19 Jan 2011

Krugman Winning Hearts and Minds

Krugman 6 Comments

When Krugman finally debates me, reporters and innocent bystanders will be rooting for me. Not because they have studied Hayekian triangles, but because of posts like this:

Jonathan Chait bemoans the wonk gap:

One of the unusual and frustrating aspects of the health care debate is the sheer imbalance of people who understand the issue at all from a technical standpoint. Even the elite policy wonks of the right make wildly incorrect claims about the issue.

First of all, I don’t think this is unique to health care, or especially unusual. Monetary policy, fiscal policy, you name it, there’s a gap, although not quite as large as on health.

Second, I’m surprised that Chait doesn’t refer to Upton Sinclair’s principle: it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. In fact, in general right-wing think tanks prefer people who genuinely can’t understand the issues — it makes them more reliable.

Doesn’t this apply to both sides? Not equally. There was a time when conservative think tanks employed genuine policy wonks, and when asked to devise a Republican health care plan, they came up with — Obamacare! That is, what passes for leftist policy now is what was considered conservative 15 years ago; to meet the right’s standards of political correctness now, you have to pass into another dimension, a dimension whose boundaries are that of imagination, untrammeled by things like arithmetic or logic.

Wouldn’t the right be better served by better wonks? No. For one thing, they’d be unreliable — they might start making sense at an inappropriate moment. And, crucially, the media generally can’t tell the difference. I’ve had long exchanges with reporters over the doc fix; let me tell you, it’s very, very hard to get the point across. People like me tend to think in terms of simple thought experiments, but reporters keep wanting to dive into the political ins and outs, no matter how many times you try to say that those are irrelevant.

Or maybe the simplest way to say this is, Ignorance is Strength. And why tamper with a winning formula?

6 Responses to “Krugman Winning Hearts and Minds”

  1. Daniel Hewitt says:

    When Krugman finally debates you, reporters and innocent bystanders will run for cover.


    Don’t say you haven’t been warned Bob.

  2. Juggernaut says:

    Krugman has finally acknowledged your existence. No pressure…. but we are all waiting for you to kick his behind..


  3. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I don’t know, Bob. I hear conservatives and libertarians saying that “reporters and innocent bystanders” don’t understand economics all the time. Some days it seems like it’s practically Daniel Klein’s mission in life to say this. This goes for Don Boudreaux and Arnold Kling as well. The regular repetition that “your side simply does not know what it is talking about”.

    I think you just recognize it when it is hurled at your side.

    There is a ring of truth to this claim about expertise too, though. I work at The Urban Institute, a non-profit, center-left think tank. On two projects I’m on this week alone we’ve disappointed our clients (who are our funders – we work off of contracts and project-specific grants) because the answers that our objective, technical work came up with did not come out the way they like or the way I imagine they expected. How often do you suppose Cato’s funders are disappointed or surprised by what Cato comes up with? How about the Mises Institute? Aside from some interncine flame wars, are its funders ever told “sorry, your prior understandings are wrong”? I doubt it happens all that often.

    The farther left you get, the less serious it gets, of course. But the center of gravity of the Democratic Party let’s say (for concreteness sake) tends to have a much more serious, objective, knowledgable reserve of “wonks” than the Republican Party (much less the Tea Party however you choose to construe it).

  4. Michael Duff says:

    But do Republicans and Libertarians really need wonks the way Democrats do?

    How much research does it take to justify leaving people alone?

  5. Citizen X says:

    I don’t know, Daniel K. For one thing, Thugman isn’t just saying that reporters and the general public are ignorant of economics (a highly plausible observation), he is specifically charging rightwing wonks with intellectual incompetence, dishonesty and craven loyalty to funding sources. The quoted passage gives no specific examples of course, just the usual vague, bilious condemnations of people Thugman has disagreements with. It is after all his stock in trade. He then asks rhetorically if both sides do it and surprise surprise, he opines that no, its primarily his enemies, the very agents of Satan Himself who are guilty, guilty, guilty as charged. Why?, because Thugman says so, thats why. He then makes the dubious claim that nameless conservative think tanks supported Obamacare 15 years ago. Once again, the passage provides no specific names or institutions, just the usual Thugman invectives. As for your claim of intellectual integrity at The Urban Institute, just more baldly self serving and unverifiable rhetoric, since who among us on the outside could disprove such a claim? Again, you offer no proof for your scurrilous charge against Cato or The Mises Institute, just the usual impudent, self serving left wing smear job . The problem with Paul Thugman isn’t his hyper partisan invective or his obvious desire to win the political argument by any means neccessary (ironic since he has accused others like Milton Friedman of same) but rather his left wing fundamentalist view that if one has a substantial disagreement with him about politics or economics one is ipso facto a morally degenerate idiot with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He is the very epitome of an intemperate left wing extremist and all around intellectual thug.

  6. AP Lerner says:

    Dear Mr. Murphy – wanted to share with your this fantastic paper by Austrian economist Vijay Boyapati.


    Maybe now you’ll update your thinking on the banking system, realize the banking system is never reserve constrained, and all those excess reserves you claim will cause an increase in bank lending and ultimately inflation are meaningless. You may want to understand the mechanics of money and baking before entering the ring with Mr. Krugman.