Why ask why?

Will Wilkinson wonders why Herb Gintis is so much harder on Paul Krugman than Naomi Klein.  I've been thinking about this lately:  why do the better class of critics, left and right, generally fail to engage the lunatics on the other side?  I do it to.  I am much more likely to write about my disagreements with Paul Krugman than with Naomi Klein, just as Paul Krugman is much more likely to write about his disagreements with Bush administration policy than with Ron Paul's more . . . er. . . idiosyncratic supporters.

But what's the point of disagreeing with Naomi Klein?  It's like having an argument about economic policy with an eight year old.  To have an interesting discussion, you would have to explain too many facts to the eight year old--facts that the child does't have any interest in learning.  And the eight-year-old lacks a coherent intellectual framework into which to fit those facts; his reactions are pure instinctive emotion.

Paul Krugman shares with his serious critics a committment to a common empirical framework.  It means that you don't end up in so many stupid epistemological arguments, as you do with Chomskyites who respond to argument by discounting any source of facts that disagrees with them.  It means that your opponents can be relied upon for a certain degree of intellectual honesty in dealing with facts, at least as long as they might get caught.  And it means that if you can make your case strongly enough, your opponents will be forced to change their minds.  (I don't say that this happens often.  But the possibility is there.)  This makes him worth arguing with.