I like George Will. I don’t generally agree with him on policy, but I do respect his intellectual curiosity and honesty, writing abilities, and ideological consistency (he sticks to his guns, even if it means criticizing his own party). Nevertheless, yesterday on This Week with George Stephanopoulus, an exchange he had with Paul Krugman, reminded me of something I used to emphasize back in my teaching days. It also reminded me of the lyrics from Mos Def’s “Got”.
On the first day of class when I used to teach a course similar to Legal Methods, I would always establish a very basic rule: students had to be completely honest about whether they had prepared for class. If they hadn’t done the reading, they had to say so. Likewise, if they truly were not sure of the answer to a question, they had to state as much. It was always better to acknowledge ignorance, than to try to b.s. your way through an answer. Most lay people will think that a lawyer’s job is to spread the b.s. on as thick as possible. But imagine you are up in front of a judge, and she asks you a question you know nothing about. Is it a good idea to try to wing it? The moment you give a b.s. answer to a person who knows more than you, every other answer that you gave or will give is automatically tainted. You become nothing more than a b.s.-er, no content, no substance, no footing, no credibility.
Furthermore, you never know when the person next to you, judge or not, knows more than you do. Isn’t that why everyone in the U.S. lost all faith in Sarah Palin when she tried to sell us her silly “you can see Russia from Alaska” foreign policy qualifications? It’s what Mos Def would call “high posting when you far from home” and is one of the ways you can get yourself “got”.
So there was good old George Will sitting next to Paul Krugman, the guy who just won the Nobel Prize in Economics. And what does George Will try to do? Give some self-serving politically bogus analysis of the factors contributing to the Great Depression.
George Will: One of the ways we turned a depression into the great depression that didn’t end until the Japanese fleet appeared off Hawaii was that there were no rules and investors went on strike because government was completely improvising. Net investment was negative through almost all of the 30s because again people did not know the environment in which they were operating because the government had the fidgets and would not let rules and markets work.
Paul Krugman: This is not the way I read history, no . . .
George Will: Am I wrong about net investment?
Paul Krugman: No, net investment is negative because when you have 20% unemployment and all of the factories are standing idle who wants to build a new one. You don’t need to invoke the government to explain that. No, what actually happened was . . . there was a collapse of the financial system, which was not restored for a long time, there was a persistent deep slump in consumer demand, and therefore no investment demand, so you were stuck in this trap. Roosevelt got the economy moving somewhat. By 1937 things got a lot better than they were in 1933. Then he was persuaded to balance the budget or try to. And he raised taxes and cut spending. And the economy went back down again. It took a tremendous public works program, known as World War II, to bring the economy out of the Depression.
I still like George, but from now on I’ll probably be taking his historical ramblings with an even more generous grain of salt. Now, that’s a textbook recipe on how to get yourself got, Continue reading