One of the things I really like about blogs is that they can generate considered and informed debates about ideas. But not all blog debates are like that. Debates can get too personal - they begin to become about the people involved in the debate, rather than the ideas. They become a debating contest. Sometimes this can be a contest between two people, or it can be a contest between two groups. This may be a fun sport for those committed fans of either side, but I do not think it is a very good means of informing those who are not committed but who want to know more about the issues involved.
Take the debate involving Mark Sadowski (MS) that started with this post. MS disagreed with a number of things I said, and we had a short back and forth in the comment thread to that post. MS also combined his points as a separate post. All well and good. This debate led me to write two subsequent posts. One was about how the US recovery had continued despite fiscal contraction. The other, actually written following a subsequent post by Giles Wilkes, was an attempt to try and explain in very general terms where the two sides agreed and disagreed on fiscal policy. I wrote neither as sequels in a debate between MS and myself, because they were not intended to be that. I wanted to talk about facts in the first case and ideas in the second, rather than have a debating contest.
I think MS saw it differently. Here he responds to my post on the US recovery, imagining it to be a ‘response’ to his earlier post. Here he responds to my second post. Both are written in a quite personal style, as the titles suggest. Not a style I like, but so what?
Well, if you are going to do this kind of thing, you need to be especially careful that you get your facts right, because it has become personal. In the second half of the second post, he writes:
“At what point will fiscalists stop wringing their hands over the “liquidity trap” and start to worry about what is the consensus assignment of fiscal policy, which is debt stabilization? What I sense is they aren’t really interested in the consensus assignment of fiscal policy.
And who can blame them? Debt stabilization is dull. It is *really* dull. Why worry about something so dull when you can worry about something which is so much more exciting, which is obviously aggregate demand stabilization.
And this I think is the crux of the real asymmetry. Monetarists are genuinely interested in the consensus assignment of monetary policy, which is aggregate demand stabilization. Fiscalists show no interest at all in the consensus assignment of fiscal policy, which is debt stabilization.”
Now here he talks about ‘fiscalists’ rather than mentioning me by name, but anyone reading this post would assume that I was among the people he is talking about. Another fiscalist named in this debate is Jonathan Portes. Now it just so happens that Jonathan and I have just written a substantial paper, which is all about debt stabilisation! Whoops.
An unlucky error? No, it’s much worse. A quick look on my homepage will show you that much of my academic research since 2000 has been about debt stabilisation. Unlike MS, I do not think the subject is really dull. Issues like what the long run target for debt should be, how quickly we should get there, what happens to monetary policy when debt is not controlled by the fiscal authority, seem to me rather interesting.
Hopefully that corrects the impression created that these particular 'fiscalists' are not interested in debt stabilisation. But has this post been very informative for someone interested in the issues, rather than the personalities? I learnt very soon after I started this blog, thanks to another market monetarist, that it is generally better to focus on the ideas rather than the individuals putting these ideas forward. This can be difficult, and I do not always get it right, but that at least was what I was trying to do in my last post.