Thursday, September 30, 2010

Steve Horwitz on Krugman and War

Let me preface this by saying I like Steve Horwitz a lot. I think he's one of the best Austrian economists around, and he's always a great read. I am always stunned at how he applies Bastiatian logic, though - and I've had a correspondence with him over this one point in the past. "Agree to disagree", I suppose, for the most part - but he posted something especially disappointing along these lines today that's worth sharing and getting reactions on.

It all starts with two really great posts from Krugman essentially saying:

1. "war is not moral, and when I say it had X, Y, and Z effect on the economy I want to make clear I am not saying that makes it moral", and

2. "war destroys wealth and destroying wealth hurts the economy".

Two very clear points. Today, Steve Horwitz writes a post that links to the first post of Krugman's I mention and essentially says "Krugman thinks war is morally acceptable because he thinks it did X, Y, and Z to the economy"

I have no idea what Steve was thinking when he wrote this. Disagree with his macroeconomics - fine. Take issue with the aggregates - fine. Reason through all that and talk all that out. But how could you possibly ascribe that ethical perspective to Paul Krugman while linking to a post where he says exactly the opposite, and failing to cite a post where he makes Bastiat's point?

This Krugmania (which I mentioned a couple days ago too) is nothing short of bizarre and it's substantially lowering the quality and productivity of the discourse in the economics blogosphere. It's not good. I leave a comment with some pointed questions for Steve on Coordination Problem where he shares the post.

UPDATE: To throw a monkey wrench into the collection of about half a dozen monkey wrenches that Steve has already thrown into this relatively straightforward point, I also want to note that it was probably a good thing we entered WWII, wasn't it? This is just one war and there are lots of unjust wars - and even with this one war we would obviously all be wealthier if fascism didn't threaten three continents to begin with - but given that fascism did threatent three continents... well... there are some things worth killing and dying for, aren't there? I think so. Anyway - this is a little besides the point. Krugman's point is that regardless of the moral content of the war, the war had certain economic impacts that we can talk about scientifiically. That doesn't "make war moral" - but I also want to stress that it doesn't make entering WWII a bad idea. Unless my readers are all with Pat Buchanan on this, I thought this point should be clarified. So for the record, Daniel Kuehn firmly believes that fighting fascists who aggressively conquer multiple democratic republics is a good thing.


  1. The biggest problem with Krugman is that he talks about subjects where he has zero clue. Consider this comment by him and why it is so problematic:

    "The changing politics of race made it possible for a revived conservative movement, whose ultimate goal was to reverse the achievements of the New Deal, to win national elections – even though it supported policies that favored the interests of a narrow elite over those of middle- and lower-income Americans."

    Anyone who knows anything about post-WWII politics realizes that race was not the animating, cohesive force behind the ascent of conservatism. If it was then these conservatives were bought rather cheap, because they got nothing from the most iconic "conservative" Presidents on the subject - Nixon and Reagan.

  2. Wait what? What does this have to do with the post?

    I've definitely taken exception to Krugman's thoughts on race in America, btw. Not sure if it was on this blog, though, or on an older one I had (he hasn't talked about this stuff as much as he used to).

  3. My point is that Krugman gets exactly the sort of discourse one would expect. Reputation informs a great a deal of how we respond to people in other words.

  4. I would expect much better discourse if it were grounded in his reputation.

    Besides, isn't it odd that even someone with a less than stellar reputation get's interpreted as saying exactly the opposite of what he actually said?

  5. No, it isn't odd at all. Indeed, that's the sort of thing one would expect - as unfair as that may sound.

  6. "So for the record, Daniel Kuehn firmly believes that fighting fascists who aggressively conquer multiple democratic republics is a good thing."

    Which says nothing about war in general. WWII is such an outlier in the human experience with war that it should only rarely at most come up in a discussion of war. Instead of course it is liberally used in public discourse. Really, we ought to think of war through the lens of WWI, and all the nightmares it unleashed - that is the far more common experience with war.

  7. Exactly. I was just concerned because it seemed like WWII was talked about as if it were war in general when it really wasn't. Bastiat notwithstanding, it wasn't a bad investment at all for FDR to make, probably. People talk about "making tanks instead of consumer goods" as if it was a bad thing, which in this case I don't think it was a bad thing. But that's a very special case.


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