Friday, February 6, 2015

Krugman on Krugman and His Detractors



Paul Krugman is my role model in punditry -- he's more of a professor than a pundit -- because he is so dogged, and he doggedly attempts to persuade while providing as much unvarnished data as he can. He doesn't mind being "shrill." He believes he's fighting the good fight.

I think he succeeds. His detractors are outraged. In this blog post, Krugman reflects on this harsh criticism. A good read.

Michael Kinsley went full-bore after Krugman over austerity. Why?

Note. I reread the Kinsley piece. He is only mildly contemptuous toward Krugman. What amplifies it are the rhetorical tricks he uses to mute the messages on both sides of the austerian debate. Krugman wasn't talking about endless platters of desserts, out-of-control spending, or budgets bigger than Jupiter. He was talking, yes, about the need for more stimulus spending -- especially with borrowing rates near zero -- and most especially about the paradox of thrift, which is cutting spending and saving more at a time of decreasing demand in the economy. When people -- and governments -- say, "I'm worried about my future, so I save more and spend less," the result is likely to be a further depressed economy in which demand drops further, and, guess what, you lose your job! Put that in your savings account!

Kinsley, instead, talks about how he doesn't know who's right or wrong, he just knows spinach is good for you and dessert is bad. He trims around the edges of the debate with snark and leaves little on the plate. His argument is an empty vessel by the time he's done being clever. A real debate can be had about whether austerity is a good approach during a down economy. He isn't taking part in that debate, but he takes his swings at Krugman. Why? To impress his friends?

Brad DeLong's deconstruction of Kinsley's article has the force of something called analysis, something sorely lacking in Kinsley's article. Advice to Kinsley: Snark is fine, just back it up with facts instead of tricks you learned in debate club.

I'm more ambivalent about Andrew Sullivan. I was annoyed by his heartfelt apologies for wrong past views, and I could have admired him for being so repentant about Iraq if the destruction wasn't so grim and on-going (ISIS anyone?). I did find his internal-debate style of blogging, including critical comments as he did, captivating. I clearly believe he's a formidable writer and commentator. Still, Krugman and DeLong are right about his unnecessary criticisms of Krugman while simultaneously claiming Krugman's right more often than not. It's like claiming okay, Angelina Jolie is beautiful, I just don't like the way she's beautiful. What's the point? (I'm sure it's that you don't like Angelina Jolie.)

In the end -- and Sullivan's blogging is ending -- Sullivan added a lot to the debate. I'm just not sure it added up to much beyond entertainment.

Finally, if you want to see a real snark-fest, google Niall Ferguson's pathological attacks on Krugman. Here's a primer.

Niall Ferguson: Looking over his shoulder a bit too much?


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