By Arnold Kling
A few days ago, controversial radio personality Rush Limbaugh created a controversy. As a commentator on a football pre-game show, he said
(1) The Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback was overrated by others in the media.
(2) The reason that the quarterback was overrated was because the reporters were trying to promote a black quarterback.
The second point, for which Limbaugh was fired, is an example of what in this essay I call a type M argument–an unprovable speculation about the motives of the ones with whom one disagrees. I contrast those with what I call type C arguments, which are about the consequences of policies, which in principle makes them subject to empirical verification.
My essay, which was written before the Limbaugh incident, is addressed to Paul Krugman.
Paul, your columns consist primarily of type M arguments…
You could express your point of view using type C arguments and still take strong stands for what you believe is right. In fact, you might find that doing so would make you more effective. Even if that is not the case, even if there is a sort of media version of Gresham’s Law in which specious reasoning drives out careful analysis, then that is a challenge for all of us who are trained as economists. I believe that we have a professional duty to try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
For Discussion. Can you think of a situation in which an economist should focus on the motives of policymakers rather than the consequences of policies?