Friday, December 31, 2010

There's something about Krugman... part 2

The man is like catnip to some people, and I just don't know why.

Don Boudreaux ties Krugman to Paul Ehrlich and other environmental doomsdayers. I set him straight in the comments.

Bob Murphy thinks that if you think that workers will and should move from low marginal productivity areas to high marginal productivity areas you are (1.) an Austrian, and (2.) somehow in violation of Keynesianism. I set him straight in the comments.

Alen Mattich of the WSJ published a list of the best economics blogs that has been making the rounds. He weirdly accuses Krugman of ad hominem attacks. Does Mattich know the meaning of the term? I can't think of any ad hominem attacks that Krugman has made. I imagine there have been some over the years... maybe... but I entirely clueless as to what he means and can't come up with any specific examples. I think Mattich confusing "criticism of a specific person that you name" with "ad hominem attacks". I'm sorry, but if you get bothered by criticism you shouldn't read blogs. Good solid criticism is one of their most important functions. Ad hominem is a different story. Mattich completely fails to mention Brad DeLong's blog which is absurd - but DeLong is one who veers into ad hominem with his "stupidest man alive" act (the quality of the analysis still makes it worth reading, although that is frustrating... still, I've been called worse on other blogs). But Krugman? When has Krugman ever done this?

Not everyone is a hater, though. Apparently Paul Krugman is the "most influential figure on the European left-of-center" beating out Habermas and Zizek (both of whom have been discussed on F&OST here and here, respectively). Go figure - apparently New Jersey is in Europe.

I don't get this. Krugman is just a really great economists all around and I don't see how he inspires all this animosity. He is a creative thinker (see his work on trade theory and economic geography), he is a great exponent of very traditional macroeconomics, and he is a great public educator/public intellectual/public commentator - which a lot of economists can't do. It's not hard to recognize what a great economist the guy is - you don't have to strain for a justification for that claim. You also don't have to be obsessed with him or be a "Krugman lover" to recognize the value of his contributions to the discourse. Why he inspires such animosity is beyond me, even if he can be "shrill" at times, which I'll certainly admit.


  1. Paul Krugman's columns from the 1990s were great! Have you seen his Slate columns? One of my favourites was his criticism of people who support protectionism on the grounds that they don't want to use items made by foreign slave labour.

    He bluntly said that many such rich, celebrity-like Westerners have an interest in a purely cosmetic improvement of the world's problems. He pointed to the specific example of a garbage dump in Phillipines inhabited by hundreds of people, and how their lives improved after getting factory jobs and moving out of there. This was followed by him suggesting that people who believe in problems being "out of sight, out of mind" would only end up sending the Filipinos back to the garbage dump than see their goods in stores.

    I have posted links to these columns in free market message boards with no responses received! Nobody there wants to admit that Krugman has been one of the boldest champions of cosmopolitan business.

    What Krugman should have done was continue writing and speaking on international trade only, and stick to his area of specialization. Instead, he made the mistake that almost every major economist makes, when he became a political columnist who judges himself worthy of discussing national security, all public policy, and all other areas of economics on national media. He is a new Milton Friedman, that's the problem.

  2. Ya - the Slate columns are great.

    But even now, though, I find the response to him odd. It's like people think being a liberal politically and free trade don't mix, or that Keynesian macro and free trade don't mix. People always contrast the 90s with his work today which I think is a little strange. I love his work from the nineties, but it seems very consistent with work today in my eyes.

    I'll advocate getting environmental or labor agreements with developing countries - that sort of "fair trade" sounds fine to me. But aside from more social policy issues like that I'm a complete and unabashed free trader. There are a lot of liberals like that. In the 1990s these liberals were prominent, which was why Krugman seemed so cordial back then. Nobody who is anybody disagrees on the free trade point.

    Macro is more contentious. I don't think Krugman has changed at all, I think people are just surprised to discover the Keynesians are free traders too. Well - it's the truth. People just need to accept it rather than pretending that Keynesianism or American liberalism in general is some leftist, ignorant ideology.

    He also has some very good pieces in Slate on technological unemployment.

  3. What would genuinely shock Austrians is a letter he sent to James Galbraith, where he said that while he did not mind a priori analysis (!) or empirical analysis, he felt that such analysis is needed to be backed by mathematics.

    Now, while Nassim Nicholas Taleb has given the strongest contemporary argument against use of mathematics in understanding human relations, I was impressed by the fact that Krugman wasn't entirely dogmatic in relying on "fancy math models".

    I don't know how to say it exactly. An economist, in his best moments, will use really good arguments that simply did not strike anybody else. In his worst moments, he says the same things as the lowest common denominator. Free marketers in their worst moments say the exact shallow things their deriders strawmen them for, and the same goes for progressive economists.

    It takes incredible patience to focus on everybody's best arguments and ignore their casual statements, which may be sometimes silly.

  4. Re my: "Casey Mulligan Nominates Himself for This Year's Stupidest Man Alive Prize..."

    Cf. your: "it was shocking to me that someone employed by the University of Chicago could get away with writing such drivel..."

    Et tu David?

    My view is that we have a very serious problem here. It's not clear to me that I have the right way of trying to deal with it. But it's not clear to me how your way of dealing with it is different from mine...


    Brad DeLong

  5. Brad -

    :) true, perhaps. I don't know - I personally see a big difference between calling what someone says "stupid" or any other caustic term and calling them "stupid". I don't think Mulligan himself is stupid... I think some pretty bad stupid stuff ends up getting written by him. Perhaps there is no difference.

    I do think your blog posts can occassionally get caustic in a more personal way. Steve Horwitz is one guy that I've had a lot of personal conversations with and who I respect a lot that you've criticized a lot. My criticisms of what Steve has written are practicaclly identical to your criticisms, but I would never call him "the stupidist man alive".

    Still, I know it's probably meant to be more playful smack-your-forhead posting than anything else, and I think it's a lot tamer than what gets heaped on you and Krugman both.

  6. Perhaps this is presumptuous of me to say, but maybe a New Years resolution could be to retire the "stupidest man alive" posts?

    This goes for my readers as well - if I ever attack a person, rather than an idea, by all means please call me out on it.

  7. On the European left-of-center poll that you link, your words in quotation marks are not actually a quotation from that blog. You make it sound more as if people mistakenly thought Krugman was European, but as I read it the poll is just asking about people who are influential for European politics, with no reference to whether or not they need to be European themselves.

  8. Damn it, you need to stop reading so closely.

    I swear, the moment you wise up and start reading econ books you're going to show me up as the dumbass I am.

    Admissions committees can disregard that last one - I'm really smart.

  9. The Austrians despise Krugman because we do not think he is a great economist, and he throws so much of his weight pursuing and arguing for terrible policy recommendations.

    That's our opinion, anyway.

    There's nothing personal about him (well, maybe the fact that he sometimes talks about things he knows nothing about. hint hint: late 90s slate article on "hangover theory"). He's just the most influential Keynesian commentator in the world. Naturally we aren't so friendly.

    If you want specifics on why we don't like him, any casual glance at the different policy recommendations Austrians and Keynesians give should do.

  10. OK Mattheus, but I think a lot of Austrians argue for terrible policy recommendations, but that doesn't make me "despise" those Austrians. I don't think that's really sufficient, do you?

    I also don't think that gives credit to Austrians who disagree with Krugman, but don't "despise" him.

  11. None of the Austrians you disagree with are nearly as famous or vocal as Krugman. It's a combination of 1) perceived idiocy and 2) a megaphone to academia at large.

    If you can imagine an Austrian economist with one of the most trafficked blogs in academia, recently winning a Nobel Prize, who teaches at the LSE, and who dogmatically gives policy recommendations antithetical to your worldview coupled with an attitude of superiority and sanctimony - you might despise him as well.

  12. I think it's the "dogmatically" and the "attitude of superiority and sanctimony" that confuses me.

    There's nothing that I know of that Krugman has done out of "dogma". The most superiority and sanctimony I see out of him is towards politicians, not other economists. When he gets frustrated enough to strike out at economists he usually gives ample reason, and it's rarely a personal attack (I can't think of any personal attacks off hand... there's bound to be some I understand - it's the blogosphere after all).

    I find that many Austrians and libertarians have a horrendous time differentiating between "I think that's a dumb idea" and "I think you're dumb", which leads them to get their panties in a twist over people like Krugman. A lot of it is because a lot of Austrians/libertarians don't understand how professional economic criticism works. It's not a "treat them with kid gloves" profession. Professional criticism is harsh, but it's not personal. Krugman brings that to his blog and a lot of people interpret it as ad hominem when in most cases no ad hominem attack has been delivered.

  13. I think Krugman has a very confronting way of writing:

    'After the election, he began to attack Bush’s policies in his column, and, as his outrage escalated, his attacks grew more venomous. Krugman felt that liberals were unwilling to confront or even to acknowledge the anger on the right with some of their own, so he was going to have to do it'

    Read more

    His recent comments about Ron Paul and Austrian economics are ignorant and disparaging. So naturally he is going to steer some emotions. Not that I agree with that.

    And then there is his obsession with Chinese currency and calls for protectionism that go against all of his previous work.


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