12 Mar 2012

How Low Does Krugman Have to Go…

Economics, Krugman, Steve Landsburg 25 Comments

…before his Keynesian colleagues abandon him? In a recent post Krugman writes:

Mark Thoma catches Kevin Hassett playing for Team Republican; really, no surprise. But Mark’s catch has me thinking: what, if anything, would make reasonable, moderate conservative intellectuals accept that the GOP no longer offers them a home?

For such people do exist — or at least there is such a position. You can believe that the welfare state is too big without believing that the unemployed are just lazy; you can believe that more activist monetary and especially fiscal policy would be a mistake without practicing Dark Age macroeconomics. Obviously I disagree, but I can see how a reasonable person could hold such views.

But these are not the views that prevail, or indeed are considered even marginally acceptable, in today’s Republican Party. The modern party is, on social issues, the party of Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum; on economic issues it is the party of Ron Paul and Arthur Laffer. Nobody with political ambitions within the GOP dares challenge these views; attempts to defend Mitt Romney depend entirely on the proposition, or maybe hope, that everything he says is a lie (which seems like a good assumption in any case).

And no, there’s nothing comparable on the other side. Sure, Obama plays some word games — but in word and deed he’s a moderately liberal, slightly interventionist politician whom neither liberals nor, if truth be told, moderate conservatives should find especially alarming.

So when do the reasonable conservatives jump ship? David Frum and Bruce Bartlett have done the deed; but who else?

Of course, maybe the people we think are reasonable actually aren’t. Some supposedly libertarian bloggers have let down their guard, coming out in favor of the vile Virginia probe law and the Rush slut attack, and revealing in the process that all that reasonableness was just a facade.

But what’s mainly going on, I think, is cynical ambition — an unwillingness to take the hit to hopes of future office and influence that would come from acknowledging that this is not the Republican Party of yore.

So on the “Rush slut attack” phrase, Krugman of course is linking to a story about Steve Landsburg and his controversial role in the Fluke Fiasco. Regular readers know I think Landsburg’s defenders have gone overboard, but I am quite surprised to see Krugman somehow spinning this as Steve’s attempt to play for “Team Republican.”

I mean seriously, anyone even remotely familiar with Landsburg knows that Krugman’s analysis of motives is preposterous. So Krugman launched that personal attack either (a) without having a clue of what he was talking about or (b) knowing full well it was a lie. Take your pick.

Even though I personally know this wasn’t a case of Steve “letting his guard down” and forgetting to put on his fake libertarian mask–while secretly pining to get the nod from the Council of Economic Advisors–I decided to make it official. I googled “George W Bush” at Landsburg’s blog and within 30 seconds I was reading from this post, which Landsburg put up in January 2011:

The LA Times reports that Republican lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to return to the Bush-era practice of sending jackbooted thugs into private workplaces to arrest illegal aliens — revealing (as if we didn’t already know) that virulent xenophobia is alive and well in the Republican party. (Note well the hypocrisy of complaining that foreigners sneak into our country to take advantage of the welfare system, and then addressing the problem by focusing your deportation efforts on foreigners who have obviously come here to work).

Now it’s true, in that post Steve goes on to say that the Democrats are probably slightly more shameful on this dimension than the Republicans, but it is hardly a rah-rah-let’s-go-GOP piece.

In contrast, let’s remember the beautiful quotation I highlighted in this masterpiece:

A funny thing has been happening on Capitol Hill: lately, the Democrats have started exceeding expectations. Health reform, pronounced dead by all the usual suspects, happened (all hail Nancy Pelosi, arguably the greatest Speaker ever). —Paul Krugman, May 16, 2010.

Also, let’s not forget that Krugman constantly pats himself on the back for warning everybody about the bogus propaganda being offered by the White House in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Has Krugman said a single word about the current saber-rattling about Iran? Is that because he thinks there is a much better case for Iran?

(On that score, let me acknowledge that Brad DeLong recently went nuts at his blog over an Orwellian statement by Eric Holder [sorry no link]. So I think DeLong is actually an ideological Keynesian, more than a starter for Team Democrat.)

In closing, let me turn Krugman’s post around and ask his colleagues: What more does this guy have to do, before you agree he’s gone too far? I can’t understand why “nice guy” Karl Smith threw in the towel on this issue. Karl seems to be saying (my paraphrase), “Yes, if it were just an academic dispute with nothing really at stake, then being cordial to your opponents would be important and productive. But since the world economy and real lives are at stake, I think Krugman’s childish insults and petty misrepresentation of his opponents is the right thing to do.”

To repeat, I’m obviously paraphrasing–quite heavily–what Karl actually said, but since I think the above is a legitimate paraphrase, you can see why I don’t understand his apparent conversion to the Way of Krugman.

Let me put it this way: Guys like me, who think government intervention constitutes theft and is therefore impermissible, obviously aren’t going to be swayed by a new econometric study of the multiplier. But there are plenty of economists who are on the fence. And when Krugman acts like Scott Farkus (the guy with yellow eyes), a lot of these scholars on the fence are going to actively root against him. They’re going to subconsciously hope price inflation picks up while unemployment stays high, because people can’t stand a bully. So if you think Krugman has been giving spot-on policy recommendations, you should recognize that his boorish behavior (considered as a partial derivative, if you will) makes it less likely that people will embrace the correct policies.

In contrast, from my perspective, I’m glad Krugman handles himself like such a jerk.

25 Responses to “How Low Does Krugman Have to Go…”

  1. Ken B says:

    Told ya so.

    In more detail.
    Debate is conducted within a set of implict standards and rules.
    One of the points I made in our recent back and forth was that linking Landsburg to the slut smear only because he failed to abjure Limbaugh forcefully enough implicitly changes the rules of the game by establishing a dangerous and unfair standard. You can be slut-linked just because you don’t genuflect.
    Now we see that happening. Of course we see it from someone like Krugman first, but I emphasize ‘first’.
    If the standard you defended is to be the rule now it’s hard to call Krugman out of bounds, and you can expect followers.
    This isn’t about what Landsburg really thinks, it’s about those implict rules of discourse.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Ken B. wrote: Told ya so.

      Oh my gosh Ken, if you are trying to make me jump off a bridge, you’re putting up a great effort.

      If Krugman had said, “Wow, I can’t believe Steve Landsburg thought Rush made a great analogy about Fluke,” I would have said, “I’m not surprised Krugman said that; entirely understandable given what Steve wrote.”

      What did appall me about Krugman’s post was that he said Steve’s apparent endorsement of Rush proves Steve isn’t really a libertarian but instead is trying to get a job with Republicans.

      • Ken B says:

        Now Bob, your argument isn’t that shameful.

        Besides, economists float.

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I think the large majority of your Krugman Kontradictions are at least as unfair to Krugman as this post was to Landsburg, which is a way of saying that I don’t “abandon him” for the same reason that I don’t “abandon” you. Both of you write things I think you’d be wiser not to, but it rarely amounts to any reason to “abandon” you.

    And I can’t think of a single Krugman post that I think was as problematic as that Fluke post from Landsburg – the one you thought was funny! – and I don’t harbor any lasting ill-will against Landburg for that.

    A lot of this is in the eye of the beholder, and each person brings a different set of expectations, but also interpretations. This is exactly why these fights over so Krugman are so unproductive. Is he a polarizing figure? Obviously. But that says as much about you guys as it does about him. And he certainly isn’t distinguished in that regard.

    Most people don’t think of him as a “jerk”. Most people think of him as a liberal New York Times columnist who has successively been a critic of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. It’s only a very small subset of the internet community that actually thinks of him as a “jerk”, and a lot of them are no better than him (which is to say, not all that bad).

    • Bob Murphy says:

      DK wrote: I don’t “abandon him” for the same reason that I don’t “abandon” you. Both of you write things I think you’d be wiser not to, but it rarely amounts to any reason to “abandon” you.

      That’s fair enough. I was mostly just writing a mirror-image of Krugman’s post. Had Karl Smith not recently defended Krugman’s style, I probably wouldn’t have even written this post.

      • Robert Fellner says:

        That’s not a fair comparison, at all. Krugman regularly demonizes and insists those that disagree with him are stupid or not interested in advancing the discussion etc.

        Bob is the exact opposite. I’ve never seen anyone spend more time on trying to be as objective and sympathetic to the other guys’ point of view in my life.

        Bob you’ve gone bonkers if you think DK is an impartial referee qualified to make the insanely ludicrous comparison that you and Krugman are even in the same galaxy in terms of being unfair to your opponents.

        • Ken B says:

          For what it’s worth, as someone who seems to disagree with Bob on even on the time of day, yeah. Bob engages. (That’s why he’s always so bruised :>)

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Thanks RF but to be clear, I was saying to Daniel that actually I don’t expect people to “abandon” Krugman. I was bluffing in the post as a mirror to what Krugman was demanding.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          re: “Bob is the exact opposite.”

          Bob has a regular habit of saddling me with some kind of embrace of murder for my views on foreign policy. That seems a lot less nice to me than anything I’ve read on Krugman’s blog. I try to respond to that sort of thing forcefully but with a sense of composure, but I could be more dismissive.

          I think it’s best to take a deep breath, recognize that people come at these things from very different places (I know WHY Bob says the things he does about me even if I don’t like it), and not be so high and mighty in dismissing anyone. Otherwise we wouldn’t have anyone to talk with, and that not only wouldn’t be very fun – it wouldn’t be productive either.

          Krugman gets A LOT of crap too, usually from a lot more directions. You really need to remember that. And usually when he goes over the top, while he may not have a good reason to make the accusations he does – he usually has plenty of good reasons to be frustrated.

          • Daniel Kuehn says:

            This comment isn’t to dump on Bob. That’s my whole point, actually. I don’t want to “dismiss” Bob for this. And I do think Bob respects me as a blogger, even if I don’t like all that.

            People who think Krugman is just awful need to recognize why some of us don’t think he’s all that bad.

            • Teqzilla says:

              Everyone recognises why you don’t think he’s all that bad. It’s because you have a deep spiritual bond with Krugman and can therefore judge him by the true contents of his heart and mind. The rest of us can only go on what he says.

              • Daniel Kuehn says:

                You let me know when you find a case where I’ve said anything about Krugman that goes off of a “spiritual bond” and not on something he says.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          In other words – if I think Bob, in his exasperation at some points – is a fair blogger (and I do think he’s a fair blogger), you should be able to accept Krugman as a fair blogger, even if you don’t always like his approach.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          re: “the insanely ludicrous comparison”

          btw – I always think this reaction is so funny. You should realize that when I compare someone to Krugman, it’s probably a compliment!

  3. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, I think you misunderstood what Krugman was saying about Steve Landsburg. In that paragraph, he was talking about bloggers who are considered “reasonable libertarians” revealing themselves to be far-right social conservatives. In other words, what Krugman sees as problematic in Rush Limbaugh’s comments were the condemnation of Ms. Fluke’s social values, and so when he heard that Landsburg defended Rush, he assumed that Steve was joining in on the social condemnation.

    This isn’t the first time Krugman has made this point; earlier he made the case that the racist newsletters revealed Ron Paul to be a far-right social reactionary, not a pleasant libertarian that Democrats should appreciate for his anti-war views.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Keshav OK you might be right. You’re saying it was the “reasonable” part and not the “libertarian” Krugman was rejecting?

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        He was rejecting both. I don’t need to tell you this, but libertarians are supposed to be (at least stereotypically ) fiscal conservatives and social liberals. In that paragraph, Krugman is accusing some people of using the fig leaf of “libertarianism” to advance their economic agenda, but in reality harboring radical social conservative attitudes. Hence the highlighting of a libertarian blogger supporting the Virginia prove law which advances a social agenda, as well as Landsburg supposedly supporting Limbaugh’s social condemnation of Sandra Fluke’s morals and activities. And hence also Krugman’s posts a while back about Ron Paul not supporting the 1964 civil rights act, and the Ron Paul racist newsletter, to showcase how the brand of libertarianism is covering up reactionary social attitudes.

  4. Rick Hull says:

    How low can he go? The problem is that he loses effectiveness at the zero lower bound. Also, the rules of decorum go out the window when we’re in a liquidity trap.

  5. UnlearningEcon says:

    I like your blog better than most Austrians but the amount of psychological projection you engage in when reading Krugman is astounding.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      That’s just your theory to explain me. But what do you mean? Krugman is psychoanalyzing his opponents here, and I’m quoting him to say it’s unfair. How am I projecting?

    • Richie says:

      …the amount of psychological projection you engage in when reading Krugman is astounding.

      This applies heavily to Daniel Kuehn also.

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