Productively using our time, Daniel Kuehn and I have been arguing at his blog about the recent unpleasantness which resulted in the war-crime of Krugman calling me (and Russ Roberts) “
idiots.” (Krugman’s intentional strikethrough raises it from a petty insult into a cool elbow-throw.) So here’s the progression:
(1) Russ Roberts complained that Krugman, in a post about unemployment insurance, led his readers to believe that supply-side arguments against it (such as the ones that the WSJ deployed) were goofy and ignored standard economic theory. This was ironic, since Krugman’s own textbook laid out such supply-side arguments. Russ was very clear that he was NOT accusing Krugman of an outright contradiction:
There’s nothing wrong with arguing that extending unemployment benefits is a good idea. There’s nothing wrong with arguing that extending unemployment benefits might reduce unemployment benefits by increasing aggregate demand. But how do you argue that your opponents are ideologues because they believe the opposite–that paying people to be unemployed increase unemployment when you yourself have conceded that that idea is true? [Bold added by RPM.]
(2) I followed up on Russ’ post, because I wanted to point out precisely how slippery Krugman was being. Krugman made it look like he was trying to be fair and get inside the mind of a person who disagreed that extending UI would create jobs, and the only thing Krugman came up with was “it would increase the deficit.” Krugman didn’t say, “Now of course, a perfectly plausible objection is that there are supply-side incentive issues–I explain this in my textbook. But I happen to think that such effects are swamped right now because of a shortfall of aggregate demand.” No, instead Krugman said the WSJ and Barro were throwing out decades of economic theory and ignoring the “standard view.” Like Russ, I too explicitly made sure to say that the issue was NOT whether someone could think demand-side effects outweighed supply-side ones:
To be sure, a Keynesian like Krugman could argue that in the middle of a big economic slump that such supply-side issues are of only minor importance, and get trumped by demand-side factors. But that’s not at all the argument Krugman is making in this latest blog post. Instead, he is making it sound like Barro et al. are grasping at straws, and not even relying on a coherent argument (such as fear of bigger deficits) when trying to oppose extension of unemployment benefits.
(3) Chris Dillow wanted to weigh in on Krugman’s side, and opened up his post by writing, “Paul Krugman is being accused of hypocrisy for calling for an extension of unemployment benefits when one of his textbooks says “Generous unemployment benefits can increase both structural and frictional unemployment.” (It was Dillow’s post that inspired Krugman to call Russ and me
idiots.) No no no, that is obviously not what Russ and I were saying.
(5) So it looks like a pretty open-and-shut case, right? Russ and I both said, in the original posts (i.e. not just after the fact), that we were NOT saying Krugman was forbidden from thinking demand-side considerations could trump supply-side incentive effects. Rather, we were pointing out that he was doing a great disservice to his readers by painting the supply-side perspective as nutty (indeed by not even spelling out what it was). Dillow misstates our complaint, a sharp guy like David R. Henderson uses textual analysis to show Dillow (obviously) misstated it, and then–just for kicks–the original authors (Russ and I) publicly confirm that Dillow misstated our point.
(6) Ah, but now in looking back, I have to be more merciful, because the title I chose for my Mises Canada blog post was, “Krugman Can’t Understand How Someone Could Be So Stupid as to Believe What He Used to Believe.” And in the conclusion I wrote, “Rather, my point is that Krugman frequently accuses his opponents of being stupid and/or evil, when they present a view that he himself advanced in other circumstances.” So, I can see why Dillow thought that I was accusing Krugman of an outright contradiction.
(7) Last thing: Be kind to Daniel Kuehn in the comments, he has been undergoing a sadistic sleep deprivation experiment.
UPDATE: Oh, I can’t believe I forgot: The most unintentionally hilarious epitome of how both sides are talking past each other in this dispute comes from Gene Callahan. In response to David R. Henderson saying that Russ and I were complaining about Krugman disowning the point he had made in his textbook, Gene wrote: “I’m sorry [David], but [Krugman] does not “disown” his previous argument AT ALL: zero, zilch, nada. You have not even shown him mentioning it!”
At this point, I’m not going to explain why Gene’s comment is hilarious. I think everyone who has agreed with Russ and me all along will literally laugh out loud. Everyone who has agreed with Krugman all along will say, “Right on Gene! I can’t believe what
idiots these guys are!”