• The noble screed

    Amid the rate shock debate, there’s a barely hidden meta discussion about how to engage on policy in the blogosphere and its environs. The fundamental question is, can polite discourse cut through the noise and, yes, BS? Or, does one have to get a bit rude?

    Tyler Cowen urges calm:

    That all said, I find the screeds of most but not all of Roy’s critics to be inappropriate or in some cases beyond inappropriate. It is disturbing how much space and emotional energy is devoted to attacking Roy, and to attacking conservative policy wonkery, relative to trying to calculate the actual extent of rate shock or possible lack thereof. That is not how good policy wonks go about their job.

    Paul Krugman sees a role for sharper confrontation:

    I fairly often receive mail pleading with me to take a more even tone, to have a respectful discussion with people on the other side rather than calling them fools and knaves. And you know, I do when I can. But the truth is that on most of the big issues confronting us, there just isn’t anyone to have a serious discussion with. […]

    I know that a lot of people wish we lived in a country where debates about things like health care policy were serious, honest discussions of debatable points. I like to hope that by the time I retire I’ll actually live in a country like that. But right now, and surely for years to come, it’s basically facts versus fraud.

    They both have a point. I’d guess that for most people, this comes down to personal style. I don’t like confrontation. I like evidence and logic. That’s the kind of wonk I am. However, maybe if I framed my point as a screed it’d get more attention and make more of a difference. But it’d also change how I am perceived and how I view myself.

    By the way, contrarianism serves a similar role as rudeness. It gets attention by appearing to be a little bit wrong. There’s a temptation to say contrarianism is more clever than rudeness. But I’m not so sure. I’ve read some awfully creative takedowns. Also, with contrarianism, one can be too clever by half. The line between it and BS is thin. Some can’t see it, and there’s a risk of massive deception. At least rudeness is overt.

    In any case, for those who can take it, I forgive the occasional screed. I recognize that Mr. Nice Guy isn’t going to cut through the noise. Sometimes one needs to be heard. Yes, feathers get ruffled. That’s the point. And, yes, one can take things too far. A balance must be struck. Still, some screeds are noble screeds.

    UPDATE: A related issue is misrepresentation. Someone can be polite and not a contrarian, but still get attention (and be wrong!) because (s)he’s misrepresented an issue or some evidence. Misrepresentation often turns on language and emphasis. As such, it can be subtle,  subjective, and carry plausible deniability. (It was just an honest oversight, I swear!) Is this OK? If so, when and why?


    • Is Roy’s offense the misrepresentation? His example wasn’t wrong but highly misleading. Was it intentional? Krugman believes so because Roy knows this subject (health care). How do we know what Roy knows and doesn’t know? When I read the front pager in the NYT this past weekend about the charges by endoscopy centers I didn’t suspect the reporter to be lying. Rather, the story was misleading in that it presented what I believe an aberration as the rule. Why did I believe it an aberration? Because I have organized and represented many endoscopy centers none of which collect the charges presented in the article. I posted a comment here that disclosed the charges typically collected based on my actual experience working with endoscopy centers, and defended the use of propofol at endoscopy centers based on my actual experience working with gastroenterologists and anesthesiologists. A mistake, which I won’t repeat. I very much enjoy the academic discussions at this site including those by Frakt. Now I have to go explain to my clients why their reimbursement rates aren’t nearly as high as those in the NYT article.

      • Roy did misrepresent this issue. Krugman and others suggest it was intentional because no one who even remotely understands this issue would make such a comparison. Maybe Roy did not intend to mislead which means he is not as much of an expert as he pretends to be. Which of course would be another form of misrepresentation.

    • I too am comfortable with the occasional screed. I think 10% screed is a good goal, but would be uncomfortable with anything above 25%.

      The problem is that Krugman’s blog is about 95% screed and his column is probably upwards of 75%. In those two venues, his main debate is that his ideological opponents are “fools and knaves.” He says he hopes that he’ll see the world where the debate is exclusively over facts, but he (and all of those who don’t criticize his style) is driving us in the opposite direction.

      The problem that many of us have is that our ideology colors our debate. I do not expect to come to this blog to read anything critical of a more interventionist health care policy. Sometimes it’s present, but that’s almost invariably as a response to criticisms from the other side. I can’t count on this blog or Krugman to proactively look for the costs of Obamacare or the downsides of their own preferences (and clearly the same can be said of their opponents).

      To say that all conservatives are hindering the debate and that they have nothing constructive to contribute is both wrong and dangerous. I might even say evil. My hope is that one day we live in a world where Krugman’s style is decried instead of defended.

      • Curious what you thought of this series: http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/premium-support-proposal-and-critique-intro/

        Anyway, I handle Krugman screed overdose issue by not reading him very often or thoroughly. Same goes for just about everyone else, whether they have styles that annoy me or not.

      • What do you mean by screed? Or more importantly in this case, what does Krugman write that is incorrect?

        If you merely don’t like how facts are presented, then that is a personal issue. There’s nothing wrong with not liking certain styles of writing. The problem comes when you insist that people write certain ways or when you ignore facts when the tone is not ‘just right’.

        And who specifically has said “….all conservatives are hindering the debate and that they have nothing constructive to contribute…”? Specifics please. Because that seems pretty close to a screed.

        If our system was functional, Krugman probably wouldn’t write the way he writes. After all, how else do you cut through the noise and the BS? Polite restating of the facts doesn’t seem to work….

    • Sorry, but almost to a person, conservatives have the following as their mantra: (DRUM) “I’m starting to lose my ability to write rationally about this stuff. I just don’t know any longer what I’m supposed to think about a political movement whose primary raison d’être, one they no longer even bother to conceal, is an almost gleeful immiseration of the poor for the benefit of the rich. How is it that the wealthiest country on earth has come to this?”

      I said this 20-25 years ago when I worked with poor families in juvenile court: conservatives hate the poor. And the sick. And the hungry. They believe the poor, sick, and hungry should suffer because it is solely their fault they are sick, hungry, and poor.

      Sorry but true. You want evidence? Look at their social policies. Who has gotten richer and richer the last 40 years or so? It is a moral and economic crime that anyone in this country is hungry. not health insured, poorly clothed, or lacking a safe, clean place to live. This is the richest country in the world. There are no excuses and I am tired of making them for conservatives.

      We make the poor suffer because we CHOOSE to.

      • WOW!

        I thought we were to provide facts and data – not make these kinds of unsupported assertions.

        And I am not sure what your post has to do with the thread/topic.

        I do believe that there is a legitimate alternative point of view to what Krugman would endorse. I think a broader investigation of what Roy has espoused would reveal that he – and I – would support a more universal program than we will get from the ACA.

        I personally would prefer a program that covers broadly the things that are probably most directly related to better health. I would narrow the scope of coverage significantly to make covering more people affordable.

        I would prefer to have EVERYONE get the treatment, meds they need for hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, kidney problems and perhaps a few other conditions than SOME get viagra, tobacco cessation therapy, breast pumps, and access to brand name drugs when generics exist that are just as effective.

    • Roy deserved to be taken down a notch. It can be pretty exasperating after hearing for the last 3 years how the ACA is going to ruin healthcare in this country. California announces lower rates overall and immediately people like Roy have to come back with shoddy unfactual rebuttals to California. I think the population as a whole is starting to catch on. Seniors are not dying due to rationed medicare. There are no death panels. There is none of that stuff that happening that conservatives have been screaming about now for 3 years. The big concern now going forward is what will the republicans do when it’s found the ACA needs some tweaking. Any new program needs tweaking and I am afraid this one will not get the votes. They are to busy trying to get the goods on Obama to take anytime to legislate.

    • Austin, you write:
      They both have a point. I’d guess that for most people, this comes down to personal style. I don’t like confrontation. I like evidence and logic. That’s the kind of wonk I am.

      My response is, sadly, like like Krugman’s. In a perfect world we’d all sit down to tea and talk calmly but persuasively about our ideas. But I question whether this country has ever had a long period where gentlemen (term used advisedly) discussed issues calmly – ideas impact real lives and wallets. People and institutions tend to defend themselves pretty forcefully when they feel threatened, which squeezes the “can’t we all sit down and discuss this reasonably” folk into a very tight corner.

      For example, despite our heroic visions of Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, the nineteenth century was filled fist fights and deadly beatings in the House and Senate. The defense of the “noble institution of slavery” drove many “gentlemen” to use violence to promote policy. Fisticuffs and duels inside the government were played out during the bloodiest war in our history, which you can argue, was fought over the failure of nice people to settle their differences with calm and measured conversation. The post-civil war period gave us the collapse of Reconstruction and concomitant rise of America’s most deadly terrorist organization, the KKK, along with the bloodiest labor strife in the world at the time, a real trifecta of policy settled through violence.

      The last century was not much calmer. A quick look at the years since WWII certainly argues that policy discussions are routinely dominated by a angry talk and bad faith. The 50s was roiled by the rather ungentlemanly discussions guided by McCarthyism and related “red scares;” During the 60s, the Civil Rights Movement succeeded precisely because it ignored well meaning “liberals” repeated requests to behave in polite fashion. Martin Luther King is particularly salient about his views on what “polite and decent” people want ‘Negros’ to do. The 90s were dominated by a lot of misleading discussion centering not around policy but whether Bill and Hillary Clinton were socially, ethically and finally morally fit to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. After 9/11, we failed repeated to have a useful quiet discussion about how to respond to terror. In fact we as a country launched a major catastrophic war against a non party to the attack on the US because as that famous voice of moderation, Tom Friedman said, “Sometimes you just have to kick some Arab butt.”

      Which brings us to today — I believe the evidence is overwhelming that we have an entire political party that has abandoned policy for short term partisan gain. Don’t believe me, pay attention to that consummate insider Norm Ornstein – for the past 2 years he and his long term partner have been writing that ‘this time is different.’ one party, the Republican party has radicalized itself to the point that truth is purely operational. This is NOT to say that Democrats and Liberals are somehow perfect but Ezra Klein, John Cohn, and even the dreaded Krugman all have a point when they keep repeating that the other team is not arguing in good faith and further, to pretend that they are only harms the ability to have a good discussion.

      I would take another look at your own stance: “can’t we just settle this like reasonable people” sounds wonderful, but just doesn’t’ correlate very well to the world in we we live…

      thanks for listening…

      • Well said!

      • Huh? I’m not advocating anything here. I’m saying it’s not my style to point out (or even, privately, dwell on) arguments of possible bad faith. Also, to large extent, that others do so doesn’t bother me. The assertion that it is necessary to do so in order to rise above the din is an interesting one. I mostly agree.

        • In his post preceding* his reply** to this discussion,

          *: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/nazi-islamic-bikes-from-hell/

          **: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/bad-faith-and-civility-health-care-edition/

          Paul Krugman points out the difference between ad hominem arguments (your mother wears army boots) and factual arguments (you fudged and lied about the data).

          Krugman can be pretty brutal to people who mess up, but he doesn’t make ad hominem arguments.

          And, he has a point. For the last several years, how many times have you read “Medicare and Social Security are in trouble”? We’re talking seriously large numbers of times. And it’s a complete lie. Social Security is the most fiscally robust policy imaginable. It’s in the black for another 30 or more years. Sure, Medicare would have been problematic a decade from now were it not for ACA, and will need some work. But the current deficit has nothing to do with Medicare and SS: It has to due with rather large spending on wars and decreased tax income/increased unemployment expenditures due to the crashed economy. So, what to make of the large number of people who scream about the deficit and M+SS? Krugman at least takes them out one at a time, unlike this post which paints the whole right side of the US political spectrum with a broad brush.