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Is Wonk-Snark the New Genre? Unkind Thoughts About Ezra Klein

I guess Ezra Klein's latest column - post? - whatever, wherein he deems himself up to taking on Greg Mankiw, is the right time for a question that has popped up whenever I have considered the trajectory of young Ezra.

Would Klein be a better writer/thinker/pundit/blogger/wonk/whatever if he had actually done some of the "reporting" stuff, factual reporting stuff, basic beat reporting stuff, that, as I sort of remember, was how in the old days of journalism, one clawed one's way up to the lofty heights that Klein has scaled in a couple of years of pure opinionating? Was there some value to having to labor, so to speak, in the plains of fact-gathering before getting a perch to express one's many views?

Klein's career has consisted entirely, so far as I can tell, of delivering himself of many opinions. In an age in which (a) the front pages of newspapers increasingly consist of precisely that and (b) the internet emerged as a forum for disseminating oneself individually and one's opinions as a career option, he has Done Well. Or as well as one can do by shoehorning oneself on the strength of one's own internet brand into the ... money-losing, dinosaur-media, Kaplan-supported Washington Post. I imagine Klein will milk it until that franchise is no longer valuable enough and then move on to colonize some other medium - I see forms of communication that require less writing and more talking, more visual stuff, in his future. Or wherever the money is in offering opinions. My suggestion? Subcontract the book; you're more a short-form kind of writer.

But I find it hard to believe that his older journalistic peers at the Post and in the profession do not think privately to themselves that, although his political progressivism makes him not really attackable, just as a career figure, they must think to themselves that he might be improved had he done something besides go directly from junior high school to internet "public policy" columnist. He and I both graduated from UCLA - I didn't know they had a major in pontification. Do they hand out diplomas from the college of "Generic Expert"? B.E., Bachelor of Expert degrees?

It is, of course, not outside the realm of possibility that Ezra, Young Turk, is possessed of a keener analytic mind than Greg Mankiw; I'm not opining here on substance, but only on the seemliness of career track. It's the realm of possibility, however, in which Spock has a goatee.

The problem, however, is that his is a career track that thrives on high level, refined, abstract bickering among experts and talking heads. Pick a fight with Greg Mankiw and hope that he responds so that you can show your general worldly relevance and audience connection. That's the currency you're selling to the WaPo, at the end of the day, the heat, not the light. Including the snidification I'm producing here - how do we put it on the internet, "Don't feed the trolls"?

Ezra Klein could, I emphasize, be right as to the substance of every position he takes. That's not what fascinates me about him. It's instead the business model from which he springs, full grown, as it were, skipping over working in and thereby learning something directly about the world in its myriad ways, and going directly to opining about it. And free of any disciplinary restraint, unless one really thinks of generic "policy" as a discipline or a constraint.

Update: I woke up this morning and looked back over what I wrote last night, and do have some regrets. Sorry, too many muscle relaxants also relaxed the social inhibition centers of the brain. But far from a complete sense of regret, I'm afraid ... further thoughts, on my own post.

First, did I violate my own post Against Snark? Partly, but partly not. The problem is, how do you address Ezra Klein's offering? It starts out, note, with a title "The Unbearable Lightness of Greg Mankiw." Greg Mankiw is many things, but "light" is not one of them, and it is an appellation one might conceivably conclude applies to Klein, which is a big chunk of what my post is about. Not about Klein's argument, but about the tone of his way of talking, and wondering whether the lack of factual journalism experience - to which one might add, the lack of experience in anything except expressing opinion - might plausibly be thought to be part of the reason.

Consider not just the title, but the opening - an email from a friend who says he's about to have Professor Mankiw in class, and wondering if he should take the good professor seriously. So. Klein cites a friend thereby showing his connection to elite, only to turn around and out-elite them by trashing them. I'm sorry, but this is smarmy, and to say so is not snark. It is a comment on style and good taste; Klein's opening shows neither, but for quite interesting reasons. Avoiding snark does not mean always limiting oneself to talking about sense, and never about sensibility; it is Klein's sensibility that I find objectionable here.

My interest in it is that the Washington Post has thought that it should pay good money to acquire the style, the blogger, and his audience. That includes the smarminess, and quite possibly a premium for it. This is not the usual method for a traditional newspaper, although it is one papers have been experimenting with - and it goes back a ways, to include pre-web writers like Will. That is, traditionally, you promoted some reporter within the newspaper to the ranks of op ed columnist - he or she was respected within the newspaper and its readership, and presumably brought that credibility and audience.

The new model that Klein represents - Douthat and others to some degree as well; it's not a liberal versus conservative thing - is a change on the business model. The opinionator as free agent on the web. Klein has developed an audience independently via the web, one that presumably appreciates his brand of mixed information, analysis, and sparky controversy to give it emotional appeal to particular audiences (yes of course, one can find this on the right, or analogues, in talk radio, for example). The sparky controversy involves attacking some figure in order to generate a little buzz; in this case, a respected establishment figure like Mankiw, but smarmily intertwined with various indirect ways of showing that one is also part of the elites that he represents.

So Klein has nurtured and developed this audience as a web entrepreneur - and apparently it is thought valuable enough that the Post decides it should buy the franchise and, by extension, the audience. My non-snarky point is that this is a new and different business model, and one with potentially sizable consequences for the Post as a news organization. And if I were a reporter from the old school, I might have questions about whether the lack of experience was made up for by the dedication in developing a saleable franchise.

(Re experience. I also wonder, by the way, if Larry Summers would not be a better policy maker, as distinguished from brilliant economist, had he not been the youngest tenured Harvard faculty member, and instead had gone and done some things in the real world first and then done economics second. I don't know enough about Mankiw's background to know if I'd think that about him as well, but I'm nearly through reading Justin Fox's excellent The Myth of the Efficient Market, and the sense of the individual economists involved leaves one with an unsettling sense of otherworldliness that could not be said of people such as Peter Bernstein, Henry Kaufman, George Soros, and others who, whatever their political and policy views, never saw the enterprise as being like string theory. If academic economics were imagined a bit less on the model of math and physics, in which you leave your mark young and in the purely abstract and abstruse, and a bit more on the model of practical wisdom, policy - as distinguished from the pure discipline of economics - might benefit. In a different way, that applies to policy entrepreneurs like Ezra Klein. You don't have to be old or middle aged - but some experience of the world, in something, somewhere, might have certain virtues.)

Second, then, the nature of some issues worth examining is that they do require examining the individual - in this case his style of journalism and the business model it implies. It's not about the arguments as such in any individual case, it's about the model that underlies it. Sensibility, and not merely sense, is worth examining. To examine it is not automatically to descend into snark, though I grant some of what I said above probably does.

Third, a number of commentators ask what makes that different from Anderson opining here at VC on, well, anything Anderson wants. Fair question. But last I looked no one was paying me anything here - this is a pure hobby, and Beloved as Our Commentators Are, I don't think of you as a saleable part of the Anderson franchise. If blogging at VC somehow furthers my academic career, such as it is, no one has told me about it. If I were getting paid money for this, I would go about things really, really differently. Expertise has its problems, and political rule by economic experts has many problems, but lack of expertise is also a problem.

What the Washington Post has paid for is not expertise - maybe it got it with Klein, but maybe not - point being that it bought it not for the expertise, but for the buzz, the audience. In that sense - and yes, this will sound rude - within the Post's business model, how it sees the Klein franchise, well, I'd suggest it sees him less as an op-ed columnist than as Robin Givens, as part of the Style section. It sees him as a political tastemaker with a new, web-based audience that the Post would like to purchase, but as far as content goes, it is about generating the little bits of controversy that someone like Givens generates when she opines on the dress styles of rich and famous women. If that sounds mean, well, think about it as a pure business transaction - content-free - on the part of both Klein and the Post, and tell me if there isn't at least a grain of truth to it.

I realize that sounds rude and snarky, and I suppose it it. The problem is, one of my General Interests is media business models, and very often that requires consideration of the model quite in the absence of the substance that it embodies. It is possible to appreciate and evaluate the free cash flow that Ezra Klein's ruminations presumably generate for the Post without consideration of their content, and I imagine that's exactly what someone on the business side of the Post did. Or at least, were I a WP shareholder, I hope someone did.

Apologies, then, to Mr. Klein insofar as I stepped over bounds of good taste. But I didn't think his WP column was in such great taste, either, and he and the Post, unlike what's said here, are making money off it, and sometimes understanding the underlying business model requires looking not at the arguments, but the position of the person making them.

Final update: I don't quite understand why so few commenters seem interested in addressing what I thought was the more interesting part of the discussion - what is the business model that the WP is pursuing here? I would have thought that the WP's media strategy here is the more interesting part of this. Someone want to tell me what the Post's strategy is? I've suggested that there's a new kind of dynamic here, of web policy entrepreneur developing a web-based community of readers, and then selling it to an established media outlet. That seems pretty interesting as a strategy for the entrepreneur and the media company.

Mike& (mail):
Klein's posts have always read like a smart undergraudate discussion of issues.

Who cannot remember, as a college student, having the nature-nurture debate? Is there a "human nature"? A personalities the result of nature or nurture?

We'd have great discussions on these issues. There was a problem: None of us were personality psychologists. None of us were biologists.

None of us had any advanced understanding or education on the issues. That didn't stop up from coming up with passionate arguments. We really thought we had a clue. We'd fight like heck over that stuff.

Looking back, you realize how presumptuous it all was.

Klein is a lot like an undergrad. Klein's not an expert on anything. But he's smart enough to come up with something that sounds plausible. And he lacks the self-awareness (or maybe not?) to realize what he's ignorant of.
7.21.2009 11:34pm
geokstr (mail):

Klein's career has consisted entirely, so far as I can tell, of delivering himself of many opinions.

So what's the big deal? You can get a lot higher than that these days with a career that consists entirely, as far as I can tell, of delivering yourself of many teleprompter readings.
7.21.2009 11:34pm
Mike& (mail):
The first comment to Klein's post sums it up: "Ezra, all of the stuff you mentioned may decrease costs somewhat. But it's all speculative."

That's what I'd say to my undergraduate self. You have no empirical understanding of issues. You have no actual proof. You just have back-of-the-envelope arguments and a prior assumptions.

That isn't how serious people discuss serious issues.
7.21.2009 11:37pm
Calderon:
On the substance of his post against Mankiw, I find it strange and even stranger that other progressive sites are hailing it as some kind of takedown of Mankiw. So far as I can tell, Mankiw is relying on CBO data (or at least Marron who Mankiw is citing to relies on Marron data) and Klein admits all the cost savings he cites are "speculative." Is Klein saying that the CBO should have given more weight to the ideas he cites, or what? There's nothing in his post I can see that questions the CBO cost figures; he just points to some speculative potential cost savings. Klein's post seems completely insubstantial.

With that out of the way and on to the actual post, I think journalism is the wrong realm in which to under Klein, Yglesias, etc. Instead, I think their career paths / disciplines more closely resemble those of academics; though admittedly derivative academics. They've read a bunch of theories/frameworks, and they apply those theories and frameworks to public issues without doing their own research or coming up with original frameworks.

Admittedly, that still leaves the questions of why newspapers are hiring such public academics now. I'm guessing they're trying to offer something that doesn't work well on TV news stations like CNN, etc., which are moderate length analyses of issues. It sure seems like good work if you can get it.
7.21.2009 11:41pm
Desiderius (mail):
"Admittedly, that still leaves the questions of why newspapers are hiring such public academics now."

The Codger Boom customer base loves hearing youthful, edgy people (or people whom they so perceive to be) agree with them, and they have the money to pay for what they love. Klein, Yglesias, et. al. are in the realm of P.T. Barnum.
7.21.2009 11:48pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Shorter Kenneth Anderson: You kids better get off my lawn!!
7.21.2009 11:48pm
ox (mail):
Whatever you think about the substance of Klein's views, this post is unseemly. It's surprising to see this kind of blatant personal attack on this blog.
7.21.2009 11:50pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Also, this line by Prof. Anderson is laughably funny -- "although his political progressivism makes him not really attackable." The Washington Post is such a bastion of leftism that no one would dare attack a "progressive"! What a Joke!
7.21.2009 11:51pm
BRM:
Is Ross Douthat any better?
7.22.2009 12:03am
ox (mail):
After re-reading this post, I'm really surprised the other Conspirators tolerate it. I can't remember a post on VC that was this self-damaging. Professor Anderson should withdraw it.
7.22.2009 12:08am
MarkField (mail):
What beat reporting did George Will do? What fact gathering has Bill Kristol ever done?* Was Bill Buckley a beat reporter? Walter Lippman?

While I don't think people should comment outside their areas of expertise, it's pretty silly to claim that Klein should have to go through an apprenticeship as a beat reporter. Whatever benefits that might bring, it wouldn't make him as knowledgeable as Mankiw on economics.

The real heart of the issue here is expertise -- Mankiw has it, Klein doesn't. If you wanted to make a serious post, instead of just an insult, you might have explored the extent to which some people feel free to comment on the internet outside their areas of expertise. And by "some people", I mean pretty much all of us.

*Pulling them out of his ass doesn't count.
7.22.2009 12:09am
loki13 (mail):
I think that Kenneth Anderson is on to something in his post.

There's a huge difference between a dose of healthy skepticism, and the elevation of the non-expert. Allow me to explain-

There's something a little dangerous with the unthinking acceptance of expert opinion. Perhaps we went overboard in this direction in the 1950s and early 1960s, when "the people" did what "the experts" told them was good for them. Of course, the experts weren't always right. It always pay to use your own mind, and to evaluate any claim skeptically.

Unfortunately, today, we have swung too far in the opposite direction. Now, if anything, being an expert (trained in your field) seems to lend no more credence to an argument than, well, the ability to type out a comment on some blog on these here intertubez. And I don't think that's a good thing. A little skepticism is good. Too much skepticism is madness. The world is increasingly complex; the study of some fields takes years (sometimes over a decade) to get mastery of, and while we don't have to accept an expert's opinion as the truth, we should at least give it some deference.

To give you an easy example- I have some knowledge about the law. But if I have a heart problem, I'll go see an MD that knows a little about cardio issues. I might do some independent research (verify that he is a good doctor through friends, for example) and I might, if I don't like his opinion (think of this as a normative outcome) get a second opinion, but I won't waste my time on teh googlez searching for "heart problems" so I can try and outfox him. Seems silly, doesn't it?

I see the same thing on these threads. There might be a post about alternative energy sources. A commenter comes on who makes reasonable comments and clearly works in the utility industry. Instead of trying to learn a little about the current abilities of alternative energy sources, other commenter immediately went on the attack about all sorts of bizarre issues. Why?

Because facts and expertise don't matter. In today's world, what a Mankiw (or a DeLong, or Krugman, from the other side) say doesn't matter. If they are ideologically opposed to you, you simply attack. If they aren't, you simply agree. And this is further confused by the malleable nature of expert opinions today and the need for balance- no matter matter what, you can always find one "expert" who will agree with you. Right now, I am sure I could find one expert who would opine that it is, in fact, daytime.

But to address Kenneth Anderson's point- he's right. In a way, we're all experts now. In the devalued world that we live in, the opinion of a Mankiw on economics is no more valued than that of a Klein, and people will cling to whatever opinion supports what they already believe.
7.22.2009 12:09am
~aardvark (mail):
Anderson's post fits the classic definition of an ad hominem attack--not one word on the substance of Klein's post (except dismissing it outright without any explanation whatsoever) but plenty on the intemperate youth failing to suck up to the wise sage Mankiw. I can't remember such shallowness from a long post on VC since early in the presidential campaign. Even some of the most outrageous posts on VC have tried to make arguments--illogical and fact-challenged, but arguments nonetheless. But this one is completely devoid of substance.

Why? Because Mankiw's position--at least, in this particular instance--is indefensible. Klein is not the only one to take Mankiw to the shed.

There is simply no reason to take Mankiw's word as gospel. He's been wrong before--as have all economists, irrespectively of ideology. And reliance on a particular set of data does not inspire much confidence--not only is CBO data limited to only a part of the budget that will be affected by a broad reform (it's missing most of Medicaid and Medicare savings, among other things), but CBO has been wrong before. Does Mankiw or Anderson remember CBO projections of Iraq War costs? It's not often that a projection is off by several orders of magnitude within months of the initial phase of the long-term projection. And it only got worse since then. Similarly, CBO projections of Social Security deficits have been consistently overstated for much of the past 15 years (and that's with annual adjustment of the projections).

But the main point that even Klein does not mention is that Mankiw's position is purely ideological and one can find fig-leaf data for virtually any ideological position in a massive undertaking that is the health-care reform. So it's back behind the shed for Malkiw and back to the drawing board for Anderson--I hope the quality of his posts here improves to the level of discourse that most of the rest of VC has been producing.
7.22.2009 12:11am
luxurytwist:
The post is a little unseemly, yet I agree with it and believe there's a genuine issue involved. Both can be true.

One of the things that has been turning me off of following news/current affairs/politics and turning me toward embracing Ilya's concept of rational ignorance is the volume of punditry being produced by callow writers who show no sense of perspective. And Klein is nowhere near the worst of the bunch. I sometimes enjoy sites such as bloggingheads.tv, but just as often I listen to those damned kids on that lawn who clearly have never been through anything before. And maybe it's not their fault, but maybe they should pipe down a little, too, instead of turning the rhetoric up to 11 because they've never seen an economy in recession before or never seen a war (much less been in one) or never been disappointed in a politician before.

And the problem is, wherever you try to consume news -- in newspapers, on television, on web sites -- these kids are proclaiming themselves experts and gasping about how unbelievably dumb/great/surprising everything is.

I truly believe this has exacerbated the political polarization that I think nearly all of us find problematic or at least off-putting. I think there definitely is a correlation, and I'm willing to cautiously guess there is causation as well.
7.22.2009 12:11am
Careless:


Who cannot remember, as a college student, having the nature-nurture debate? Is there a "human nature"? A personalities the result of nature or nurture?

Only stupid and highly political students have that debate. For anyone who takes a scientific approach, it's always a question of "what percent nature, what percent nurture?"
7.22.2009 12:19am
~aardvark (mail):
to loki13: Your diatribe is a bit misguided. If you read Anderson, it sounds as if Ezra Klein is just some young whipper snapper, straight out of college who will opine randomly on any wanky topic. But, in fact, Klein has long staked out a position on health-care policy and provided plenty of evidence of his erudition in this department over time. He is not the novice that Anderson makes him out to be. And, to make matters worse, he's not the only one to berate Mankiw over his post. So it is misguided to attack Klein as "expert on everything". If you want to pick a fight with an "expert on everything", take on Judge Posner.
7.22.2009 12:20am
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
Exactly. The problem with the Klein-Yglesias school of commentary is that it isn't based on knowledge, expertise, or experience, but on having a ready opinion about everything. The day before yesterday the subject was global warming, yesterday the subject was health care, today it's foreign policy, and tomorrow it will be economics, but the game is to sound well-informed, even if the writer has never heard of the particular topic an hour before writing the blog post. As a result, Klein and Yglesias are callow, and they will still be callow even when they're old.

This kind of writing can only be sustained within an echo chamber. The young liberal commentariat thrives on reinforcing the received wisdom of the day and on cheerleading for the home team, the left wing of the Democratic party. ("Ezra's so right; Matt's so wise.") Within the group, Republicans and conservatives must be dismissed as either stupid, wrong, liars, or racists. Republicans take the positions they do because they hate people, and they can never be right on any subject. ("George is a poopy head; Michelle's a bitch.") Democrats who do not totally buy into the fad of the day are just seriously misguided.

Because this is just political propaganda, it can never rise above sophomoric, bullying, dorm debate. The question is why we take it seriously, and why we waste our time reading it.
7.22.2009 12:27am
CrazyTrain (mail):
"What beat reporting did George Will do? What fact gathering has Bill Kristol ever done?* Was Bill Buckley a beat reporter? Walter Lippman?"

Damn good retort. I would also note that Prof. Anderson does not impugn David Bernstein for daring to opine on the Israeli-Arab conflict despite the fact that that is way out of his expertise, and he has -- the horror! -- never worked as a beat reporter.

In fact, why am I even offering an opinion on this? I have never been a beat reporter! Thus, I am not entitled to an opinion except in my areas of expertise for which I have a degree.
7.22.2009 12:28am
pot meet kettle (mail):

Ezra Klein could, I emphasize, be right as to the substance of every position he takes. That's not what fascinates me about him.


Sure, I believe you. In which case I wonder why it took you over 10 years since the inception of 24 hour news networks, and 5+ years since any number of talking heads like Will, Kristol, Brooks et. al. have been bloviating, and several months since Douthat showed up in the NYT. Was it all the hard reporting and serious thinking you've been upto?
7.22.2009 12:34am
Ari Taz:
Great post. I laughed out loud. It's nice to see once every thousand posts or so that the Conspirators actually have normal senses of humor.
7.22.2009 12:45am
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Judge the man on how he does his job. How he got there is completely irrelevant.

If he can continue to convince people to pay him for what he's doing, then he must be doing something right. If basic beat reporting really is a necessary prerequisite for performing the duties of the role competently, that'll come out as time goes on in the form of reduced readership and/or getting fired. If it isn't, then griping that he took a shortcut to a job he can do adequately well is just sour grapes.

See also: Othello, Act 1, Scene 1
7.22.2009 12:49am
Desiderius (mail):
Loki13,

You make a great point. I would only add that the experts themselves, in becoming overly specialized and narrowly focused in their expertise, have left the more general field open to the less qualified.

As for the Klein defenders on this thread, if you imagine that your bizarre shots on Anderson or implications of "unseemliness" have done anything to aid your champion or even to blunt Anderson's critique, I'm afraid that you are sadly mistaken.

Buckley/Lippman offered boldly original takes, often squarely into the teeth of the conventional wisdom. Klein/Yglesias parrot it without so much as the awareness that they are so doing.
7.22.2009 12:52am
~aardvark (mail):
Shorter Desiderius--you're wrong, I'm right. Who needs evidence!!
7.22.2009 12:57am
Constantin:
Klein/Yglesias parrot it without so much as the awareness that they are so doing.

A 27-year-old and a 25-year-old acting as flunkies for a president whose speeches are written by a 27-year-old (and sound like it). None of the three has ever had any contact whatsoever with the actual world other than griping about it on a computer screen or through a teleprompter. Throw in Douthat's attempts to save conservatism by killing it, and you can add me to the get-off-my-lawn crowd. And I'm 28.

McCartney and Lennon were 24 and 26 when they wrote Revolver. But at least they'd spent a few years in Hamburg.
7.22.2009 1:08am
pot meet kettle (mail):

And I'm 28.


You must be at least 40 to have developed the worthiness to comment on KA's posts.
7.22.2009 1:15am
Jay:
George Will and Bill Kristol have Ph.D's from Princeton and Harvard, respectively. WFB was in the army and CIA, wrote something like 40 books over the course of his life, and built a business from scratch and helped built a political movement from about the same starting point.

I think Ross Douthat is actually a better counterexample on the right--but why do lefty commentators think invoking his name somehow undermines the whole argument against Klein, rather than illustrating that the problem's on both sides? This post seems to have struck a nerve.
7.22.2009 1:17am
BRM:
And then you can start reading Proust.
7.22.2009 1:17am
BGates:
Constantin, that was gold.

It's interesting to learn that agreeing with the CBO is an indefensible ideological position now, and that claiming IT infrastructure that guides physician decisions will save billions of dollars constitutes a "takedown".
7.22.2009 1:20am
Desiderius (mail):
~aardvark,

"Shorter Desiderius--you're wrong, I'm right. Who needs evidence!!"

Given the divergence between Lippman's (and Buckley's!) ideology and my own, I fail to see why my statement contrasting the value of Lippman's writing to Klein's should be dismissed out of hand.

If you have some evidence to present regarding Klein's purported originality, as opposed to the sophomoric sycophancy which is all I have seen, by all means make it more widely known.

If not, shooting the messenger seems an inauspicious alternative.
7.22.2009 1:20am
bender:
The yglesias and ezra set offer more insight than even the tv intellectuals (ie zakarias), who are always dumbing down the debate for mass appeal.

KA, the self-styled 'last of the generalists,' railing against the young upstart who's made a living as a generalist....

The 'you kids get off my lawn' comment seems spot on.

Wonk snark trumps pure snark, in my book.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate anderson's bile. Seems a bit misdirected here though.
7.22.2009 1:37am
Officious Intermeddler:
This post could have made the same point at considerably less length merely by noting that the Juicebox Mafia are, collectively, a bunch of tools.

And the poster who noted that Ross Douthat is analogous on the right is spot-on. That anybody takes these people seriously about anything of substance is absolutely dumbfounding.
7.22.2009 1:55am
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
Holy $#^@! WTF is the matter with you? Did Ezra Klein kill your mother? This post is insane.
7.22.2009 1:59am
Blar (mail) (www):
A lot depends on what you mean by "reporting." Ezra was never out on a beat, but he did spend a lot of time working on "fact-gathering" for essays like his Health of Nations series. A lot of what he does isn't opinionating or pontificating - he reads bills and think tank reports about important policy issues and writes posts explaining the facts, often with colorful charts. He's developed some areas of relative expertise, like health care and food policy. Of course there's plenty of analysis and opinion in there, along with some snark, but he does more factual "reporting" on policy issues than (almost?) any other political blogger.
7.22.2009 2:03am
Ari Taz:
Blar,

Since when did reading other peoples' original work, and then providing concise summaries of that work along with some commentary turn from "analysis" into "reporting"?

You can disagree with Prof. Anderson (I personally agree with him and also - apparently unlike some readers of this blog - know how to laugh every now and then), but let's not get carried away here.

Jake Tapper is a reporter. Eli Lake is a reporter. Ezra Klein is not.
7.22.2009 2:14am
Volokh Groupie:
@aardvark

First, its pretty revealing that you rip Anderson to shreds for an 'ad hominem' attack (and this isn't even touching upon the fact that you seemed to have missed the point of the post which is specifically about a person's expertise in an area so inherently deals with the sources' qualifications and not a particular substantive issue) despite the fact that Klein's first response to the Mankiw post was an ad hominem attack.

Secondly, your supposed rebuttal of Mankiw's argument is hilarious.

So the CBO has been wrong before? Even though they are generally acknowledged as providing a good faith bipartisan analysis of legislation their projections have been off? Let's temporarily accept that argument.

But Klein's and your rejoinder is that because the CBO is sometimes wrong your admittedly at best SPECULATIVE projections (and clearly endorsed with partisan motives) should somehow take precedence over them? And what's amazing is you have the gall to try to repeat the same ridiculous assertions as fact here as some type of substantive rebuttal.

For example, the CBO's analysis is to be thrown out because they discounted medicare and medicaid savings? Well golly, you should send those saving plans in, share them and have them implemented because currently those programs are bloated disasters which are bleeding money (even though they are admittedly aimed at morally worthy goals). And how prescient it is that you, Klein and other supporters of the proposed healthcare bill/expansion are the only ones to have the crystal ball that delineates all these miraculous fixes.

This type of analysis is the type of thing you see from the not so serious skeptics (there are certainly legitimate ones) of global warming who in response to all the empirically based evidence of anthropogenic global warming just jump to exclaim that those smarmy scientists don't understand that 'it's because of the sun' or 'there are negative feedbacks that will regulate temperature'. Now those things may be true but there is no ounce of evidence and extreme paucity of empirical/legitimate analysis which even points that way.

Maybe that's what Prof. Anderson is getting at---that the internet may be the best thing to happen since a certain hemlock brew to let sophists rise back to the top regardless of expertise (and as others mentioned this applies equally to the douthat et al.)---its analogous to radio where any kook who can string together one or two reasonable sounding points suddenly commands hordes of faithful followers regardless of any actual subject matter expertise.
7.22.2009 2:31am
pot meet kettle (mail):

apparently unlike some readers of this blog - know how to laugh every now and then


Hey now. I laugh when I read this blog every day!
7.22.2009 2:32am
Mike& (mail):
Only stupid and highly political students have that debate. For anyone who takes a scientific approach, it's always a question of "what percent nature, what percent nurture?"


As if most of the people taking the "scientific approach" to the subject have any expertise! Even in your snark, you fail.
7.22.2009 2:43am
Mike& (mail):
that the internet may be the best thing to happen since a certain hemlock brew to let sophists rise back to the top regardless of expertise-

Sophists.... That is a great way of stating the issue.
7.22.2009 2:45am
DiversityHire:
The juice-box mafia is to insightful commentary as the Disney Channel is to adult drama: a bunch of gussied-up tweens mimicking words, affect, and ideas outside their ken. They're cute, like watching Annasophia Robb play Hedda Gabler might be—especially if there were a musical number thrown in.
7.22.2009 2:58am
Leo Marvin (mail):
Ken Anderson:

[W]hat characterizes snark? Two things, I think. One is that it is an appeal to emotion - it is a statement with a particular affect, and the affect is an appeal to an attitude in which both writer and reader participate, but they participate in an exclusionary way. This is what makes it a branch of irony. Instead of arguing to everyone on the basis of shared reason so that, at least in principle, everyone could be included in the shared sentiment, snark depends upon exclusion. It is a refusal to offer a public argument, with the possibility of reasoned inclusion, and instead depends upon prior shared views that merely exclude because snark does not make an attempt to persuade. It is 'affectively exclusionary' in the language of moral psychology.

Having gotten up on the wrong side of the comment thread for a couple of days now myself, I'm grateful for company as esteemed as yours in not measuring up to my own standards.
7.22.2009 3:06am
Californio (mail):
Summary:

The opposite of my politics are wrong about that. ( Um, what was the question?)
7.22.2009 3:36am
comment reviewer:
Great retort, Volokh Groupie.
7.22.2009 3:45am
DiversityHire:
@Constantin: awesome, perfect.
7.22.2009 3:53am
Pseuss (mail):
Klein is not the only one to take Mankiw to the shed.

Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein are both part of the JournaList network.

The fact that the two of them say the same thing indicates only that they discussed it beforehand.
7.22.2009 4:08am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
I still cannot believe that learned people actually take Ezra Klein seriously. Once one is truly an "expert" on something, to have an opinion worth sharing on a wide scale, then one learns through experience how little knowledge any singular person possesses. A couple of pretty graphs, manipulating the percentages a bit, while failing to use the most elementary statistics are what call out this punditocracy as nothing more than the undergraduate fantasies tolerated by an increasingly decrepit and moribund media.
7.22.2009 5:00am
fair and balanced (mail):

The fact that the two of them say the same thing indicates only that they discussed it beforehand.


Which automatically means it is wrong?

Or is it that the combined experience on that list far exceeds any one person's, and hence is actually worth taking seriously?


I still cannot believe that learned people actually take Ezra Klein seriously. Once one is truly an "expert" on something, to have an opinion worth sharing on a wide scale, then one learns through experience how little knowledge any singular person possesses. A couple of pretty graphs, manipulating the percentages a bit, while failing to use the most elementary statistics are what call out this punditocracy as nothing more than the undergraduate fantasies tolerated by an increasingly decrepit and moribund media.


Pretty longwinded way to say that you don't like what they say but don't know how to contradict it.
7.22.2009 5:28am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Anderson's post fits the classic definition of an ad hominem attack--not one word on the substance of Klein's post
Uh, no, it doesn't fit the definition of an ad hominem attack, precisely because it doesn't talk about the substance of Klein's post. In fact, it admits that Klein could be right. (Hint: "Ad hominem" is not a synonym for "insult." An "ad hominem" is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to refute an argument by criticizing the speaker rather than the argument.) But this isn't an attempt to refute Klein's argument; it's a commentary on Klein himself, and the phenomenon he represents.

Why? Because Mankiw's position--at least, in this particular instance--is indefensible. Klein is not the only one to take Mankiw to the shed.
Heh. First, as soon as I saw the "tnr" loading at the top of the page, I knew it would be a Jonathan Chait link. What expertise does Chait have, exactly? Second, Chait's "taking Mankiw to the shed" consists of... cutting and pasting Klein's post.

There is simply no reason to take Mankiw's word as gospel.
No, but there's reason to listen to him. Whereas there's no reason to listen to Klein. Or Chait, for that matter.
7.22.2009 6:18am
David M. Nieporent (www):
to loki13: Your diatribe is a bit misguided. If you read Anderson, it sounds as if Ezra Klein is just some young whipper snapper, straight out of college who will opine randomly on any wanky topic. But, in fact, Klein has long staked out a position on health-care policy
True, he's not some young whipper snapper. Why, he's 3 whole years out of college!

And given that, the fact that he has "long staked out a position" is quite the point. He hasn't been alive long enough to "long stake out a position" on anything. He might be a reasonably smart guy, but an undergraduate degree in political science and three years of punditry does not make him an expert on much of anything, let alone economics.
7.22.2009 6:31am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):

Ezra Klein - WaPo: Elsewhere on Mankiw's blog, I wonder if the top post on the site will be updated with this information? [Ezra's "analysis"]

ox - this thread: After re-reading this post, I'm really surprised the other Conspirators tolerate it. I can't remember a post on VC that was this self-damaging. Professor Anderson should withdraw it.

Steve H - What the Didden Case Tells Us About Sotomayor's Attitude Towards Property Rights:
In fact, Professor Somin's postings on this case, and indeed any reference to Judge Sotomayor's "decision" in Didden, are regrettably and fundamentally and inherently dishonest.

loki13 - Sotomayor's Testimony on the Didden Case:
First, you are welcome to look at the actual District Court opinions (Steve provided the legal cite above). Second, the reason many of us aren't bothering to rebut some of the outlandish claims is they have (in our minds) been rebutted on previous threads, and Prof. Somin has not seen fit to either retract anything or temper his language.

So what's up with this tendency, this low standard? If I may contrast it to cboldt's reaction in this thread, Conservatives for Rent - "Brown Bailout" Edition, where, in my opinion, the interpretation at issue was far more tendentious. Now it's possible to take issue with a possible selective quoting in this reporting — it's not like I have the time nor ability to hunt down every single incident — but, to me at least, my time spent here has lead me to very one-sided conclusions. I suppose YMMV.
7.22.2009 6:42am
Please stop banning TtheCO:
Doesn't Klein come accross as kind of a little pipsqueek too? Bet the guy has never served in the military, played high school football or baited a hook with a worm.
7.22.2009 7:07am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):

Holy $#^@! WTF is the matter with you? Did Ezra Klein kill your mother? This post is insane.

The actual question is, will he? We'll find out in due time, if God forbid she eventually falls sick to a disease of aging, while he and the other Colonel Cathcarts are in charge of dispensing the needed treatment.
7.22.2009 7:26am
Teller:
Hmmm, Prof. Anderson have you ever been a reporter and "climbed up" to opinion? If not, what gives you the authority to opine, here?
7.22.2009 8:23am
Dan28 (mail):

But I find it hard to believe that his older journalistic peers at the Post and in the profession do not think privately to themselves that, although his political progressivism makes him not really attackable, just as a career figure, they must think to themselves that he might be improved had he done something besides go directly from junior high school to internet "public policy" columnist

The person who writes that sentence should not throw stones. Seriously.
7.22.2009 8:24am
Sal:
There does seem to be some strange dissonance, in this post.

Alternatively, Prof. Anderson, you could have done some actual reporting and asked those grizzled verterans, with ink stained hands, how they felt, instead of "wondering."
7.22.2009 8:29am
alkali (mail):
Ezra Klein could, I emphasize, be right as to the substance of every position he takes. That's not what fascinates me about him. It's instead the business model from which he springs, full grown, as it were, skipping over working in and thereby learning something directly about the world in its myriad ways, and going directly to opining about it.

That is also a pretty good description of how law school faculties are assembled. (I recognize that Prof. Anderson himself is an exception to the general rule in that regard.)
7.22.2009 8:53am
rosetta's stones:
More blogger wars. How boring.


*Is the SoSo footnote properly footnoted?

*Did the wrong blogger call the right commenter an asshole?



If the business model from which your disfavored blogger springs fascinates you, blogger, I'd suggest you blog about that fascination, and not be a bore.
7.22.2009 8:54am
Mark Albright (mail):
Klein can be marvelous while advocating sweeping grandiose plans within the realm of his supposed specialty or regurgitating the semi-official Journolist thought for the day on a variety of other subjects. At the same time, when Klein attempts to tackle reality or inconvenient details, one finds him remarkably ignorant or ill-informed, particularly when discussing health care.
7.22.2009 9:04am
Andy L.:
OK. On my unofficial VC tally card, I'm moving Ken Anderson into the loopy Bernstein/Kopel side of the ledger.
7.22.2009 9:06am
BN (mail) (www):
Mankiw's blog post is horrible. He needs to learn to be a better blogger.

Protips for Prof. Mankiw: don't use weasel words like, "we were told". Don't assign a position to someone or some group like "The President's economic team" without linking to proof that that is their actual position. It was really quite a sloppy blog post.

That was Klein's main issue with it, and he was right. Mankiw may be some genius econ 101 professor but still has to show his work like everyone else.
7.22.2009 9:06am
Connie:
Two words: Jonah Goldberg.

The National Review used to be an outstanding publication.
7.22.2009 9:14am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):

That was Klein's main issue with it...

Some sample quotes, please.
7.22.2009 9:17am
DiversityHire:
[Mankiw] needs to learn to be a better blogger.

His non-response to Klein's pablum is entitled "Whatever". I think he knows what he's doing.
7.22.2009 9:18am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
Gregory Mankiw sits on the faculty of Harvard University's Economics Department, the most esteemed economics department in the world by most rankings. Here's one of them. He himself is the 19th "best" economist in the world, according to this ranking. He is the author of one of the most popular introductory economics textbooks for undergraduates on the market. He was chair of the CEA during the Bush Administration. And our precocious Ezra Klein, fresh-faced and barely out of college, has the temerity, the audacity, to title his criticism of this giant as "The Unbearable Lightness of Greg Mankiw"?!

Know your f*cking betters.
7.22.2009 9:35am
BN (mail) (www):
His non-response to Klein's pablum is entitled "Whatever". I think he knows what he's doing.


I am a boxing fan. To me, a 'Whatever' blog post is tantamount to smiling and shaking your head after your opponent lands a good shot. The fact that you are trying so hard to show that you didn't get hurt is proof that you did.
7.22.2009 9:44am
rosetta's stones:
BN, I wouldn't characterize Mankiw's response as anything like your description. A blogger took a shot at him, and he seems to be above the blogger wars, so he's staying out of them. Smart and classy move, I'd say, unlike what we see at the top of this comment string.
7.22.2009 9:49am
rick.felt:
As long as we're balancing Klein and Yglesias with Ross Douthat, can we throw Daniel Larison in the mix, too?

Anyway, this I definitely agree with: "yesterday the subject was health care, today it's foreign policy, and tomorrow it will be economics, but the game is to sound well-informed, even if the writer has never heard of the particular topic an hour before writing the blog post."

Must we always have an opinion on everything? There are three areas in which I know that my knowledge and experience are two standard deviations above the mean: microeconomics, biochemistry, Catholicism, and law. I don't think I'd feel qualified to speak authoritatively, much less pull rank, on any other topics. And yet so many - and I'm not necessarily pointing fingers at individual members of the Juicebox Mafia*, because I haven't read everything they've ever written - manage to come up with an opinion on every issue that comes up.

What happened to "I don't know"? I don't know what we should do about global warming. I don't know if it is or isn't a problem. As someone with degrees in hard sciences, I tend to trust scientists, but I also know that large systems are notoriously hard to predict, and I'm skeptical of "science" that isn't subject to laboratory testing. I don't know what we should do about Georgia or Israel. I don't know what the Federal Reserve should with interest rates. Hell, there are whole areas of the law that I don't know much about. I freely admit all of that. But apparently everyone thinks of himself as a polymath these days.

Oh, and before taking Ezra Klein seriously on anything, it's imperative that you remember that he wrote this:
Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I've heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence. . . .
*I know that the term "Juicebox Mafia" was coined to describe young (Jewish?) liberal bloggers (Klein, the Y-Man) who were critical of Israel, but I think it's an apt label for any young pundit who hasn't accomplished anything other that having an opinion and possessing a writing ability that is well-regarded in some circles, and who appears to believe that he's the first person in the history of the world to come up with his ideas.
7.22.2009 9:52am
rarango (mail):
I guess my first question is: who is Ezra Klein?

The larger issue that some posters have raised in expertise to opine--a valid point seems to me. One of the nice things about the internet is that it has made experts out of all of us. we can opinion till we are blue in the face.

The fools are only those that listen to us, and our individual bleatings, and take us seriously.
7.22.2009 9:56am
rarango (mail):
sorry--not any good without second cup of coffee. Should read: ...some poster have raised IS ......
7.22.2009 9:58am
BN (mail) (www):
BN, I wouldn't characterize Mankiw's response as anything like your description. A blogger took a shot at him, and he seems to be above the blogger wars, so he's staying out of them. Smart and classy move, I'd say, unlike what we see at the top of this comment string.


You are proving my point about Mankiw not being a particularly good blogger. Titling a blog post "Whatever" and mentioning 'unicorn dust' is a poor way to show you don't care about something. Usually when I don't care about something I choose not to write about it.
7.22.2009 9:59am
Jonny Scrum-half (mail):
Isn't it kind of silly to expressly disclaim any opinion about whether Klein is right or not? I like to think that the worth of an idea or opinion should be judged independently of the person who expressed it. The fact that Klein, or Jonah Goldberg, or Rush Limbaugh / Sean Hannity / etc. have no particular experience or expertise in topics on which they give opinions doesn't make those opinions wrong.
7.22.2009 9:59am
AlanDownunder (mail):
Mankiw's ideas on health policy - clearly not his specialty - are ideologically pre-ordained to be fundamentally wrong. (I trust no-one's indignant that Krugman also "deems himself up to taking on Greg Mankiw" - not that status, however tattered, should be employed to distract from content)

Klein's lack of certified indoctrination in the economics that ensured America's current financial and health crises is a feature, not a bug. So is his deep and specialised, if unaccredited, study of health policy. So, by further contrast with Mankiw, is his acceptance of blog comments and his engagement with them.
7.22.2009 10:00am
SallyT:
Interesting, Cato, since the point of Klein's title is don't just accept appeals to authority, even if he is named Mankiw. And your response is, 'but, its Mankiw.'
7.22.2009 10:00am
Calderon:
I don't really think pundits like Bill Kristol, David Brooks, or George Will undermine KA's point. According to his NYT bio, Brooks actually does have beat reporting experience, as well as editorial experience before becoming a pundit. Bill Kristol had extensive experience as a political operative (and before that some experience as a political science professor) before becoming a talking head. George Will may come closest, but even he appears to have had editing experience before going to straight punditry.

What makes Klein interesting (and someone like Douthat, Yglesias, etc. as well) is how they went straight from graduation to pundit without experience doing anything else.
7.22.2009 10:00am
Please stop banning TtheCO:
BN: It's morons like you that make me play tireless rebutter. Face it...there are idiots that are not worth time. Klein is like that guy who insulted Cyrano de Bergerac for his nose and CdB instead of cutting him up with his sword literally, basically showed how the guy could not even make a decent insult. It's like the not even wrong thing in physics. Capisce?
7.22.2009 10:01am
~aardvark (mail):

But Klein's and your rejoinder is that because the CBO is sometimes wrong your admittedly at best SPECULATIVE projections (and clearly endorsed with partisan motives) should somehow take precedence over them? And what's amazing is you have the gall to try to repeat the same ridiculous assertions as fact here as some type of substantive rebuttal.


Jeez, Groupie! 99% of what economists do is speculation--and half of that is about things that have already happened. Mankiw is an astrologist, not a scientists, although he might be able to wield an integral as a weapon. So, we have an economist basing his opinion on a speculative estimate from OMB, then being criticized by a blogger for not taking into account other speculations. And the bunch here pounces on the critic because his opinion is based on speculations... Are you people friggin' insane?

Nieporent--go cash your social security check, then look up "ad hominem" in a dictionary.

Heh. First, as soon as I saw the "tnr" loading at the top of the page, I knew it would be a Jonathan Chait link. What expertise does Chait have, exactly? Second, Chait's "taking Mankiw to the shed" consists of... cutting and pasting Klein's post.


The first part of this blather is more ad hominem nonsense. The second demonstrates that you did not even read the post in question and just assumed that the Klein quotation is all there is to it. In fact, Chait adds to it rather than just regurgitating--the latter, apparently, is all that you are capable of. And Chait catches Mankiw in a rather fundamental omission.

Anderson's post talks more about Klein's age and subsequent experience than about the quality of his argumentation or the substantive weight of his opinion. There are plenty of people with decades of experience who still spout complete nonsense. This is not to say that Mankiw is one of them--the man is clearly intelligent and capable of coherent thought. But this does not mean that Klein can't beat the stupid out of him. If you want to show that someone's opinion are not worth the paper they are printed on, commenting about their age and inexperience are the least convincing arguments.

Let me give you a parable. A wine magazine reporter attended an official tasting of high-profile wines. The scoring at such events is somewhat informal and the ballots are open and visible. Wines at one particular table were getting very high scores--higher, in fact, than all others. Suddenly, a word leaked out that the wines at that table were Italian and not French. Within seconds, a number of "judges" were back at the ballot table trying to find and rescore their evaluations of those wines.

This is what Anderson does with Klein. He even admits that he has absolutely no idea about the validity of Klein's argumentation. He simply tries to rip him down because he lacks the intellectual history of Mankiw, who is, apparently, one of his heroes. To be honest, I don't care about the validity of Klein's observations, comments and arguments in general. In this instance, I only care about the relative standing of Klein vs. Mankiw on one issue.

And if some idiot tries to argue that I am simply siding with Klein and Yglesias and their ilk because of ideology, consider this--I have criticized Yglesias on many occasions, including to people who would normally share his conclusions because of ideological commitments. Yet, my criticism was based on substance and not ideology--if I call him ignorant it is because his argument lacks substance and factual basis, not because of his youth and inexperience. I've had few opportunities to criticize Klein because he is not regularly on my reading list.

Another thing I find compelling is a bunch of commentors on this thread attacking Klein on the basis of youth and inexperience, while themselves failing to offer any evidence--EVER!--of their own wisdom, experience and intellectual gravitas. It's a lot like Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter complaining about Alec Baldwin offering an opinion because he is just a public celebrity--and who exactly are Hannity and Coulter to offer opinions on daily basis? It's all too easy to overlook someone's ignorance, inexperience and even outright stupidity if you happen to share their viewpoint. But God have mercy on anyone who expresses the opposite conclusions--their expertise suddenly is fair play.
7.22.2009 10:04am
arthur:
I'm at a loss about what it ususual about Ezra Klein's business model. He was an (unpaid?) Summer intern at TAPPED, where he got some journalism experience, applied for and received a paid position at TAPPED after graduation, worked a a journalist covering healthcare legislation for about five years, and then applied for and got another job covering the same beat at the Washington Post. He does all the things reporters do: interview the players, read the relevant documents, talk to experts, write stories, etc. Pretty typical.
7.22.2009 10:05am
adam12345 (mail):
The wisdom of Ezra Klein:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/14449?in=45:51&out=46:18
7.22.2009 10:12am
Sal:
Well thanks, arthur. I don't follow Klein, so I just accepted Prof. Anderson's chracterization. If what you say is true, Prof. Anderson's post, in addition to its dissonance, is bloviating about nothing.
7.22.2009 10:15am
DiversityHire:
BN, if you read it as "Whatever", it's funny and he put appropriate effort into it: not much. He's acknowledging the obvious (to everyone but Klein and his groupies) gap in gravitas, achievement, wisdom, experience, etc., etc., between himself and the Washington Post's Troy Bolton by using a catchphrase associated with Klein's generational cohort. He pulled the "unicorn dust and pixie wings" thing from the comments, it's funny, too.

To use your boxing analogy, you wouldn't take an Ezra Klein attempt to engage Vyacheslav Senchenko in the ring seriously either, would you?
7.22.2009 10:16am
BN (mail) (www):
BN: It's morons like you that make me play tireless rebutter.


Someone needs a {{{{{{HUG}}}}}}
7.22.2009 10:23am
BN (mail) (www):
To use your boxing analogy, you wouldn't take an Ezra Klein attempt to engage Vyacheslav Senchenko in the ring seriously either, would you?


Of course not, but if Klein noted that Senchenko lowers his right hand when he jabs I wouldn't dismiss that observation simply because Senchenko can kick Klein's butt.
7.22.2009 10:35am
fishbane (mail):
Unkind thoughts about Kenneth Anderson

So, Mr. Anderson, where is the source of your expertise in healthcare journalism? Or are you just a narrow expert in human rights and conflict law, sharing your amateur musings? Perhaps you should spend some time in the weeds, learning about journalism before you shoehorn your musings into this fine internet brand on a topic where you haven't made your bones.
7.22.2009 10:41am
JohnK (mail):
Klein is emblamatic of not just journalism but our entire political class. Most of our political class, including Congress, their staff and exectutive branch political appointees have done little more than pontificate and work in political campaigns. They have little practical experience or knowledge of life outside of their very small world's. Yet, they think they are smarter and more fit to govern than those who do. Erza Klein in all of his shallow, undergraduate banality is one sympton of this larger problem.
7.22.2009 10:54am
Peter Twieg (mail):
Amusingly, I believe there's an additional snarkese term that represents what a lot of Klein's defenders are exuding in this thread - "butthurt". The spluttering moral outrage towards Anderson falls flat because it's obviously overblown - perhaps the post could have been made in a more measured manner towards Klein, but it's far from the levels of community trolling that we regularly see from Kopel.

But nonetheless, I kinda agree with the critics of Anderson in this particular post. Mankiw undoubtedly has a better list of economic credentials, but he was making a general point on a subject that isn't within his domain of expertise. I think it's not unreasonable for Ezra to take shots at that, even if I'm more inclined to agree with Mankiw. Let's not swing too far in the other direction and say that we should cravenly defer to experts - Mankiw has certainly been known to say dumb things in the past, and I've heard far worse arguments on health care from credentialed economists than what Klein conveys.

The fact is that Mankiw writes a lot of things primarily as a pundit/blogger rather than an academic, and it would be unreasonable for him to hide behind his vita when he overreaches. I imagine that a lot of people don't give Krugman the same deference, and for good reason.
7.22.2009 10:54am
[insert here] delenda est:
I agree with the post. I long ago gave up reading Klein and now my only familiarity with him comes from Mickey Kaus. He sincerely believes, or appeared to in the past, that he has worked out what is best for America and that it is for the political class to implement this vision, by hook or by crook and damn the voters, doubters, experts and anyone else who might disagree with him.

I also used to think that maybe I should read Ross Douthat from time to time but then he joined the NYT and I became pretty confident that, barring a very strong recommendation, I need not bother. WFB he is not.
7.22.2009 10:58am
JohnK (mail):
Klein's defenders are right in so far as it is true that there is nothing to say Mankiw isn't wrong and that an amateur like Klein could be right. But, I think that misses the larger point. Mankiw, right or wrong at least has some credentials and experience that would make you think that perhaps he knows more about the subject than the guy sitting next to you at the bar. Klein does not.

It is not that Klein cannot ever be right or right in this argument with Mankiw. It is that Klein is no more likly to be right than anyone else. Given that fact, why does anyone pay anymore attention to Klein than the average person?
7.22.2009 10:59am
Dan28 (mail):
Regardless of what you think of Klein's take on Mankiw, Klein is about three million times more substantive than the process oriented hacks who make up most of the MSM such as David Broder or Dana Milbank or all the other wizened reporters of conventional wisdom who have never looked at, or cared about, a white paper.
7.22.2009 11:04am
Dan28 (mail):

It is not that Klein cannot ever be right or right in this argument with Mankiw. It is that Klein is no more likly to be right than anyone else. Given that fact, why does anyone pay anymore attention to Klein than the average person?

Right. Klein's arguments have to stand or fall on the basis of their own merit. He gains credibility by making good arguments, not by having some kind of stupid credential up on his wall. People pay attention to him because, generally speaking, his arguments are generally substantive and well argued. When they aren't, people don't and shouldn't pay attention to him.
7.22.2009 11:06am
Sal:
"But, I think that misses the larger point. Mankiw, right or wrong at least has some credentials and experience that would make you think that perhaps he knows more about the subject than the guy sitting next to you at the bar. Klein does not."

I think you miss the most important criticism, that the Prof. misrepresented Klien's background, according to arthur, above.
7.22.2009 11:08am
Peter Twieg (mail):
I'll also add that what I consistently find most depressing about these spats nowadays is how leftists will enter the fray with arguments like "free markets died with Lehman Brothers" as a shallow excuse to selectively tune out expert testimony which they disagree with. It's roughly as constructive as replying to leftists arguments with "hello, Berlin Wall fell in 1989, get with the times." Klein himself is not guilty of this rhetoric as far as I'm aware, but clearly many of his supporters rely on this.
7.22.2009 11:08am
Dan28 (mail):

perhaps the post could have been made in a more measured manner towards Klein

Perhaps his post could have been written better, could have made its points and purpose more clear, could have been argued well as opposed to poorly, could have been organized as opposed to meandering, could have been constructive and logical as opposed to ad hominem, and could have been consistent rather than hypocritical. But I suppose as long as Anderson has some kind of credential to make an argument about media criticism, we should all show him appropriate deference.

Oh wait, he doesn't? Never mind then.
7.22.2009 11:10am
PLR:
OK. On my unofficial VC tally card, I'm moving Ken Anderson into the loopy Bernstein/Kopel side of the ledger.
Works for me. Maybe Anderson is still annoyed that the WaPo dumped the very fine Dan Froomkin in favor of Ezra Klein.

Ironically, over the last few weeks I've read a fair number of columns that rip Mankiw to shreds, columns written by actual economists. You can find them at the links over on Mark Thoma's blogsite, and probably on Brad DeLong's blogsite too. Now maybe those economists were never beat reporters for the student newspaper as undergraduates, if anyone thinks that makes a difference.
7.22.2009 11:11am
JohnK (mail):
Dan28,

There is such a thing as expert authority. If someone with a lot of experience and knowledge of a field tells you something about that field, it is more likely that what they are saying is correct than what someone with no creditials in the field is saying. As someone with no real life experience either in economics, healthcare or government budgeting Klein's statements no matter how compelling can't just be taken at face value. It is very easy to make a convincing and clever argument based on rubish assumptions. The term for that is knowing just enough to be dangerous. Klein seems to fit that description more often than not.
7.22.2009 11:12am
CJColucci:
As others have pointed out, Anderson is at least two generations behind the curve on the rise of the uncredentialed, inexperienced opinionators -- a development I have deplored for decades. I'm old enough to remember when some of the Sabbath Gasbag shows had actual shoe-leather reporters who told us things we might not otherwise know that they gone and found out, often "balanced" by some op-ed bloviator -- Pat Buchanan was (and, inexplicably, remains) a popular choice -- who could could be counted on for predictable opinions unencumbered by actual information. Is Anderson just now finding out that there is gambling in the back room at Rick's?
7.22.2009 11:12am
JohnK (mail):
"Pat Buchanan was (and, inexplicably, remains) a popular choice -- who could could be counted on for predictable opinions unencumbered by actual information."

Pat is a popular choice because he is a crazy anti-semite. He is always billed as a voice from the right even though he holds opinions about Israel, foreign relations and trade that are completely at odds with the modern Right. Having a lunatic anti-semite speak from the right is a way of appearing balanced while at the same time discrediting anything not in line with liberal conventional wisdom.
7.22.2009 11:16am
Ugh (mail):
Re, in the update:


I also wonder, by the way, if Larry Summers would not be a better policy maker, as distinguished from brilliant economist, had he not been the youngest tenured Harvard faculty member, and instead had gone and done some things in the real world first and then done economics second.
...
You don't have to be old or middle aged - but some experience of the world, in something, somewhere, might have certain virtues.


If someone could point me to a list of what counts as "real world" experience and "experience of the world," and what doesn't, I would appreciate it, thanks.
7.22.2009 11:16am
George Smith:
Klein and Yglesias strike me as the sort who probably got tossed out of the junior high school locker room into the hall in their underwear. Just a thought. Most likely not relevant. Slow morning at work.
7.22.2009 11:19am
Smooth, Like a Rhapsody (mail):
I do not believe that it's Klein's age, per se, that the OP finds objectionable. Keats wrote his greatest poems--some of the greatest in the language, while in his early twenties.
There are myriad examples past and present of people in their twenties and early thirties making a good living as critics.

I think the legitimate question is why does the WaPo--one of the 5 most respected papers in the country--employ this guy? Is it, as KA says, for the buzz, or for the expertise?

No one is saying that Klein should be prohibited from expressing his opinions; but if, e.g., a PhD student in political philosophy wants to go into a national venue and take a shot at John Rawls, he'd better make sure his gun is loaded, and he especially should avoid pat title phrases like "Unbearable Lightness".
7.22.2009 11:28am
Chester White (mail):
Klein is a kid. He knows nothing about the real world. He's never had a real job or run a business.

Utterly unfathomable why anyone pays the slightest attention to him.
7.22.2009 11:31am
Kenneth Anderson:
Just to clarify one thing - no, I don't think Klein's time "reporting" on health care policy counts as factual journalism experience in the sense I meant it above. I first started reading Klein when that's what he was doing - it was interesting, informed reading, but with respect to my specific point above, the line between "reporting" on health care policy and expressing opinions about it turns out to be vanishingly thin.

Your views may differ, of course, but on my reading of it back when it was appearing, this was just a policy analyst position by any other name, producing excellent, well thought out "reporting" that looked indistinguishable to me from expressing opinions on policy. Which is fine and good experience and all that - but still a long way from the virtues, whatever they might be, of generic "who, what, when, where, and why" journalism on x or y beat. If you read this early stuff really differently, you might conclude that it counts as journalistic experience in the way I suggested above - but in my view it is simply a continuation of the same career track as "policy analyst."
7.22.2009 11:32am
Dan28 (mail):
I have to admit, I've only read two articles by Mankiw - the one that Klein criticized and this extremely stupid article attempting to demonstrate that utilitarianism is wrong on the basis of a very poorly thought out argument about a height tax. In both articles, he is talking outside of his field of expertise. In both articles, he comes across as a freaking idiot. So all told, I'm not inclined to give the man the slightest bit of credit, regardless of where he ranks in some tabulation of Very Important Economists.

Fancy degree and tenured position + stupid argument < 20 something blogger with a good argument.
7.22.2009 11:40am
Kenneth Anderson:
My last comment on this, and then I'll quit this hobbyhorse. Of course Mankiw's views are not beyond criticism, and it is also quite true, as several commenters have said, that he often goes into punditry, in areas only tangentially related to his field. The substance here is not the question, either in Klein or Mankiw's posts. It is, rather, the sensibiilty. I can't think of any occasion, having read him for years - and this is not true of me, certainly, and alas not true of Klein - in which he is anything other than polite and civil and genteel. It's the tone that Klein adopts, and my perception - with which one might agree or disagree - that the Post decided it wanted to purchase it and its audience that garners my disapproval.
7.22.2009 11:51am
Amos (mail):
I think Anderson's point is that one should do something before setting out to opine about the universe from on high.

Lippmann was very accomplished and had done at least some longer works before becoming the public intellectual he was best known as. Didn't the guy actually participate in Wilson's 14 Points?

A better example for what I think Anderson is after is to be at least something like Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was also a writer, philosopher and public intellectual of sorts, but he did so from that weird education of having been out in the world and done things. Hoffer was no expert on mass movements. He was not part of some think-tank studying post-Weimer Germany or post-1917 Russia.

But what he put down in The True Believer and other places rings pretty true, even if it seems commonplace nearly 60 years later.

One could argue that he lacked expertise. And yet, one senses that he earned the right to speak in a way that a guy whose only job was to tell us what he thinks never did.

There is a virtue to learning - really learning - a craft that is more than the craft itself. What kraft, other than opining has Klein learned that gives us a reason to suspect that his opining is sound?
7.22.2009 11:52am
Joseph Slater (mail):
Interesting how the "appeal to authority / degrees / experience" worm turns depending on the thread. Compare some comments here to some about SoSo, who has some pretty flashy credentials, or for that matter, to threads on global warming / climate change.

But I think Rosetta's Stones got it right (as he does about half the time, in my humble estimiation) when he said: More blogger wars. How boring.
7.22.2009 11:54am
Desiderius (mail):
Smooth,

"I do not believe that it's Klein's age, per se, that the OP finds objectionable. Keats wrote his greatest poems--some of the greatest in the language, while in his early twenties.
There are myriad examples past and present of people in their twenties and early thirties making a good living as critics."

When that age/experience has produced such an evident lack of intellectual curiosity, then it is indeed a problem. This is why the appeals to authority upthread are so offensive, and rightly so, to Klein's defenders. Klein's credentials are not the problem.

The problem with Klein is not so much his callow youth, it is the extent to which his blinkered worldview so exactly matches that of the elders who have made the decisions to so quickly promote him, and so it is the comfortable cowardice of those elders which should bear the brunt of the criticism. Klein is not the only sycophant with which they have surrounded themselves - indeed, they have chosen little else.

Reading a biography of Pitt the Younger (prime minister at 24) alongside this thread, and comparing the content of the arguments in defense of Klein with those advocating for Pitt presents a stark contrast.
7.22.2009 12:05pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
This thread is about the following issue: that lots of people get paid for offering opinions even though they lack traditional credentials to discuss the subject. Yes, this is a characteristic of our media and internet world. But is this a new phenomenon? No. As CJColucci aptly said, "is Anderson just now finding out that there is gambling in the back room at Rick's?"

And is this phenomenon that much of a problem? No. As Dan28 aptly said, "Klein's arguments have to stand or fall on the basis of their own merit. He gains credibility by making good arguments, not by having some kind of stupid credential up on his wall … Fancy degree and tenured position + stupid argument < 20 something blogger with a good argument." Exactly.

Meanwhile, there's a problem that is IMHO much bigger: the normalization of blatant dishonesty. (I could cite many examples, but one carefully documented example can be found via here and here.) I think this problem goes largely unnoticed. Focusing on the credentials issue instead of the honesty issue is like making a fuss about drivers who change lanes without signaling while ignoring drunk drivers who kill people.

KA:

It's the tone that Klein adopts


The issue of civility is like the issue of credentials. In the grand scheme of things, so what? I think the people who are politely dishonest do much more damage to our public discourse than the people who are honest and rude. (btw, I think "politely dishonest" is an oxymoron, strictly speaking, because in my opinion dishonesty is a form of extreme incivility. So obviously I mean "politely" in the sense of being superficially polite.)
7.22.2009 12:06pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I'm at a loss about what it ususual about Ezra Klein's business model. He was an (unpaid?) Summer intern at TAPPED, where he got some journalism experience, applied for and received a paid position at TAPPED after graduation, worked a a journalist covering healthcare legislation for about five years, and then applied for and got another job covering the same beat at the Washington Post. He does all the things reporters do: interview the players, read the relevant documents, talk to experts, write stories, etc. Pretty typical.
Let's set aside the larger question of whether working as a journalist actually counts as expertise at all, since Prof. Anderson has conceded that point. (Certainly in areas where I have expertise -- I don't claim that health care policy is one of those areas, though I see no evidence that Klein knows more -- I rarely encounter journalists, no matter how long they've been on a particular beat, who have anything resembling expertise.) Klein hasn't even been out of school for "five years."
7.22.2009 12:09pm
Raoul Ortega (mail):
So, in other words, Ezra Klein is expert at being an expert the way Paris Hilton is famous for being famous, right?
7.22.2009 12:12pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
No one is saying that Klein should be prohibited from expressing his opinions; but if, e.g., a PhD student in political philosophy wants to go into a national venue and take a shot at John Rawls, he'd better make sure his gun is loaded, and he especially should avoid pat title phrases like "Unbearable Lightness".
PhD student? If Klein were a PhD student, it would add significantly to his gravitas. Klein has an undergraduate degree and some experience blogging.


I'm old enough to remember when some of the Sabbath Gasbag shows had actual shoe-leather reporters who told us things we might not otherwise know that they gone and found out, often "balanced" by some op-ed bloviator -- Pat Buchanan was (and, inexplicably, remains) a popular choice -- who could could be counted on for predictable opinions unencumbered by actual information.
Yes, but most of their opinions are about the one thing they do have expertise about: Washington gossip. For the most part, they're not pretending to be policy wonks, the way Klein does; they don't delve into the substance of any issue. They just talk about what people are saying and how it might affect the opinion polls. (Yes, that's completely worthless, so I'm not sure which is worse: 25-year old pundits pretending to be experts, or superficial news media that doesn't even cover the subject matter.)
7.22.2009 12:16pm
East Bay Ray:
KA: "...what fascinates me about [Klein is] the business model from which he springs, full grown, as it were, skipping over working in and thereby learning something directly about the world in its myriad ways, and going directly to opining about it. And free of any disciplinary restraint, unless one really thinks of generic "policy" as a discipline or a constraint."

Whew, good thing we don't let people like that actually *run* things in this country.
7.22.2009 12:18pm
jukeboxgrad's favorite YouTube video:
It appears that we're playing "JukeBoxGrad's Greatest Hits." As long as we're doing that, could you please post your favorite YouTube video? I miss it, and it's no less relevant to this discussion than an old post about Sarah Palin. After all, nothing has happened in the past six months that has exposed Barack Obama as dishonest. No, you couldn't come up with any examples of Obama's dishonesty to support your hand-wringing over the mainstreaming of dishonesty. That's because there are none, of course. You had to go back to old stuff about Sarah Palin, right? Because Barack Obama and his supporters haven't fibbed to or lied to the public in the past six months, right?

Oh, and don't forget to post your favorite video. It's so awesome!
7.22.2009 12:18pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Interesting how the "appeal to authority / degrees / experience" worm turns depending on the thread. Compare some comments here to some about SoSo, who has some pretty flashy credentials, or for that matter, to threads on global warming / climate change.
Well, yes. I think some Klein critics here would be horrified if they realized that they were basically echoing Brian Leiter.
7.22.2009 12:19pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
Here's one post about Ezra Klein, and here's another. In the first, he thought that an agency that was disbanded in 2003 still existed, and in the second he was supporting a coalition consisting of some groups that have links to a corrupt foreign government.
7.22.2009 12:25pm
TinaV:
"Unbearable Lightness" is an excellent title. It works on several levels.

1) For some it's a put down of Manikew's intellect.

2) For others, it's a warning against appeals to authority.

This, in part, depends on whether one understands "light" as weightless (interpretation 1, above) or "light" as bright (interpretation 2, above). The first paragraph of Klein's post suggests that he is going for number 2 (since it's about not accepting Manikew's arguments, just because he's Manikew), although Klein may not mind number 1. Regadless, English is wonderful.
7.22.2009 1:01pm
Bob White (mail):
Desiderius:
How is that Pitt the Younger bio?

David M. Nieporent:
I think the difference between Anderson and Leiter is that Anderson is confused about why anybody listens to or reads (or more particularly, WaPo pays) Klein, whereas Leiter is angry at Klein (or somebody similarly non-credentialed) for daring to express opinions on subjects about which they clearly know nothing and contemptuous of anyone who listens to or reads Klein.

With Orin on hiatus, KA is now my second favorite regular conspirator, behind the Blogfather.
7.22.2009 1:02pm
Tevia:
"Klein hasn't even been out of school for "five years.""

I think, Americans can still work and go to school at the same time.
7.22.2009 1:05pm
Desiderius (mail):
I dissent as well from the lumping in of Douthat into the same category. Douthat takes on conventional wisdom from both left and right, which is what new generations are for. If I'm to criticize the Old Grey Mare for her mind-numbing groupthink, I have to commend her for going outside it.

G. Smith,

"Klein and Yglesias strike me as the sort who probably got tossed out of the junior high school locker room into the hall in their underwear."

No dishonor in that. Now if they were so tossed for sucking up inordinately to the teacher, as seems not outside the realm of possibility, then that's a different story. That's why the generational defenses of Klein fall so flat. He's taking fire precisely for so comprehensively kowtowing to the whims of a generation bent on bankrupting his own.
7.22.2009 1:09pm
Desiderius (mail):
Bob White,

"How is that Pitt the Younger bio?"

Not bad for a politician. Not up to Churchillian standards, but a good read nonetheless. There are in fact more similarities between Pitt and Klein than I'd like to admit, but Pitt's capacity was far more self-evident than Klein's is.
7.22.2009 1:12pm
David E (mail):
While one can certainly question the influence of the Juice Box Mafia, isn't there value to commentators with a range of experience? I don't think we just want to listen to the David Broders and Bob Novaks of the world. As with any commentator/blogger, a reader needs to follow the author over time and judge their expertise on an issue by issue basis.
7.22.2009 1:14pm
Tevia:
"isn't there value to commentators with a range of experience"

Heavens, No! Commentary is just calling balls and strikes.
7.22.2009 1:19pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Kenneth Anderson:
It is, of course, not outside the realm of possibility that Ezra, Young Turk, is possessed of a keener analytic mind than Greg Mankiw...
Calling Klein a "Young Turk" is probably a disservice to both Klen and the Young Turks. Yeah, I know, they don't have a trademark for that phrase. But why you used it (particularly capitalized) for Klein is beyond me.

Cheers,
7.22.2009 1:31pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
jukeboxgrad's favorite YouTube video:

don't forget to post your favorite video


There are several that I like and have posted several times, so I have never known and still don't know which one inspired your handle. And have never cared enough to ask, and still don't care. But I'm flattered that you felt inspired.

nothing has happened in the past six months that has exposed Barack Obama as dishonest


If you can find an example as blatant and clear as the example I cited, that would be helpful. Other relevant examples are here (a couple of links are broken for a fairly obvious reason, but the originals are easy enough to find).

Unlike you, I show proof to back my claims. Also, your evasive non-response is pure tu quoque.
7.22.2009 1:39pm
Dan28 (mail):

There is such a thing as expert authority. If someone with a lot of experience and knowledge of a field tells you something about that field, it is more likely that what they are saying is correct than what someone with no creditials in the field is saying. As someone with no real life experience either in economics, healthcare or government budgeting Klein's statements no matter how compelling can't just be taken at face value. It is very easy to make a convincing and clever argument based on rubish assumptions. The term for that is knowing just enough to be dangerous. Klein seems to fit that description more often than not.

Well, I disagree with you and I have a JD, so unless you have something better than that, I'm right.
7.22.2009 1:50pm
David E (mail):
After reading the follow up, I realize that Prof. Anderson was not just making a point about the experience of Mr. Klein, but rather about the combination of arrogance and inexperience. If that is his point, then I judge Mr. Klein to be guilty (also Mr Yglesias but not Mr. Douthat).
7.22.2009 2:08pm
Crust (mail):
Kenneth Anderson:
I'm not opining here on substance

If only you'd put that higher up in your latest column - post? - whatever, wherein you deemed yourself up to taking on Ezra Klein, you could have saved me (and I suspect others) some time reading.
7.22.2009 2:30pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Is Ross Douthat any better?


No. He's even worse. He is a liberal pretending to be a conservative. Klein is what he is.

The most annoying thing about Klein, Douthat, mcCardle, Yeglasis, Salam and a few others is how they always refer to each other by first names only. Like "Ezra" or "Ross" can only mean one person in the world.

God bless them though. They are getting moderately "famous" and probably making good money at a young age.
7.22.2009 2:32pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):

wherein you deemed yourself up to taking on Ezra Klein

Did someone really write this?
7.22.2009 2:33pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
McCardle is sensible and self-effacing. She's virtually the only one in that group I care for.
7.22.2009 2:34pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Well, I disagree with you and I have a JD, so unless you have something better than that, I'm right.
Well, I assure you, if I have any questions about Kenyan women's matrimonial property rights, you'll be one of the top two or three people I call.
7.22.2009 2:37pm
Dan28 (mail):

Well, I assure you, if I have any questions about Kenyan women's matrimonial property rights, you'll be one of the top two or three people I call.

Dude.

How did you know that?

Seriously, do I know you?
7.22.2009 3:07pm
gerbilsbite:
Personally, I can't see what newspapers would want with some self-educated, self-important "man of ideas" in the first place.
7.22.2009 3:15pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

in which he is anything other than polite and civil and genteel.


It clearly is your perception depending on what you think of his views. I have found him snide with a veneer of politeness in order to claim plausible deniability, especially in the way he elides, half states, or mischaracterizes arguments against his stand. Considering he is smart enough to not be making the mistakes he does, that is.
7.22.2009 3:18pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

and he seems to be above the blogger wars


You are absolutely right in this snippet. Seems is the crucial word. SOP for Mankiw on his blog.
7.22.2009 3:21pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

sometimes understanding the underlying business model requires looking not at the arguments, but the position of the person making them.


For future reference, can we list all the different instances in which ad hominem is justified?

For example, can I use the business model of thoughtlessly trotting out Republican positions in the hope that one will get appointed on the next republican administration to dismiss Mankiw without consideration?
7.22.2009 3:24pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

In both articles, he comes across as a freaking idiot.


Don't forget his famous "my gammy would think Sonia Sotomayor is a spendthrift" post. PatheticVery well-thought out and snidepolite!
7.22.2009 3:26pm
Shelley (mail):
Ezra Klein is a shill for the progressive left. That's his point of view and that's all you need to know. He's a politician, like most professional opinionators.

Why can't a poli sci grad be anything he wants to be, like a health care expert? But he's only 20 something! Never mind, he's a believer.
7.22.2009 3:27pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

Gregory Mankiw sits on the faculty of Harvard University's Economics Department, the most esteemed economics department in the world by most rankings. Here's one of them. He himself is the 19th "best" economist in the world, according to this ranking. He is the author of one of the most popular introductory economics textbooks for undergraduates on the market. He was chair of the CEA during the Bush Administration. And our precocious Ezra Klein, fresh-faced and barely out of college, has the temerity, the audacity, to title his criticism of this giant as "The Unbearable Lightness of Greg Mankiw"?!


If I didn't know your commenting history, I'd think this was parody.

Krugman won a Nobel, so there.
7.22.2009 3:30pm
MarkField (mail):
137 or so posts and no one has mentioned the obvious: that maybe -- just maybe -- Ezra Klein stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Or maybe the night before last.
7.22.2009 3:43pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):


I read the earlier exchange in which Mankiw pointed out that in order for Obama's claim that health care reform would "bend the curve," it would have to not only be deficit neutral, it would have to actually reduce health care spending by the government. Mankiw pointed out that according the CBO, the current legislation is not only not deficit neutral, it makes the long-term problem worse in part because of the costs of expanding coverage.

Klein responded by attacking Mankiw's supposedly "banal comment," ignored the CBO numbers, and claimed that maybe, just maybe there were some things that might possibly save some money on health care but provided no support other than his own wishful thinking.

Unless Klein posts an update to support his heartfelt wish that any of these things would result in a net savings (which is the test for whether health care "reform" will pay for itself), than yes, it just so much "unicorn dust and pixie wings'"
7.22.2009 3:52pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
Annnnnnnnnnnnd MarkField for the win.
7.22.2009 3:52pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

than yes, it just so much "unicorn dust and pixie wings'"


By KA's own admission, the substance of Klein's commentary has nothing to do with KA's rant.

I am guessing that GM is paying KA to up his blog traffic. After all, there's clearly no such thing as bad publicity, and GM has too much capital invested now in maintaining his facade of politeness.
7.22.2009 3:55pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Dude.

How did you know that?

Seriously, do I know you?
I imagine that if you knew me, you'd know that you knew me, no?

The magic of Google.
7.22.2009 4:20pm
Dan28 (mail):
i don't know. there are some people i don't know that i know sometimes.

but but but

what did you google? all you have is my email address and first name. how did you get from there to my clinic project? i'm not annoyed or anything, just very curious.
7.22.2009 5:10pm
Realisto:
Dan, Your e-mail lets everyone know who you are.
7.22.2009 5:13pm
Leo Marvin (mail):

Dan, Your e-mail lets everyone know who you are.

There goes your shot at a career with the Landmark Legal Foundation.
7.22.2009 5:31pm
Calderon:
what did you google? all you have is my email address and first name. how did you get from there to my clinic project? i'm not annoyed or anything, just very curious.

If you Google your e-mail address, you get a link on a GLS page that gives your full real name. If you go to the Georgetown law website and put your full name in, the first article that comes up is "The International Women's Human Rights Clinic," and if you scroll down you get the info David found. (David may have gotten there another way, but that's how I found out the same info)
7.22.2009 5:43pm
Realisto:
Assuming, ofcourse, it is your e-mail. So, deny, deny, deny.
7.22.2009 5:44pm
dr:

If you Google your e-mail address, you get a link on a GLS page that gives your full real name. If you go to the Georgetown law website and put your full name in, the first article that comes up is "The International Women's Human Rights Clinic," and if you scroll down you get the info David found. (David may have gotten there another way, but that's how I found out the same info)



It's true. It's also how I found out that the President of Mexico is a regular commenter...
7.22.2009 6:03pm
George Smith:
No, I think they got tossed out of the locker room in their underwear because they were insufferable dweebs.
7.22.2009 6:09pm
TYRichard (mail) (www):
Just went through your pages. I can be ticklish about my tame waiting I have a nice joke. What would you get if you put a light bulb in a suit of armor? A knightlight.
http://zmyrel.homesta.com
7.22.2009 6:57pm
Desiderius (mail):
LM,

"There goes your shot at a career with the Landmark Legal Foundation."

You never know - doubt they're real big on the oppression of Kenyan women either.

In all seriousness, good that there's a man of Dan28's caliber on the case.

I'm still curious about how MarkField found Alex Robertson...
7.22.2009 8:04pm
Desiderius (mail):
gerbilsbite,

"Personally, I can't see what newspapers would want with some self-educated, self-important "man of ideas" in the first place."

Still waiting for that evidence of any self-education on Klein's part, rather than a demonstrated capacity for reading faithfully from his PaleoProgressive catechism book and attacking all the approved heretics, indeed assembling mobs of like-minded zealots for so doing.
7.22.2009 8:09pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
jbg,

The issue of civility is like the issue of credentials. In the grand scheme of things, so what?

I know you're aware of my views, so this isn't so much to try to convince you as to present the other side. I'd say civility is more analogous to democracy than it is to credentials, i.e., it's no panacea; it's just better than the alternatives.

I think the people who are politely dishonest do much more damage to our public discourse than the people who are honest and rude.

I agree, but this also implies a false dichotomy. There's no conflict between honesty and civility. Each gets misused to distract from the absence of the other, but that doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

(btw, I think "politely dishonest" is an oxymoron, strictly speaking, because in my opinion dishonesty is a form of extreme incivility. So obviously I mean "politely" in the sense of being superficially polite.)

Again, I agree, but even in this context, better civil than not. The benefit of even such superficial courtesy is most obvious when it's absent. If you think your ideas are better than your opponent's, there's positive value to exchanging and comparing them in public. Civility is the architecture that's necessary for such exchanges to operate. Without it, debate devolves into flame war which swallows the arguments and ideas.

And that assumes the worst of our ideological opponents. Many, I'd like to believe most, are better than that. De-personalizing the debate allows for the possibility of growing together instead of apart, and benefiting from the best of each other's ideas. It's like a small ball version of talking to our enemies rather going straight to nuclear conflict.
7.22.2009 8:24pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
Des,

You never know - doubt they're real big on the oppression of Kenyan women either.

I was referring more generally to Dan28's liberal affiliations. As little as I think of Landmark Legal, I agree that even they are probably on the right side of this issue.

As for MarkField, he's dead to me since he challenged my nerd cred.
7.22.2009 8:39pm
Desiderius (mail):
LM,

You've shamed me into admitting that your previous intuition was narrowly correct. I have no family to feed (yet). Time to get back to work on that.

I've now signed up for EHarmony in your honor, though I expect getting more fully re-engaged in my meatworld community will be the more fruitful route. This wraithworld, however alluring, has already claimed more than its share of my life.

So if I'm less everpresent here, you have only yourself to blame credit.

Best wishes to all, but especially EV, MarkField, KA, and LM - there are no classier acts,

D

P.S. on the off chance that anyone took me up on my suggestion to read the ill-titled book, and is now cursing me for it, try this guy instead, both fiction and non. I have more confidence in that recommendation.

P.P.S And, yes, JBG, I agree that this riddance promises to be good for all involved.
7.22.2009 9:20pm
mattski:

I've now signed up for EHarmony in your honor

Be a mensch. You'll do alright.
7.22.2009 9:44pm
Jeaceuncolo (mail) (www):

Marlboro cigarettes from $ 16.20 per carton.
Camel cigarettes from $15.29 per carton.
L&M cigarettes from $12.99 per carton.
Cheap cigarettes at http://www.cheap-24h.com
And other.....
7.22.2009 9:48pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
leo:

There's no conflict between honesty and civility.


Obviously. I agree.

It's possible I overstated my point. Or maybe you read something into it that I didn't say.

I think my posts, as a whole, make it obvious that I value civility. I think they likewise make it obvious that I think there are circumstances where civility is unwarranted. That is, I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. Sometimes it's appropriate to fight fire with fire, and put aside a concern about 'stooping to the other person's level.'

Anyway, what I'm trying to highlight is the phenomenon of (superficial) civility being used as cover for dishonesty. (I think that being really good at this often goes hand in hand with being a lawyer.) I think it's a particularly pernicious, toxic practice. I think someday we will look back and see this as an era when that practice (along with the practice of public dishonesty in general, with or without civility) was rampant and largely ignored. I think these will be seen as some of the defining characteristics of this political era (not that public dishonesty isn't an ancient phenomenon).

As I said above, I think this thread is an example of how we're focusing on turn-signal violations while being largely blind to drunk-driving fatalities. There was once a time when drunk driving was not considered a terribly serious matter. Likewise, we now live in a time when rampant public dishonesty is not considered a terribly serious matter. One day that's going to change, and we'll wonder why it took us so long.

better civil than not


In general, I agree (for all the reasons that you articulated so well), and I think my posts (as a whole) demonstrate that.
7.22.2009 10:07pm
MarkField (mail):

As for MarkField, he's dead to me since he challenged my nerd cred.


I have all the faith in the world that you can earn it back.


So if I'm less everpresent here, you have only yourself to blame credit.

Best wishes to all, but especially EV, MarkField, KA, and LM - there are no classier acts,


If you need any references on EHarmony, you know where to find us. And don't hesitate to let us know where your fiance registers.


Be a mensch. You'll do alright.


EHarmony bought JDate?
7.22.2009 10:21pm
Dan28 (mail):

Final update: I don't quite understand why so few commenters seem interested in addressing what I thought was the more interesting part of the discussion - what is the business model that the WP is pursuing here? I would have thought that the WP's media strategy here is the more interesting part of this. Someone want to tell me what the Post's strategy is? I've suggested that there's a new kind of dynamic here, of web policy entrepreneur developing a web-based community of readers, and then selling it to an established media outlet. That seems pretty interesting as a strategy for the entrepreneur and the media company.

Sure, here's the Post's strategy: they've hired an extremely intelligent person, whose opinions have become a significant driver of the political discourse, in a medium (analytic partisan blogging) that is increasingly popular and important. I'd say it's as close to a no-brainer from their perspective as it gets. You don't understand that because you view Klein from the perspective of your partisan agenda which is based on a total disagreement with Klein's political perspective. Which is fine, but you should have the self-awareness to admit that your list of gripes again Klein are just the basic partisan sniping, indicative only of the fact that you view Klein as being on the other side and not about his quality as a writer.

What Ezra Klein says matters. What Kenneth Anderson says matters much less (what I say, of course, matters not at all). Newspapers like hiring people whose opinions matter.

And yes, credentials matter much less on the internet then they did in the old media. It's one of the clear benefits of blogging as a medium.
7.22.2009 10:58pm
Psalm91 (mail):
"24.com:

Here's one post about Ezra Klein, and here's another."

There is nothing more authoritative than self-citation. We were hoping to discover the Sotomayor-Klein connection.
7.22.2009 11:21pm
Kenneth Anderson:
Dan28:

I guess. But intelligence, etc., etc., don't reallly explain the Post's strategy, I would have thought. After all, in the media economic environment at this point, there are many people with all of those qualifications and, for that matter, all the political points of view, the not-sharing of which you tell me are obscuring my judgment. Lots and lots and lots of excellent writers, experienced journalists - I can't think of a period, politics quite aside, when being able to write well has been less of a career qualification. I'm not praising it, just describing it as the unhappy workaday fact of the world of journalism today, and certainly among the many journalists I know. So my question is whether there is anything else to the Post's decisionmaking besides that. Does it suggest a specific market, as I queried, for web based policy entrepreneurs meeting up with old line media, and bringing their readership with them - a sort of moveable feast - or something else? Maybe it isn't anything so elaborate as that - right place, right time, all that, nothing more complicated - but that's my question. I can't say as I think that hiring any new columnist by a newspaper today, especially one losing money, like the WP, is a no-brainer. It might be smart, it might not - but i rather doubt it was a no-brainer business/editorial decision for the Post.
7.23.2009 12:14am
DiversityHire:
Dan, are you acquainted with Klein? You seem to identify strongly with him. And you seem to have read right past where Prof. Anderson says: "…Douthat and others to some degree as well; it's not a liberal versus conservative thing…"

Prof. Anderson says he thinks Klein should have done something in the real world to be worthy of opining @ the Post. I think he has: he's built and monetized a brand that appeals to a certain demographic. The Post can't figure-out how to do this on their own, so they turn to someone who's already done it. That's pretty common for floundering, lard-ass corporations to do. Douthat has done pretty much the same thing at the New York Times.

Their behavior may confuse or fascinate Prof. Anderson, but it seems par for the course to me: failing organizations often forsake what made them successful while celebrating/embracing the fruits of that success—in this case, handing some prestige and authority to Ezra Klein, someone who does not have the expertise or experience that helped to build the Post's reputation back in the day.
7.23.2009 12:33am
Leo Marvin (mail):
Des,

You'll be missed, but go and be happy. You deserve it. And thanks for all the kind words. Please stay in touch.
7.23.2009 12:51am
Leo Marvin (mail):
jbg,

I think my posts, as a whole, make it obvious that I value civility.

I agree. If my comment seemed at all directed to your practices, rather than just the arguments in your last post, it wasn't my intention and I apologize. I don't think your comments are any less civil than my own, so in any event I'd be in no position to criticize.

I think they likewise make it obvious that I think there are circumstances where civility is unwarranted. That is, I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. Sometimes it's appropriate to fight fire with fire, and put aside a concern about 'stooping to the other person's level.'

This is the nub of our disagreement. I agree that people can forfeit the right to be treated civilly, and also that there's no virtue in unilateral disarmament. Still I think forbearance is better in this situation for the following reasons:

1. what I mentioned in my last comment about civility's sustaining function in public debate;

2. on sites like this one, our agreement to observe norms like the Comment Policy, irrespective of provocation; and

3. that fighting fire with fire being justified doesn't mean it's effective. Personally I find the arguments of commentators who resist the temptation to stoop more persuasive than the arguments of those who succumb.

For what it's worth, when I stoop it isn't because I think it's defensible or smart. I just can't muster the self-control to pass up the bait.
7.23.2009 12:59am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
leo:

If my comment seemed at all directed to your practices, rather than just the arguments in your last post, it wasn't my intention and I apologize.


No apology needed, I understood you meant the latter.

I don't think your comments are any less civil than my own


Those are fighting words. I bet I could find some comments of mine that are more uncivil than anything you've written. You're messing with my reputation. Don't expect me to take that sitting down. jk.

I find the arguments of commentators who resist the temptation to stoop more persuasive than the arguments of those who succumb.


You give powerful reasons, including and especially this one. I think there is a definitely a set of readers who are like you, and react accordingly, in the way you just described. On the other hand, I think there is a class of readers that embraces 'an eye for an eye' and views 'turn the other cheek' as a form of weakness.

So I think maybe there is not one strategy that is universally most effective. I think it's a more complicated picture, where a given strategy will tend to be more effective with one particular group and less effective with another group.

Also, while it's always nice to think that my statements are persuasive, my highest purpose in a place like this is not being persuasive. It's being true to myself, and learning something. I think being persuasive tends to follow from those things, but I don't see it as the core motive. And the 'true to myself' part might lead me to choose incivility in a particular situation.

But as always, I have great respect for your reasoning, and it tends to influence what I do.

I just can't muster the self-control to pass up the bait.


What the hell. "Moderation in all things, including moderation." And: "when I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better."
7.23.2009 1:53am
Leo Marvin (mail):
jbg,

On the other hand, I think there is a class of readers that embraces 'an eye for an eye' and views 'turn the other cheek' as a form of weakness.

You may be right. I don't see it, but that might just because it's a blind spot. Given my biases, this is one of the likeliest places I'd have one.
7.23.2009 3:14am
Leo Marvin (mail):
might just be because
7.23.2009 3:16am
Leo Marvin (mail):
... and of course, thank you.
7.23.2009 3:21am
Jason D McClain (mail):
I know parts of this have been addressed. And I am split on the matter :::

What I love about this blog, the main writers/posters [and the usual and occasional guests] is the fact that they will always be reasoned, it is never personal, it is rational, and they disagree without it "feeling" like a disagreement so we can focus on what is important--the actual issues/data-points/facts.

At the same time, sometimes people truly, over time, show they need a trip to the woodshed.

Now, I don't read Ezra [why the heck would I given the above I just wrote], but while I was jolted, I also felt like this was a breath of fresh air [even is vitriolically scented] blowing through.

I also hope it just blows on through. I do not want to see this blog descend into weird ad hominem attacks [we have to get bast and beyond them ANYWAY to the meat of it].

Why si the Wapo choosing the business model? Why any business theoretically chooses a model--it produces results. Their target market wants/enjoys/is responding to it.

Theoretically.

Is it good for the Republic?

That is a separate question.
7.23.2009 5:45am
Bob White (mail):
Jason McClain:
Your framework doesn't distinguish a good business move from New Coke. After all, New Coke did what Coca Cola wanted it to do: it beat Pepsi in taste tests.

One possible justification is that, if it is indeed true that being able to write well is less and less important than it has been before, than what major media organizations should do is let other mechanisms filter the potential candidates, and then scoop up the best (by which I mean best traffic and fit). We've seen this happen in the sports world, with ESPN scooping up independents, Yahoo's sports blogs by people who were blogging elsewhere previously, and AOL Fanhouse.
7.23.2009 10:26am
Desiderius (mail):
DiversityHire,

But aren't they just buying their own customer base? Or is this a ploy to get the Young Borg to pay up for their connection to the hive mind before they hit the age when the subscription is chump change?

MarkField,

"don't hesitate to let us know where your fiance registers."

If I have any say in the matter, there will be no fiance register, but that, of course, is highly unlikely to be the case. In any event, the guest list would be long enough already without bringing the interwebs into it. Thx for the courtesy regardless.

On that topic, don't neglect to note that I've finally registered at the VC, just in time for my departure, so you'll know where I might be found on the off chance that I could be of some assistance to anyone here at some time in the future.

(Googling my e-mail will reveal that I've evaded the searchlight with more agility than Dan28. Someday we will treasure our 15 minutes of anonymity...)
7.23.2009 10:33am
MarkField (mail):

If I have any say in the matter


ROFL.

Sorry, been there.


I've finally registered at the VC, just in time for my departure, so you'll know where I might be found on the off chance that I could be of some assistance to anyone here at some time in the future.


I'd go all maudlin and say how much we'll miss you, but I'm confident this won't take you very long.
7.23.2009 11:55am
mattski:

EHarmony bought JDate?

Anyone can be a mensch, haven't you heard?!
7.23.2009 2:52pm
mattski:

I find the arguments of commentators who resist the temptation to stoop more persuasive than the arguments of those who succumb.

On the other hand, I think there is a class of readers that embraces 'an eye for an eye' and views 'turn the other cheek' as a form of weakness.


This, for me, is a classic question, very well stated by two highly competent commentators. I want to think there's a pragmatic case for the occasional burst of aggression... but I fear that's just my inner savage talking!
7.23.2009 3:08pm
NickM (mail) (www):

So, in other words, Ezra Klein is expert at being an expert the way Paris Hilton is famous for being famous, right?


Just as long as there is no Ezra Klein sex tape.

Nick
7.23.2009 11:02pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
NickM:

Just as long as there is no Ezra Klein sex tape.

A Night in Young Turkey?
7.26.2009 6:01am

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