Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disingenuous Hair Splitting

When I was learning economics, monetarism was on the wane. The 1981 recession brought forth a big change in velocity that did not conform to the standard model of monetarism, which is that MV=PT, and that the growth in V was relatively stable. Yet, I came in contact with several monetarist economists eager to save the theory, by saying that 'money' was not M1, but rather, M2, or monetary aggregates per capita. Hair splitting did not save the quantity theory, rather, it was a typical tactic by true believers to save a bad idea (of course, at a log level the quantity theory still works very well).

I was reminded of this when watching economist Glenn Loury debating legal scholar Amy Wax on Bloggingheads about Amy's new book, Race, Wrong, and Remedies. Her argument is basically that regardless of why blacks are currently socially disadvantaged, they must make changes necessary for them to improve their situation, such as getting married before having children, not committing crime. America cannot do these things for them, so using 'remedies law' she basically says black culture is the key to improving black America. Glenn's big criticism of her point was classic hair splitting, using highfalutin diction with banal casuistry, so that if you actually understand what he says, he does not have a coherent point.

This is the Jackie Chiles school of speaking, made famous by lawyer Johnny Cochrane and academics Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West. It's kind of funny once you see them start talking faster than they are thinking because their arguments go into dead ends, forcing them into bizarre run-on sentences because they are hoping to stop after making a point, but one rarely arrives.


Billare said...

Ugh, I just watched that. Loury is a really disgusting person, and certainly bolstered by previously impressionistic low view of ability. It's instructive how intensely he tries to poison the debate almost immediately by parrying with various bomb throwers including: "this isn't 1963", "money-grubbing Jews", and various allusions to the myth of mulattoes by forcible miscegenation. He obviously wasn't there to have an honest debate.

123 - themoneydemand.blogspot.com said...

Not so fast. Old school monetarism still works, it is just very difficult to measure money created by the shadow banking system:

By the way, serious monetarists just measure MV these days.

Dave said...

I've heard Michael Eric Dyson do what you describe here, but that clip of Glenn Loury isn't a good example of it. Sure, Glenn gets a little periphrastic there, but I don't think he's being incoherent or pointless in that clip. Instead, it sounds like he's groping toward a point made by Thomas Sowell, that the dysfunctions associated with poor blacks are a cultural legacy from poor southern whites ("Black Rednecks").

In that clip at least, Loury's not trying to refute Wax's argument about the importance of changing culture; he just seems to be taking issue with defining the bundle of dysfunctions as black culture. And frankly, I think that's a fair point, since you can find similar bundles of dysfunction among poor whites in some regions, and since it's ungenerous and hostile to define black culture as a bundle of dysfunctions. A group's culture should be defined by its best exemplars, not its worst.

Dave said...

Reading my comment, I realize I used "culture" in an ungenerous way myself. Perhaps Loury and Sowell did as well. If it's ungenerous and hostile to define black culture as a bundle of dysfunctions, then of course it's also ungenerous and hostile to define southern white or American culture that way either. That wasn't my intention, just sloppy writing on my part.

paul said...

I think the technical term is the "Chewbacca defense"


Eric Falkenstein said...

Dave: How does 'miscegenation' relate? He seems to be saying that you can't say anything about blacks unless you embed it within a complete socio-cultural-economic-historical theory of the West, which of course does not stop him from selectively saying things about black culture without the embedding when convenient to his point. I think he's just totally self-serving to how rhetoric can be applied criticizing blacks versus lobbying for redress and victimization status.

Dave said...


I'm not sure how "miscegenation" would relate specifically, unless it's of a piece with the whole 'black rednecks' thesis. But, frankly, the whole discussion is pointless.

Talk about crime, unwed pregnancy etc., without mentioning the word "black" and you'll have a better chance of reaching a consensus on policy. Think about successful campaigns in the past to reform welfare or eliminate affirmative action in certain states -- those policy changes were mainly advocated in a race-neutral way, right?