Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

All Ideology, All The Time

Let's begin at the beginning Megan McArdle on Paul Krugman's correction of her work:

Paul Krugman clarifies his point about temporary versus permanent spending [Cowen quote.]

Etc. I covered this here. It is yet another example of McArdle's manipulations, both subtle and sledge-hammer, to evade responsibility for her words.

I quake to take on a Nobel-Prize winning economist, so perhaps I should call these my misunderstandings of, rather than my problems with, the post.

Perhaps you should, since you can't claim Krugman misunderstood or misinterpreted you, as you often do with your critics. However in the past you certainly did not quake to criticize Krugman:

Krugman also thought we might be about to get into a recession several earlier times, when I was more skeptical; in that sense, I called it better than he did. My care about calling a recession earlier in the year was not because I thought the economy was in fine fettle. Rather, it was because Britain had, against all theory, dodged a recession despite a popping housing bubble even more impressive than ours. This even though they'd gone more than a decade without one. Having watched the British economy in my professional capacity for most of the current decade, I'd seen it declared on the verge of recession multiple times by various commenters, for what seemed like good and sound reasons; nonetheless, it never quite went there. This made me somewhat cautious about proclaiming that a recession was inevitable based on our fundamentals.

Paul Krugman is voting for doom. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that Paul Krugman has predicted eight of the last none recessions under the Bush administration.

Unlike other popularisers, such as Paul Krugman, whose best popular work (such as Pop Internationalism) focused on his own field, what Mr Friedman is known for within the academy is completely different from what has made him famous outside it, which is possibly why liberals tend to classify him with Mr Galbraith. Mr Friedman has done more than possibly any other economist to advance the cause of free markets. But that is not his only contribution; perhaps it is not even his largest. Anyone who would compare the Nobel prize-winner to JKG as an economist can only have a gaping hole in their economic education.

This is a good one, considering the circumstances. It's long but worth it.

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not over-fond of Paul Krugman's NewYork Times column. I don't hate it on ideological grounds; I hate it for reasons
of economic efficiency. Surely we have better uses for our nation's tiny stock of really smart economists, than using one to write 1400 words a week proving that the Bush administration is at the root of every single bad thing that ever happens in the world?

I don't blame Mr Krugman entirely. For one thing, it is Mr Bush's fault for getting elected; if you read through Mr Krugman's 2000 columns, it is clear that this event unhinged him. The slow decline starts in the summer of 2000, and by Jan 1, Mr Krugman has been transformed from Dr Jekyll, the economist who wrote so elegantly and eloquently on issues like trade and productivity, into Mr Hyde, the economist who thinks that his PhD somehow elevates his poorly researched forays into politics and international affairs into something worth reading, and who hates the Bush administration so much that no crime is too ludicrous to accuse them of--including forcing the outgoing president of Indonesia into making anti-semitic remarks.

For another, the medium is a poor one for anything weightier than Maureen Dowd's fluff. (I don't particularly enjoy said fluff, myself, but it is sufficiently vacuous that the time and space constraints do it no damage.) Writing twice a week is too heavy a burden for a columnist, particularly one with a day job. 700 words is
far too short to say anything interesting or meaningful about economics. And Mr
Krugman has had his column for going on six years, which is too long. One gets
the sense that he keeps repeating "I hate George Bush" because he has long ago
exhausted his supply of insight.

I also think that the venue is reinforcing Mr Krugman's already noticeable tendencies towards paranoia and savage assaults on those who disagree with him. Now, all political administrations can use a few good savage assaults. But the ratio of savagery to sense is getting rather top-heavy. And the New York Times reinforces this
tendency, because its readership is so heavily weighted towards coastal liberals
who really, really hate George Bush. They encourage Mr Krugman in his spleen, which can't be good for his personal development. A little time off, in a nice ashram, would not be amiss.

But who could replace him? My candidate is Austan Goolsbee, one of my most favoritest professors from the University of Chicago. He's a die-hard Democrat (advised the Kerry campaign), super smart, and did I mention he's from the University of Chicago? Plus he's early in his pundit career so he's got lots of ideas, and he's of the funny, rather than savage, school of economic argument. Let's start a write-in campaign to get Mr Goolsbee the recognition he deserves, and give Mr Krugman a well-earned vacation.

Following those Chicago boys and Milton Freeman, and Randian Alan Greenspan, has brought us to this most unfortunate point. Not that McArdle would admit any such thing. And this must be a example of the wit for which McArdle is so famous--calling Prof. Krugman savage, full of spleen, paranoid, and poorly reasoning, especially about foreign policy. (This would also be a good place to mention how McArdle didn't even know the prisoners in Guantanamo weren't tried by the UCMJ while she was pontificating about them, and had to be corrected by Glenn Greenwald.)

And it's nice to know that McArdle would never take that piece of fluff job writing about economics for the New York Times. Never, never, never.

I took some flak on liberal blogs for pointing out that Paul Krugman has been the voice of doom on the economy for nigh on a decade. But there was good reason to think that there might be a recession, my critics cried.

Here's the problem. What's the one time that Paul Krugman didn't forecast a recession? That would be when we actually had a recession. It just wasn't a recession that could be blamed on George Bush.

Ygglz misunderstands me; I didn't say that Paul Krugman never writes about economics; only that he has squandered a comparative and absolute advantage in writing extraordinary economics columns, in order to write not particularly interesting political columns that get taken seriously largely because he's a Very Important Economist. Even when he writes about things like health care, it's far too light on the economics, and far too heavy on the "Why do Republicans want babies to die?" rhetoric I could read from any 23-year old lit major interning at a left-wing political magazine. And when he writes about things outside his field, he makes what are (I am told) elementary mistakes on things like foreign policy, while his writing rarely reveals anything new. I don't devote my time to hating him, or anything; it's just that I wish he would write more novel an interesting things.

I'm with Felix Salmon--Paul Krugman's unequivocal declaration that this is an insolvency problem seems borderline irresponsible. What insight does a Princeton trade economist have into bank balance sheets that almost all other observers lack? I'm not near Wall Street any more, so take this for what it's worth, but what I'm hearing is indignation that JP Morgan and the Fed got such a sweet deal out of Bear's shareholders, not worry that either one will take a bath.

But now McArdle is modestly lowering her eyelashes and chirping that she just quakes at the thought of critiquing the great Paul Krugman. What could have happened to change her mind?

I'm a little late to the party--my various ailments have taken longer than expected to recover from. But though the timing may have been political, the prize is well deserved, indeed overdue, as plenty of other commenters have noted. I would offer my congratulations if I thought that the good professor cared to get them.

One of the most interesting things that I've read in multiple commenters is that his most important insights seemed obvious. I think perhaps the deepest economics insights do--after someone has pointed them out. Everything from comparative advantage to the CoaseTheorem makes you slap your head with the inescapable logic of it, and wonder how it can have escaped the human race for so long. And still, it takes a genius to reveal these obvious truths to the rest of us poor slobs. Krugman's math is far too impenetrable for this English major, but the conclusions are as clear and lovely as a bell.

She admires him so very much, you see.

As a lowly MBA, I do not think of spending money to build the bridge as a net increase in the country's wealth. We exchanged money for a bridge worth
the money we spent (or so we light-heartedly hope). One could argue that
the bridge would generate more economic value than it cost in taxes and
deadweight loss; one could also argue that it will generate less (and Japan has
quite a few bridges of this description). But this is an argument for the
bridge, not for bridge-as-stimulus.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with being an MBA. There's everything wrong with making supposedly fact-and-knowledge-based decisions and giving advice based on ideology. If you don't, you end up making stupid statements like saying that owning a new bridge doesn't mean you are more wealthy than not owning a new bridge. There's lots more, but more able people than I have already corrected McArdle.

McArdle wraps up her yapping with this:
There are better ways to assist the unemployed than to build a bridge we don't
need. If a project won't "pay" for itself, then it should be justified on
its own terms, not packaged into a stimulus so that politicians don't have to
explain their choices to the American people.

Who says we would build a bridge we don't need, instead of one we do need or repair several that have been neglected? This is such an insultingly stupid thing to say, as if we can't figure out she's using a strawman again. Her condescension to her readers is incredible, and her dishonesty is complete.

ADDED: I don't say this often enough: It might be too late to clean up after the mess Bush and his friends made. No stimulus might be enough, or the right type, or at the right time. The reason so many people were so shrill about what Bush was doing was because the lives lost could never be regained, and the money lost will never be recovered. We will finally be force to pay for what we let happen, and no amount of blaming or excusing will get us out of it.


Dillon said...

McArdle can't simply disagree on principle with experts in their field (Krugman, Greenwald, Dungey); she has to belittle them to build herself up. Like many other wingnuts, Megan is a nasty piece of work.

As far as your last paragraph, I know how you feel. It's so frustrating when the conventional wisdom is that programs like universal health care and Social Security are unaffordable pipe dreams, but a trillion dollars can be quickly appropriated for Iraq or Wall Street with minimal discussion or analysis.

Another good post, Susan.

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks, Dillon.

Yes, there always seems to be money for war--especially if they can get the lower classes to pay for it.