Posner’s Expertise

Justin Wolfers, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong and Menzie Chinn, among others, slam Richard Posner’s recent post attacking Christina Romer for abandoning her academic values.  The attack on Judge Posner is two pronged: (1) he doesn’t know the basic techniques/assumptions of macroeconomics; and (2) he either hasn’t read, or doesn’t understand, Romer’s academic work. Wolfers (who I admire greatly) is typically blunt. My running commentary on his comments are in brackets.

“Having recently re-read much of the modern literature on fiscal policy [note the invocation of authority!], I found myself underlining several of his claims that either reflect an incomplete understanding of the issue or are simply at odds with the current views of mainstream macro [suffer not the witch to live!]. Yet they are stated as simple truths, with no hint of qualification [if Justin wants to be outraged by simplification, he should read this]. And he cites not a single number nor builds a serious theoretical argument in support of any of his conclusions. “

Since lawyers often feel that economists and political scientists writing about law and legal institutions are similarly autistic/naive/under-appreciative of the literature, my first reaction to such complaints is: get over yourselves.  But more mature reflection prompted a slightly more generous thought: see what we mean?

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3 Responses

  1. fishbane says:

    Putting aside the stay-outta-my-discipline snark, when I (a non-lawyer, non-economist, non-academic with a mere undergrad degree in comp sci) can easily spot the problems in Posner’s comments without a cheat-sheet (I read, and dismissed, him before I saw any of the retorts), what does that say about the quality of the argument?

    Posner seems to suffer from the sort of overreach a lot of very smart experts do. More than one distinguished engineer is considered a crank by physicists due to elementary failures of understanding when they tried to jump disciplines. What do we call it when it happens to a lawyer?

  2. These reactions to Posner’s article perhaps offer some insights to those on my side of the aisle’s constant eye-rolling at much of what Paul Krugman writes.

  3. Frank says:

    I suppose at some point a critical mass of Posner-critique will build. Some of my favorites include:

    Eskridge, The Economics Epidemic in an AIDS Perspective, in The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Spring, 1994),

    Ian Shapiro, Richard Posner’s Praxis, a chapter in Shapiro’s book The flight from reality in the human sciences.

    Most of the commentaries on his Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (I think published in the Harvard L. Rev., along with the lecture that later became the book).

    Jeanne L. Schroeder, Just So Stories: Posnerian Economic Methodology, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=229874.

    And the reflections here on whether his book Public Intellectuals is “worthy of being dismissed or being considered an elaborate joke:”
    http://www.complete-review.com/quarterly/vol3/issue2/posner.htm