Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One Last Thing

The Krugman/DeLong issue will never go away, sorry to say. Apparently the advancement of one person's political ideas is far more important than understanding or advancing economic science. I was washing dishes and listening to Bob Dylan's "Live 1966," album, which put this analogy into my mind.

In 1965 Bob Dylan took traditional American folk music and blues, mixed in Arthur Rimbaud, and harnessed the whole thing to technology. Robbie Robertson told him what electric guitar he should buy, he bought a suit in Toronto, and went on the road with some Ontario musicians, later known as the Band. Bob did not get the reaction he expected. Some people were very upset at the change, and tried to boo him off the stage. Partly they did not get the technology. But there were some people who went to those shows and thought they sounded great. Some of those people went home, bought their own electric guitars, basses, drums, etc., figured out how to use the technology, started their own bands, and wrote their own songs. Eventually a lot of people started to get it, but of course there were a few naysayers who continued to think that Bob just could not sing.

Now fast forward to 2011. Bob is still playing. He's a little wrinkly and the voice is coming out in a croak, but he's still making records and showing up for work. The guy deserves a pat on the back for still being into the music. You go to his show, and what happens? There are two guys in the back, booing. What's the complaint? These two are complaining that Bob has abandoned Irving Berlin, does not even bother to listen to Irving Berlin in order to appreciate him and, furthermore, Bob doesn't even understand his own lyrics. Who are the guys? It's Peter Frampton and Barry Manilow.

Meanwhile there is whole music festival going on in Austin: South by Southwest. Frampton and Manilow know about it, but they want to pretend it does not exist. They are certainly not in Austin participating. That festival is where the action is. The musicians are creative and interesting, and they're all talking to each other. People are listening and enjoying it. Little pieces of Bob Dylan are all over the place. These musicians have learned from him, added stuff, and gone in some entirely different directions. And they certainly are not thinking about Frampton and Manilow.

21 comments:

  1. I thought economics was science .. not one of the beaux arts.

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  2. hahahahahaha, very good!... Bob Dylan is my little god.

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  3. economix is not hard science. It is the reason I´m economist. If it were, I cannot be economist.

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  4. Anonymous,

    No, I think it is that too. Ask McCloskey.

    Luis,

    I think the so-called "hard" sciences actually aren't as hard as the hard scientists would have us believe.

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  5. Greil Marcus wrote a brilliant little book about this a few years ago called "Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads". Marcus is probably America's greatest living music journalist; his writing transcends journalism like Dylan transcends music. If you're a fan of either it is highly recommended...

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  6. Thanks for the tip. Another good read is Levon Helms's "This Wheel's on Fire."

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  7. Never heard of that before, but great reviews at amazon.

    *adds to wishlist*

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  8. This is completely off topic, but apparently your textbook is quite popular:
    http://www.econjobrumors.com/topic/which-undergrad-macro-book-do-you-teach-with

    "Williamson, which is the closest you can get to macro from this century."

    I think I'll consider switching. The old-Keynesian timewarp that is undergraduate macro teaching has never really sat well with me.

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  9. Williamson is good but I wish he would do a chapter on multi-sectoral model like Long & Plosser at a level accessible for undergrads.
    With all the talk about structural issues right now, it would be very helpful to have a reasonably rigorous presentation.

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  10. Second-last anonymous:

    I try to be objective in there, and to capture all the essentials of modern macro. In the last edition I redid the "sticky" chapter to try to capture the essence of Woodford for undergrads.

    last anonymous:

    Yes, good point. I'll have to start doing revisions for a 5th edition next year (and Canadian 4th edition this year). I'm looking for ideas now. You should be able to do anything at a non-technical level for undergraduates.

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  11. In 1988, Bob Dylan stopped Manilow at a party, hugged him and said, "Don't stop what you're doing, man. We're all inspired by you."
    -Wikipedia entry on Barry Manilow

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  12. Bill C,

    Excellent. In his "Chronicles" book he also talks about his relationship with Tiny Tim. It's never clear whether he is putting people on or not.

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  13. There is no evidence that McCloskey understands science.

    Cuasal mechansims are are not literature, they are not rhetoric, they are part of the world -- and when we discover them, out knowledge advances.

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  14. " In the last edition I redid the "sticky" chapter to try to capture the essence of Woodford for undergrads."

    Time to update your text -- Woodford is moving on, qcknolwedging that the housing bubble doesn't fit his model, and he needs genuine heterogeneous expectations deal with such things.

    No doubt his math will falsify the phenomena, and fail to capture what is going on causally -- but it won't be the old, failed Woodford of the textbook.

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  15. March 23 2:06 is right. Woodford has done a new presentation for undergrads encompassing lessons from the crisis:
    http://www.columbia.edu/~mw2230/JEP%20draft%203.pdf

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  16. Thanks for the Woodford tips. On McCloskey: I never really read McCloskey, just listened to him/her over lunch. This would get tiresome sometimes, but the ideas about writing and persuasion seemed to be fine. There seemed to be some notion of an aesthetic in how we did things as economists - like it was an art form.

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  17. I´d say that a hard science work on material subjects, alive or not, without Will, languaje, and free of choice.

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  18. The "soft sciences" are harder. That's why the hard sciences are better!

    Bob Dylan always struck me as being famous just because it was the 60s, and not actually that good. I was hearing "Hurricane" more often when that movie came out and thought it was a pretty good song. But I was really surprised when I searched on youtube for his live performance of Maggie's Farm after hearing how controversial it was. Not only did Bob not sound like that before, I don't think he did afterward either. Unfortunately, it seems to have been removed by the copyright police.

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  19. I only saw him play once, in 2002. His band was superb and the show was excellent, complete with the reinvention of the songs. I know he had his ups and downs, though. A few of those records are stinkers. The Christmas songs were funny, in a warped sort of way, but you're not going to get that out and play it much.

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  20. Nice analogy. They’re also not thinking of Pete Seeger, who said he’d ‘chop the mike cable right now’ if he had an axe while seeing/hearing Dylan ‘go electric’ at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

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