How should people argue?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

I like this:

So if, for example, somebody discussing my views on monetary policy refers to me as “Enron consultant Paul Krugman”, that’s ad hominem. But if I say that inflationistas have been

bobbing and weaving, refusing to acknowledge having said what they said, being completely unwilling to admit mistakes.

that’s really not ad hominem; I’m attacking how these people argue, not their personal attributes.

What about the lexicon we’ve developed over the course of the past few years — zombies, cockroaches, confidence fairies, derp? These are all terms directed at arguments, not people; no, I didn’t call Olli Rehn a cockroach, just his historically ignorant assertion that Keynes wouldn’t have called for fiscal stimulus in the face of high debt.

The point is that at no point, as far as I know, have I relied on personal attacks as a substitute for substantive argument. I never accuse someone of practicing derp without showing that he is, indeed, practicing derp.

Still, why use such colorful language? To get peoples’ attention, of course, and to highlight the sheer scale of the folly. And it’s working, isn’t it?

Now, the people who make zombie arguments and engage in derp feel deeply insulted by all of this. But if you’re going to engage in public debate, with very real policy concerns that affect the lives of millions at stake, you are not entitled to have your arguments treated with respect unless they deserve respect.

One more thing: I also don’t think that the derp brigade understands what it means to argue from authority. When I say that you shouldn’t opine on monetary policy unless you’re willing to invest some time on understanding the monetary debate, I am saying exactly that. I’m not saying that you need a Ph.D. or a chair at a fancy university; I’m saying that you need to do your homework.

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