Mises Wire

The Weariness of Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is world-weary. He’s tired of being correct, tired of others being incorrect, and tired of the media for failing to make all of this known. He’s especially tired of Ron Paul.

From his latest New York Times blog:

Almost 15 years have passed since I warned about media “balance” that involved systematically abdicating the journalistic duty of informing readers about simple matters of fact. As I said way back when, If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.

As we see, it’s a heavy burden for one man to police the media year after year-- not to mention being the arbiter of simple matters of fact.

Why would a reporter credit the Fed’s critics with warnings they didn’t give, and fail to mention what they actually said? The answer, pretty obviously, is that if you were to say “Ron Paul has been predicting runaway inflation ever since the Fed began its expansionary policies”, that would make it clear that he has been completely wrong. And conveying that truth — even as a matter of simple factual reporting — is apparently viewed as taking sides.

What Krugman says is less interesting than what  he really thinks. But fortunately he’s easy to decipher, because his writing is full of poker tells-- what the Left calls “coded language” and “dog whistles” when their political opponents do it. He’s writing for a receptive audience, namely New York Times readers who share his fatigue with the flyover yahoos who stand in the way of progress. But while most progressive writers adopt a sneering tone, Krugman shows an almost magnanimous (but resigned) exasperation in the face of an American public that just doesn’t get it

Here are some recurring observations from his blog posts:

  • First, he is an intellectual lightweight relative to his vaunted intelligence, his pseudo “Nobel Prize,” and his Ivy League pedigree.
    He makes no attempt to understand criticisms and opposing arguments except on a very superficial level (an accusation he often invokes against his own critics). His level of reasoning is often exceedingly basic, even for a blog aimed at a popular audience. He apparently feels his established status as a public intellectual exempts him from having to make new or novel arguments, or even thorough arguments. Hence the lazy dismissals of straw men like apocalyptic Austrians predicting runaway inflation. If-- as Krugman insists-- monetary policy is exceedingly complex, can the many and varied arguments against aggressive monetary expansion really be so easily dismissed? Or is there more work involved than he cares to admit?   
  • He makes no attempt to appear nonpartisan for the sake of academic integrity.
    His blog is full of direct attacks on Republicans, and he repeatedly calls the GOP the “stupid party.” This happens to be true, but not for the reasons Krugman inveighs. He is proud to be a hack, and suffers not the slightest harm to his academic reputation for being a hack. Not that long ago his fellow academics would have looked down on his abandonment of scholarly work in favor of writing a pop political blog, but today celebrity trumps all. Famous means correct: the popularity of his opinions-- not objective truth seeking-- determines their worth. 
  • He knowingly cites opinions as facts, and mistakes evidence for certainty.
    Just as rules of evidence allow for stipulating to certain facts for courtroom efficiency, Mr. Krugman wants to save us all some time. Thus he assumes that we all accept the federal government’s definition of inflation as measured by CPI, rather than a monetary yardstick. He knows that all good people consider deflation an enemy to be slain. The need for a central bank is patently obvious. Global warming is a very real and immediate problem. Etc. etc. By attempting to position his opinions as unassailable facts, he seeks to frame the debate and marginalize detractors. To his displeasure, however, he’s not Walter Cronkite. The internet has a comments section, and hence Krugman must deal with malcontents from time to time.
  • His critics cannot be well-intentioned or sincere.
    Any anti-Fed, anti-QE, anti-stimulus, anti-tax, or anti-spending rhetoric is right wing nonsense. Krugman does not distinguish between conservative, libertarian, and populist arguments, nor does he distinguish between political and philosophical positions. Ron Paul’s anti-state libertarianism and Trump’s protectionism congeal into one dismissible category. Any opposition to Krugman’s views is based on stupidity or evil intentions. No other explanation is possible, given the settled consensus behind the correctness of his views. 
  • Like most academics with a comfortable sinecure, Krugman makes no attempt to convince or win over those with differing views.
    Sheltered from the marketplace, he makes a very nice living and enjoys plenty of adulation (and travel!) without having to sell, market, or improve upon his services (the provision of academic ideas). His personal financial situation immunizes him from having to win new adherents to his way of thinking. He has no concerns about future employment, so he can be nasty and burn bridges at will. Political or market competition is beneath him, hence his critics are beneath him and need not be respected or squarely answered. 

Mr. Krugman may well be a man of great intellect, and he may well believe what he professes to believe. But if the 20th century is any guide, being a progressive means never having to say you’re sorry. It means never having to claim responsibility for the predictable consequences of the policies you advocate. And in Krugman’s case, it means never having to admit that expansionary monetary policy and government spending cannot conjure up general prosperity. Hubris and certainty are no substitute for reality.   

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