Manne man-handled, yet again.

What a poisoned chalice!

Congratulations Henry Ergas

One has to feel sorry for poor old Robert Manne. He was recently humiliated beyond redemption by Keith Windshuttle in the latest Quadrant, Manne Avoids the Real Debate, on just how shoddy his history research is concerning the stolen generations. As an addenda, Windshuttle added the coup de grace by exposing Manne’s wildly double standards of scholarship  and his vicious labelling of Windschuttle a racist for which he had no evidence.

After that episode, one could only hope he would retire gracefully and allow his pretentious, Left anointed title “Australia’s leading intellectual” to fade like bad history.

But no. The Australian offered him a poisoned challenge: to go one to one with the outstanding economist Henry Ergas, and let him demonstrate the best the commentariat has to offer: piles of morality and indignation, appeals to authority and a lack of facts. As Ergas tells him at the outset,

“The facts, one must look at the facts. They are stubborn and inconvenient. To see why, translate your argument into (even vaguely) testable propositions”.

Of course, he doesn’t. He needs to ask again:

There I go again: asking for evidence! But you see, that is the other thing you would learn: that intellectuals are in the stringency business.

The refusal to accept assertions that are woollyminded and half-baked; to let errors of logic lie; or to kow-tow to mere citations of authority: that is what ensures reason, however flickering its light, remains the source of human progress.

This is why it is a shame you refuse to carefully define terms, frame testable propositions and assess them against facts. Indignation, no matter how loudly repeated, is not explanation.

One futher detail. Whilst this public debate was about the economy, neo-liberalism and the global financial crisis, Manne cannot help himself with a self-destructive clincher. He wants to talk about climate change!! Manne:

Ideological neo-liberalism must be judged extremely harshly precisely because of its betrayal of reason. More than 99 per cent of qualified climate scientists and every scientific academy in the world accept that, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, human beings are imperilling the future of the Earth through global warming. Yet, for various reasons, the most important neo-liberal “think tanks” — such as the American Enterprise Institute or the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia — have been pressed into the service of the fossil fuel corporations and are in the vanguard of the most important outburst of scientific irrationality since the 19th century Christian attack on Charles Darwin.

Ergas replies:

Economic liberals are not good at group think. It is consequently unsurprising that (to the best of my knowledge) there is no such thing as a party line on climate science.

I expect, however, that economic liberals would share two convictions. The first is that scepticism is a virtue, not a vice. The second is that we live in a world where desirable ends invariably outstrip available means. It is therefore quite proper to question whether the case for action has been made out; and even if one believes it has, to demand that the specific actions that are proposed yield benefits that exceed their costs: for example, that we would do better to allocate resources to reducing emissions than to improving the life chances of many millions of people worldwide who suffer desperate poverty.

It is the failure to clear this second hurdle, especially among those who would bear the cost, that explains Copenhagen and the difficulties of the carbon pollution reduction scheme, not a conspiracy by the devotees of an obscure Austrian [von Hayek] professor.

Please Professor Manne, it is time to retire.

UPDATE

Argumentum ad onanism

Reader Angie has sent in a brilliantly detailed analysis of the rhetoric used by Robert Manne in his 2050 words against Henry Ergas in The Australian.

She concludes:

Reading the exchange really brought home to me how Manne has become unfortunately a lesser academic from a cream brick university, with much preening, and looking into the hand mirror held to his face and to other regions, to demonstrate to himself and to others his greatness. I was reminded of the character in Doc Martin on ABCTV the other day whose line was “I’m the head of the entire social psychology department of the University of Cornwall, a very senior position.”
It showed me how academic debate, Manne-style is to read a lot and throw the quotes back, making a great essay but with little true thought. Manne famously got economics wrong in the 70s and now has it wrong again. Emperor has no clothes.

Read Angie’s complete comments here.

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3 Responses to “Manne man-handled, yet again.”

  1. Jc Says:

    Hi:

    As I said at Catallaxy, Manne has become the right’s punching bag. It’s frightening how bad he has become.

  2. angie Says:

    You’re right.
    Striking about this exchange of about 2050 words each was:
    a) The style and intellectual content of each writers’ discourse. Manne used “I” 27 times and “my” 9 times, whereas Ergas used “I” 9 times and “my” once, by my figuring. Manne’s style and arguments seemed to be onanistic, very much seeking to demonstrate and self-prove his power and the size of his …. intellect. A very psychologically revealing profile, and Manne suffered when pout to the real test of a real intellectual.
    b) Manne roped in quotes far and wide and, remarkably, told us of his immense reading. Again, argumentum ad onanism ‘because I think my …. reading … is arguably wider than yours I’m better.” But then, remarkably he didn’t understand what he was writing in his superficial references thereto which were smacked down by Ergas.
    Ergas by comparison was seeking to establish and test the ideas in a critical and intellectual form and found them wanting.
    c) Manne turned from trying to demonstrate the bigness of his… reading and by implication his writing by then roping in irrelevancies. He cites Saul Friedlander as arguing without any intellectual rigour (ie testing alternative hypotheses), and then of all things gets into climate change … Both smacked down by Ergas.
    d) I was then disturbed to see how Manne has become censorious. He’s moved to the language of calling deniers. His recent history of the falsification of Australian history and denouncing all who question and expose that line, and more recently his amateur analysis of climate change (“99 per cent” for goodness sake!) and deunciation of critical thinkers show how far he has fallen. His analysis and nostrums are not much different from the approach of Kristallnacht or Stalin’s purges to intellectual debate on major issues/
    Reading the exchange really brought home to me how Manne has become unfortunately a lesser academic from a cream brick university, with much preening, and looking into the hand mirror held to his face and to other regions, to demonstrate to himself and to others his greatness. I was reminded of the character in Doc Martin on ABCTV the other day whose line was “I’m the head of the entire social psychology department of the University of Cornwall, a very senior position.”
    It showed me how academic debate, Manne-style is to read a lot and throw the quotes back, making a great essay but with little true thought. Manne famously got economics wrong in the 70s and now has it wrong again. Emperor has no clothes.

  3. Why does Morry Schwartz allow it? « andrewmcintyre.org Says:

    […] I recently posted a blog saying that one has to feel sorry for poor old Robert Manne. He had been exposed for his shoddy history research concerning the stolen generations. After that, came his very public demonstration in The Australian of the way he uses morality, indignation and appeals to authority to cover for his lack of facts. I suggested at the time that it was perhaps time for him to retire. […]

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