30 Dec 2013

Paul Krugman Wants to Make Sense of Humor the Criterion

Humor, Krugman 15 Comments

As Seinfeld would say, “I’m offended as a comedian.” Krugman now writes:

Matt O’Brien makes a funny about BitCoin — and the faithful are furious.

But then, they do seem to be a humor-impaired bunch. I’ve been getting rage-filled missives about the title of my last post on the subject. Folks, there’s this concept you may not have heard about, called a “joke.”

And it’s not just BitCoin. When I think about the various debates I’ve been engaged in over the past five years, what’s striking is how furious and huffy the other side gets when people like me use picturesque language to get a point across — “confidence fairy”, “zombie idea”, and so on. As in other matters, this is not symmetric. I get called a lot of names, but so what? The argument’s the thing.

Or maybe not, for some people. As the old lawyer’s line says, if the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if the law is on your side, pound the law; if neither are on your side, pound the table. I’d add: and demand “civility.”

In other words, I think that when one side in a debate lacks all sense of humor, and gets deeply offended when the other side cracks a joke, it’s an indicator of intellectual insecurity.

Now I could make this all about me, and bring up the time Krugman referred to my sushi article as having “puerile insults.” (???!!? Do you know how hard it is to pull off a joke about Cobb-Douglas production functions?!)

Or, I could bring up the time Krugman publicly refused to debate me, because apparently my shirtless Mike Myers impression was just a “public circus.” Noooo, when it’s Paul Krugman who’s the object of humor, then all of a sudden “the public interest isn’t served by turning this into entertainment TV,” and we need to settle debates over economic policy “on the issues.”

But that would just look like self-serving whining. The ultimate demonstration of Krugman’s hypocrisy on this point–where he has the gall to say “the other side” can’t take a joke and this proves intellectual insecurity–is this episode:

15 Responses to “Paul Krugman Wants to Make Sense of Humor the Criterion”

  1. @ZeevKidron says:

    I recommend fixing a few major issues with one small reform of Tort Law. Make health givers less liable and make policy wonks more liable. We’ll make healthcare a little more affordable and Krugman’s eternal incessant policy advocacy a LOT less frequent.

    Right now you (and me, and Krugman) can make policy recommendations at will, but what happens if the results of those policies will become subject to court action and punitive damages suites?

    Of course if we do that, Bob Murphy will have to find another way to fill this blog 🙂

  2. Major_Freedom says:

    A few months ago I did an experiment. I tried my best to admire Krugman. I tried to be understanding of him being attacked all the time. I tried to view him as someone who is just trying to fight the good fight. I tried to default to thinking of him as correct. I tried to justfy what he said. I tried to view his opponents as more often wrong than right.

    I realized something. He has mastered the inferiority complex playing the victim game. He has created an enemy in his mind (conservatism), and anything and everything he says is rationalized as class warfare where everything you do in the name of that war is fair game. Even if the tactics he uses are the very same tactics he criticizes from his opponents, it doesn’t matter. It’s good when he does it but bad when his opponents do it, because his enemy is wrong and evil by default.

    Krugman isn’t a liberal, he’s just an anti-conservative. If he sounds like he’s promoting liberalism, he’s really just passively aggressively attacking conservatism.

    • Gamble says:


      You give Krug and other libs too much credit. They are not anti conservative or passive aggressive. What they are is pathological liars with a schizoid kicker. Dig and you will learn everyone of them was touched deeply by person of trust and never fully recovered…

    • Lee Waaks says:

      I think it is useless to psychoanalyze our political opponents. In fact, we look much better if we avoid such comments altogether and focus purely on the arguments.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        I think psychoanalyzation can be a benefit. It can help explain a person’s behavior.

        You’re just afraid of what people will think of you for doing it. Fear is not a good motivator.

      • RIchard Moss says:

        Lee Waaks,


  3. Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

    Ah, the classic “I’m just joking!” defense. The last stand of someone whose argument has been so thoroughly decimated they no longer have a leg to stand on. Any time anyone ever says “Relax, I was just joking” following a serious intellectual debate, you can feel free to substitute, “You’re right, my argument IS pretty stupid” in your head.

  4. The Narrator says:

    The odd thing is that the ‘Bitcoin is evil’ title of his earlier post doesn’t even qualify as humor. I don’t mean that it’s bad or feeble comedy or anything like that. No, I mean it in the sense that it is not clear where the comic effect is supposed to be coming from, regardless of whether it actually does a good job at achieving that effect.

    I mean, the article was about how important it is to distinguish between normative and positive economics. Okay, and then he (or an editor) titles the article ‘Bitcoin is evil’. Can somebody explain in a technical sense how this is a joke. For example, how is the title a commentary on the content?

    If he had titled it ‘Bitcoin can’t work because I dislike its implications for society’ it *would* be a kind of ironic, self-deprecating or whatever commentary and qualify as a joke (because it does exactly what Krugman in the article shows should not be done), a somewhat feeble one, but still. But I simply don’t understand how this is even supposed to work with the title ‘Bitcoin is evil’.

    The comedy might come from the sheer, blatant trollishness of the title, but if that’s the idea then it’s entirely unconnected to the content of the article, and would be comedy of a highly unusual nature for a setting like this.

    • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

      Perhaps the editor is secretly an Austrian – in which case the comedy comes from the fact that the headline blatantly and unapologetically highlights that for Krugman, anything that reflects poorly on central banking and diminishes the government’s ability to steal from us – is inherently evil.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Guys, Krugman picks his blog post titles (I am 99% sure). In that post, he was basically saying, “Most of our complaints about Bitcoin have been based on positive economics, but you know, the PROPONENTS of it seem motivated, deep down, by their hatred of government, and thus their normative judgements. Well shucks, in that respect, let me say that Bitcoin is evil, ha ha.”

        • The Narrator says:

          I agree that that is what he was saying in the article, and he also says that we should keep talking about both the normative and the positive dimension of bitcoin which gives him the room to say something about the normative dimension of bitcoin, and yes, then I guess there is a comedy element to it when he then sort of just (self-awarely) goes all out in that respect by saying ‘bitcoin is evil’.

          darn it, so Krugman made a joke that I didn’t get. This is making me have to reconsider some things in and about my life, and what I thought was true and good and false and bad.

  5. Z says:

    Nailed it, Bob. I learned long ago that whenever one side claims the other side is uniquely vicious or uniquely unable to take a joke, in this case, about 99% of the time, they are flaming hypocrites. Anyone who is not completely dishonest realizes this very early on. It’s still good that you are writing these articles, however, because those who are not honest need to be dragged to this realization kicking and screaming.

  6. Tel says:

    Paul Krugman is a Very Serious Person when he wants to be, you know playing violin over the plight of poverty stricken workers and all da inequalitee. Best avoid any black humour about how minimum wage is making the situation worse.

  7. Bob Roddis says:

    About all those inflation predictions….on my bi-annual trip to McDonald’s for a McDouble, I was shocked to find that it cost $1.19. I recall fries for 15 cents in the 60s. Wazup wit dat?

    One favorite dollar menu item missing off the new list is the McDouble, which will see a 20 percent price increase. Amarillo resident Wallace Wellington said he isn’t happy the McDouble didn’t make the dollar cut. “I’m very upset about that because of the fact that’s been the household item. That’s been something I’ve had to have when I come into McDonald’s.”


    I know. Beef prices went up due to a drought caused by Global Warming.

  8. skylien says:

    Krugman has a great sense of humor. You guys still remember when he was joking about the need of creating a housing bubble back in 2002? I laughed my ass off… Sometimes I really think he was a much better comedian than economist.

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