Insider Games vs. Outsider Games, Paul Krugman Edition

Major figures in economics are taking sides in a debate on whether an economist who came up with an analysis that praised the Bernie Sanders economic plan is a voodoo economist.

14745755699_b584825d0f_zKeith Woodland

I have no insight into the merits of the debate, but what does interest me is when a group of “insider” economists uses their insider status to critique an “outsider” economist.

As a philosophy major, in my first-year logic class, one of the first things we learned about was logical fallacies. One of the logical fallacies we learned about was “appeal to authority,” or, since we were philosophers, argumentum ad verecundiam. 

The logical fallacy of appeal to authority goes something like this:

W, X, Y, and Z hold that A is true.

W, X, Y, and Z are authorities on the subject.

Most authorities on the subject agree with W, X, Y, and Z.

Therefore, A is true.

Basically, the economist who wrote a paper about Bernie Sanders may be (probably is?) wrong. But he’s not wrong because he’s an outsider. Neither the “Gang of 4” economists nor Paul Krugman bothered to review the underlying assumptions or methodology of the paper. They just said, “hey, we’re authorities in economics, and we’re pretty sure whatever that guy is saying is crap.” But they never bothered to analyze the paper itself (or at least they have not provided evidence they did so).

Half of the open letter is a list of their titles and credentials. Appeal to authority isn’t a great argument. And it’s particularly juicy when the appeal to authority is an appeal to one’s own authority. That’s not just fallacious. At that point, it’s elitist and dogmatic (which, it may be noted, is probably not the best strategy for defeating a populist).

Let’s just say that it’s not a form of argument that is becoming of their status.