Don't Listen to Me, as I Am Not an Economist

Kartik Athreya, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, urges you to dramatically lower your expectations from this blog:

Neither non-economist bloggers, nor economists who portray economics -- especially macroeconomic policy -- as a simple enterprise with clear conclusions, are likely to contibute [sic] any insight to discussion of economics and, as a result, should be ignored by an open-minded lay public.

Athreya goes on to suggest that it's "exceedingly unlikely" that folks I read like Matthew Yglesias, Robert Samuelson, and Robert Reich, have "anything interesting to say about economic policy."

Ouch. But the argument seems (dare I say it?) almost bloggy in its simplicity. The author compares the noise made over the recession to the silence in response to the East Asian tsunami and Haiti earthquake. Nobody blasted seismology after these events, notes the author, because seismology is hard. So why are blogo-blowhards second-guessing experts in the field of macroeconomics, which is also hard?

It's presented as a rhetorical question, but the answer is easy enough. Nobody questioned seismology after the earthquake because nobody had anything to say on the subject, seeing as how it's impossible to prevent earthquakes. On the other hand, we debated economic policy after the credit crunch because economic policy can prevent, or at least mitigate recessions, which makes recessions a good time to reevaluate economic policy.

Most people who comment on economics won't have spent nearly as much time on the subject as Kartik Athreya, who's a PhD at the Federal Reserve. But if utter topical mastery were the sole criterion for passing judgment on a subject, nobody would be "allowed" to say anything about anything.

Arthreya's basic plea is that writers be humble about their analysis, and that's a fine suggestion. But if he thinks Yglesias and Samuelson and Reich are so wrong (or at least simplistic) about today's issues, a broad declaration that macroeconomics is tough stuff seems insufficient. I'd prefer a more detailed dissent. Perhaps even a blog.