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Fight! Fight! Fight!

Michelle notes, below, that David Brooks devotes his entire New York Times column today to refuting an argument made by Paul Krugman without mentioning that it's Krugman he's refuting. Usually, it's Krugman doing this to Brooks. Indeed, spotting these swipes is one of the most fun things about the Times op-ed page.

For instance, in his column last Monday, Krugman wrote as an aside,

So much, by the way, for pundits who claim that Americans don’t care about economic inequality.

 What pundits? Why, it must be Brooks, who wrote the previous week,

Third, don’t expect people to cast votes according to their income. Democrats do as well among top earners as Republicans.

(In fact, Krugman is correct about this point, and Brooks is wrong.)

Of course, intellectual debate typically requires you to name who you're disagreeing with, and to quote your opponent's argument. The Times seems to have an off rule forbidding columnists from disagreeing with each other by name. I assume this is some kind of genteel tradition. But it ends up lowering the quality of the debate. Only readers who are paying very close attention can figure out who is making the arguments that are being challenged. And because the columnists can't name each other, they can't quote each other, so the reader doesn't know if the columnist is rebutting a real argument or a straw man.

--Jonathan Chait