Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Authority-based, and feudal?

Authority-based, and feudal?

James Surowiekci in his excellent book The Wisdom of Crowds points out how abysmal practicing economists (vs. just those who pontificate) are at actually predicting the market. He discusses how 90 percent of mutual-fund managers and 95 percent of bond managers (most of them with PhDs in economics) routinely and consistently underperform the market (page 33). (Andrew Leonard, “Economists to bloggers: shut up, fools,” Salon, 28 June 2010)

I think economic phds are used to hearing this sort of criticism, backed up by terrific evidence, but still are unmoved in their sure knowledge that no one else other than them is to be trusted. I wonder if it's not just that they suspect the evidence against them is hogwash, but that they understand that measure of achievement mostly now rests not in later evidence, but in the particular manner in which one's role / duty is executed. You can't get at professional journalists, economic phds, simply by showing up how often they're wrong. You can only get at them by showing them acting in unprofessional ways, in carrying themselves in a unprofessional demeanor. So if you're the like of Jeffrey Goldberg, and continue to be shown up by evidence that shows just how wrong the Iraq invasion was, it's not that you've got your own ample supply of counter evidence that protects your place, but that throughout you've continued to carry yourself in the manner expected of professionals. You're unfluffed, and consistent. You've done your job. Greenwald is wrong, because he "obsesses."

You become part of a needed edifice, a structure that is itself one of the antidotes to a human society with extensive flaws. The erratic, excited -- the unprofessional -- cannot provide counter-evidence, or discover truth, because everything they "touch" becomes charged with their own lunacy / falsity. "It" cannot be found, until it finds its way into becalmed hands.

We seem to be going feudal. Agree?

Link: Economists to bloggers (Salon)

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