Must-Read: Matt Bruenig: Nordic Zombie Arguments

Must-Read: The very sharp Matt Bruenig really dislikes the data underlying Acemoglu, Robinson, and Verthier:

Matt Bruenig: Nordic Zombie Arguments: “There are two amazing things about watching the American Right struggle mightily…

…to contend with the smashing success of the Nordic social democracies. The first is that their arguments about the Nordics seem to shift daily and often in contradictory ways. The second is that they glom on to zombie arguments that really appeal to the straining-to-be-clever crowd long after they’ve been eviscerated. The current zombie argument… is about innovation…. Actual measurable economic indicators show the Nordics, for at least 50+ years now, ripping through the convenient story US right-wingers like to tell about growth… defiantly grow[ing] as fast as the US, and this is true even for the Nordics that aren’t called Norway…. The right-wing… can’t say these policies kill growth even though that’s what they’ve been predicting all along because, well, they don’t. So instead, they have changed to saying that, though the Nordic model destroys growth-boosting innovation, they manage to grow despite that by stealing all the innovations of the magnificent United States of America.

Jim Pethokoukis made this move last week despite literally writing a post just a few months ago about how the proof for this argument is garbage. Now it’s Megan McArdle…. I cannot put this more bluntly: this [Acemoglu, Robinson and Verdier] paper is literally trash…. The authors’ empirical evidence… is … that the US has way more patent trolls…. That’s it. There is nothing else going on…. And while the US certainly has innovated patent trolling like no other, it’s not exactly a strong point in favor of the US model. But the great thing about ‘innovation’ here is that the term is so imprecise and vague that the Right has an endless refuge in it….

You can show… that the Nordics have higher start-up rates… higher business R&D… higher levels of venture capital… higher numbers of international triadic patents…. You can go through global innovation indexes that rank them at the same level as the US…. You can point at innovation indicator after innovation indicator after innovation indicator, and it just doesn’t matter because there was once a non-reviewed working paper that relied solely on US patent trolling levels to prove the US is a super-duper innovator…. Given this, I am at a loss about what to do here…. How many little stories would I need to dust on top of hard economic indicators to convince people that the Nordics do come out with new innovative stuff that seriously affects the entire world, and in fact probably overall punches well above its weight?

The answer of course is that no amount of anecdotes or even aggregate data will convince the naysayers otherwise. They are first and foremost ideologically opposed to egalitarian economic systems, even when they are constructed in ways that facilitate high-growth and high-innovation…. Because ‘innovation’ is just a vague placeholder without any precise meaning, they have found that thing they can say about why our horrifically brutal system truly is better and necessary for the world. Their intellectual dishonesty has a suitable zombie bedmate and they will hold on to it for dear life.

June 11, 2015

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