Historian Niall Ferguson – who as shown here, has the guts to admit where he made a wrong prediction – has clearly had more than flesh and blood can stand from Paul Krugman:
So we public intellectuals should not brag too loudly when we get things right. Nor should we condemn too harshly the predictions of others that are subsequently falsified by events. The most that we can do in this unpredictable world is read as widely and deeply as we can, think seriously, and then exchange ideas in a humble and respectful manner. Nobody ever seems to have explained this to Paul Krugman. There is a reason that his hero John Maynard Keynes did not go around calling his great rival Friedrich Hayek a “mendacious idiot” or a “dope”.
For too long, Paul Krugman has exploited his authority as an award-winning economist and his power as a New York Times columnist to heap opprobrium on anyone who ventures to disagree with him. Along the way, he has acquired a claque of like-minded American bloggers who play a sinister game of tag with him, endorsing his attacks and adding vitriol of their own. (I would like to name and shame in this context Dean Baker, Josh Barro, Brad DeLong, Matthew O’Brien, Noah Smith, Matthew Yglesias and Justin Wolfers.)
Krugman and his acolytes evidently relish the viciousness of their attacks, priding themselves on the crassness of their language. But I should like to know what qualifies a figure like Matt O’Brien to call anyone a “disingenuous idiot”? What exactly are his credentials? 35,650 tweets? How does he essentially differ from the cranks who, before the Internet, had to vent their spleen by writing letters in green ink?
And there is this:
I am not an economist. I am an economic historian. The economist seeks to simplify the world into mathematical models – in Krugman’s case models erected upon the intellectual foundations laid by John Maynard Keynes. But to the historian, who is trained to study the world “as it actually is”, the economist’s model, with its smooth curves on two axes, looks like an oversimplification. The historian’s world is a complex system, full of non-linear relationships, feedback loops and tipping points. There is more chaos than simple causation. There is more uncertainty than calculable risk. For that reason, there is simply no way that anyone – even Paul Krugman – can consistently make accurate predictions about the future. There is, indeed, no such thing as the future, just plausible futures, to which we can only attach rough probabilities. This is a caveat I would like ideally to attach to all forward-looking conjectural statements that I make. It is the reason I do not expect always to be right. Indeed, I expect often to be wrong. Success is about having the judgment and luck to be right more often than you are wrong.
Ferguson goes to painstaking detail to list the various wrong predictions that Krugman has made, and then points out the absurdity of how the professor seems willing and able to claim that his predictions have been more or less correct and his opponents are morons.
The general conclusion to draw from all this is that just because a person gets a Nobel or whatnot for economics is no infallible guide to the usefulness of that person’s predictions, or policy prescriptions. Another is that civility and courtesy towards those who disagree with you is, in general, expected of those who want to use their academic credentials in support of a controversial point of view. Of course, people get heated. When debating about the life and work of, say, a Marxist historian who continued to sing the praises of the Soviet Union long after its crimes were manifest, for example, a bit of harshness is to be expected. Another justification for anger is where there are signs of plagiarism, say, or when a person uses bullying tactics to silence opponents or misrepresent them and try and wreck careers.
When debating those who are unconvinced of, say, Keynesian economics, the sort of bullying that Krugman engages in is ultimately self-destructive. It makes the person who is doing the bullying look, well, insecure. The problem is that Krugman no seems to know, or care, how bad his sort of behaviour is for his own legacy and impact. The contrast with the late Milton Friedman, for example, is instructive.