: 1. Mr. Rogers would question his own premises; or 2. People would stop taking his views on macroeconomics seriously.
His views haven’t changed (and given what we’ve seen from others with similar ideas, Mr. Rogers would likely deny that anything was amiss with his predictions). And yet the financial media still treat him as a source of deep wisdom.
The ability of inflation “derp” – or a determined belief in some economic doctrine that is completely unmovable by evidence – to persist, and even flourish, in an age of disinflation remains remarkable.
The Civility Whine
At this point in the great inflation-deflation debate, a lot of what the inflationistas have to say takes the form of whining about the rudeness of their critics – of course, me in particular. I would say that all this whining is a de facto confession that they’ve run out of substantive defenses for their positions – although I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I?
But there’s something else you should know: The inflation “derpers” aren’t just ignorant about monetary policy, they also don’t understand the rules of argument. In particular, the constant complaints about “ad hominem” attacks show that they don’t know what that actually means.
I think Wikipedia’s definition is pretty good: An ad hominem is “a form of criticism directed at something about the person one is criticizing, rather than something (potentially, at least) independent of that person.”
So if, for example, somebody discussing my views on monetary policy refers to me as “Enron consultant Paul Krugman,” that’s ad hominem. But if I say, as I did in a recent post, that inflationistas have been “bobbing and weaving, refusing to acknowledge having said what they said, being completely unwilling to admit mistakes,” that’s really not ad hominem. I’m attacking how these people argue, not their personal attributes.
What about the lexicon we’ve developed over the course of the past few years – “zombies,” “cockroaches,” “confidence fairies,” “derp”? These are all terms directed at arguments, not people. No, I didn’t call European Commissioner Olli Rehn a cockroach in a 2013 post, just his historically ignorant assertion that John Maynard Keynes wouldn’t have called for fiscal stimulus in the face of high debt.
The point is that at no point, as far as I know, have I relied on personal attacks as a substitute for substantive argument. I never accuse someone of practicing derp without showing that he is, indeed, practicing derp.
Still, why use such colorful language? To get people’s attention, of course, and to highlight the sheer scale of the folly. And it’s working, isn’t it?
Now, the people who make zombie arguments and engage in derp feel deeply insulted by all of this. But if you’re going to engage in public debate, with very real policy concerns that affect the lives of millions, you are not entitled to have your arguments treated with respect unless they deserve it.
One more thing: I don’t think that the derp brigade understands what it means to argue from authority. When I say that you shouldn’t opine on monetary policy unless you’re willing to invest some time on understanding the monetary debate, I am saying exactly that.
I’m not saying that you need a doctorate. I’m saying that you need to do your homework.