Thursday, October 21, 2010

Murphy v. Krugman: The Blind Debating the Blind

So Bob Murphy has thrown down the gauntlet. He's challenging Krugman to a debate, at the Mises Institute, with Ezra Klein as the moderator, on Austrian Business Cycle Theory and Keynesian theory.

You'd think I'd be thrilled, right? I've got a big interest in both. I drone on about a synthesis or at least a reconciliation at the same time that I reserve some pretty serious criticisms for a lot of the Austrian school. I have no shame in saying that Krugman is one of the best living economists. Should I be promoting this?

Honestly, I can't muster much enthusiasm at all for this.

First, the basics:

1. Paul Krugman, sharp as he is, has demonstrated that he only knows superficially what ABCT entails - for the most part, he's ignorant of it.
2. Bob Murphy, despite his substantial Austrian credentials, has shown that he also only understands Keynesianism very superficially. To a large degree, he's fairly ignorant of the Keynesian argument.

Why would I be interested in seeing these two debate at all?

In this challenge, Murphy notes that Krugman will eventually feel pressured into debating if they keep the requests up. Really? At the Mises Institute of all places? He would feel compelled to debate there? They savage him every other day on there. He's been called a liar and lacking a conscience, blatantly dishonest, and a political operative. Keynesians are said to want "perpetual war for perpetual prosperity" and are "essentially Marxian". Liberals are accused of hating private charity, being fascists. All of these came up with a quick search, and all of this is in the text of the Mises post itself. There's even worse vitriol in the comment section, and obviously if I invested time in more searching I could find more ("Krugman" turns up over 27,000 hits on the Mises blog, after all - almost ten time the number of hits you get on the New York Times website, where Krugman writes a column!). Why would anyone in their right mind want to speak at such a hostile, unprofessional venue? There are a few good guys at the Mises Institute, but aside from them it's mostly absurdities - and very nasty absurdities at that.

So they take this hostility, and they turn it into a crusade of sorts. Robert Murphy refers to "younger anti-Keynesians", as if the whole point is to be against Keynes rather than... say... to learn truth about the economy. Jeff Tucker similarly invests deep significance to this - calling it "the great debate of our time". Really? This is "the great debate of our time"? Mises Institute regular Gary North has something he calls "the Keynes Project", again devoted not to seeking truth but winning an epic battle between Keynesians and Austrians.

This attitude is bizarre. As I said in an earlier post, this whole Mises Institute gang has a clash-of-the-titans approach to economics. They don't see other economsits as colleagues. They see them as enemies. And that fosters a deeply unprofessional website environment where commenters come in and say far worse things.

Which leads me again to ask - even if I did think Krugman and Murphy were the best people to debate this issue, why would Krugman ever agree? I wouldn't. Ten or twenty years from now, when I'm a hot shot economist (and because I'm sure I'll still be engaging the Austrian school in some capacity), I don't think I'd ever accept a speaking invitation from the Mises Institute. NYU? GMU? St. Louis? Sure. Those Austrian-friendly schools would be fine. But not the Mises Institue.


  1. "Robert Murphy refers to "younger anti-Keynesians", as if the whole point is to be against Keynes rather than... say... to learn truth about the economy."

    Those are one and the same actually.

    "...again devoted not to seeking truth but winning an epic battle between Keynesians and Austrians."

    One seeks the truth by winning that victory over the Keynesians.

    "They see them as enemies."

    Keynesians are the enemies of capitalism, classical liberalism, etc. In a classical liberal order of course we classical liberals support the natural right to voice such a position. But yes, classical liberals and Keynesians are enemies one to the other all the same. We try to paper that sort of thing over in an effort to be cordial, etc., but that is the way that it is.

  2. Daniel - I agree that neither Bob Murphy nor Paul Krugman are exceedingly equipped to rebut the other side. That said, I do believe they could have a well-informed argument based on what they do know. That said, I also agree that a debate at LVMI is a terrible idea. He should never agree. It would be best at a location tangential to either affiliation.

    Xeno - I also agree with your analysis. At the end of the day, Keynesian prescriptions give more power to government interaction and erode the classical liberal notion of freedom (freedom from coercion).

  3. "Crusade" against Keynesianism is a battle against the state, for liberty. Fighting against libertarianism/capitalism is fighting for immorality, coercion and serfdom.

  4. Let's eliminate public funding for university economists, government economists and the Fed. Tell them they have to go out and persuade people to pay them for their work. That is how the Mises Institute does it.

    If that were to happen I think all those tax funded economists would agree that we are involved in a 'titanic struggle.'

  5. An oral debate on the subject of macroeconomic theory makes as much sense as an astronomical observatory inside a dome stadium. Oral debate is a venue in which rhetorical skills, including a mastery of the entire canon of logical fallacies, are far more important than having a rational or coherent theory.

    BTW, I've never read any of Dr. Krugman's published scholarly works, but if his NYT editorials and blog posts are any indication of his competentce, then I strongly disagree with your assertion that he is "one of the best living economists." Rare is the Krugman article in which he does not--at least partially--hinge his argument on one of several classic logical fallacies. The "false choice" appears to be one of his favorites.


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