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Professor Krugman gets dragged behind the shed and is dealt with

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.

12 comments to Professor Krugman gets dragged behind the shed and is dealt with

  • Johnnydub

    Krugman is a fully paid up member of the socialist “we know better than you” class.

    I’m not got within a thousand miles of a Nobel prize, but when anyone comes out and says we should practice Keynesian economics, without firstly identifying where they are planning to cut spending so as to build up a surplus is a mendacious twat of the first order.

  • Allen Farrington

    I do not know the exact timeframe on this public debate, but I am pretty sure that Ferguson is riffing off of Donald Luskin, whose ordeals with Krugman are well summarised here.. Curious commenters should search him our further, he is an Austrian economist with a Randian edge; his book ‘I am John Galt’ seems a little amateurish coming from an academic, but nonetheless full of fight! And this speech is a good crossover of the book and the Krugman rivalry.

  • Regional

    Anyone who can live without credit cards knows more about economics than Krugman.

  • Kevin B

    The conventional wisdom is that the right sees the left as ‘wrong’, whereas the left sees the right as ‘evil’, but more and more right leaning commentators are seeing the left as truly evil.

    Oh, not because of the mendacity, hypocrisy and pure venom purveyed by the likes of Krugman and his claque; that’s just the usual knockabout stuff that has been going on since Gutenberg was a lad. Nor because they are boot-licking hucksters for the socialist cause, praising to the skys the exact policies carried out by Obama that they castigated vociferously when carried out by Bush. Ass-kissing courtiers have been a feature of political life forever.

    No, they are evil because they must know that the kind of Godzilla-on-steroids Keynesianism they advocate so shamelessly will lead to a disaster of epic proportions, and yet they knowingly continue to cheerlead those policies with gay abandon.

    The left advocate fiscal, monetary, economic, welfare, not to mention energy and immigration, policies, which they must know will lead to a massive breakdown in society, so what is their end game? Do they have an end game or are they simply intent on destruction? Do they hope to blame capitalism and the bankers and build a socialist utopia from the ashes? (Yeah, like that’s going to happen.)

    Or are they just destructive children who seek only the instant gratification of getting their way and pushing it beyond the limits of adult restraint?

  • Surellin

    Dr. Krugman is very intelligent, no doubt. However, he has taken to pontificating in an area (economic policy) that is well outside of his area of expertise (historical economics). His area of expertise is so very abstract that, when he gets to think about policy issues I believe he regards them as trivial and allows his native “leftiness” to override his rationality. He reminds me a bit of another man who dropped a very difficult subject late in life for one that he regarded as easier – Bertrand Russell. And let us note that, as a mathematician Russell was exceptional. As a philosopher, not so much.

  • @Kevin B: “Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm. But the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” — T.S. Eliot

  • He didn’t get a Nobel prize for economics, he got a Nobel prize for criticizing Bush. He’s just a Democratic Party propagandist, no more deserving of serious attention or respect than Rush Limbaugh.

  • Laird

    I don’t concede Krugman’s “intelligence”. His is a mediocre intellect.

    And remember that his Nobel prize was awarded one year before Obama’s (2008 and 2009, respectively). They’re both cut from the same (meritless) cloth.

  • Roy Lofquist

    @Mr. Hagler,

    You wrote: “no more deserving of serious attention or respect than Rush Limbaugh”.

    Yet Mr. Limbaugh gets a thousand times the notice of Mr. Krugman. Also note that Mr. Limbaugh grosses more than the entire output of the NYT, much less the miniscule contribution of Mr. Krugman to that failing enterprise.


  • Paul Marks

    Krugman himself is a bit of a non entity – about as scary as a used tissue(well if I have been coughing in one, a tissue can be quite scary..).

    N. Ferguson puts his finger on the real problem when he talks about the vast group of leftists who support Krugman (as a representative of the left) applauding everything he says – and attacking anyone he attacks.

    The “right” (for want of a better term) are like cats – we are always going in different directions and when we meet we are just as likely to fall out (“especially you Paul” – I do not deny it) as cooperate.

    The left (at least the modern left) are more like a hive-mind.

    They all act the same way and say the same things – reinforcing each other, and acting like cells in a single organism.

    Of course there are reasons for this – for example that the left are the “good students” who believed every piece of s*** that their teachers and university Profs fed them.

    But they are dangerous.

    They are dangerous by weight of numbers.

    And they are dangerous because they are relentless.

    They have no doubts and no remorse – they just keep coming, till they are all destroyed or their target is torn to pieces.

  • Allen Farrington

    Paul, your analysis seems spot on, but has an almost mystical undertone, as if this behaviour is terrifying and enigmatic in that although it can be predicted, it cannot be explained. Sorry if this is not what you meant, but I would offer a very simple explanation.

    The left is defined by their desire for power. They will adopt whatever ideology and use whatever methodology will help them achieve this goal. This is not a conspiracy, it follows by a kind of Natural Selection from the understanding that power is the ultimate goal; as soon as one such ideology/methodology starts to gain power for its adherents, it is thriving in the plane of ideas, and leftists-by-inclination will jump on the bandwagon, providing a feedback loop that causes it eventually to spiral out of control. Hence we should not look for adherence to a methodology or vehement belief in an ideology in order to predict where the left will go, but simply, even mundanely, who has and is getting the most power and why. Only a minor degree of deviation is acceptable from whatever is actually proving to be the most effective source of power, meaning that everybody with any skin in the game is motivated solely to get as close to the core as possible – because then they get the biggest slice of power. But (being a democracy and all) it is only because so many are engaged in this pursuit that the power is there to be sliced in the first place.

    And there is the feedback loop: it is because of the numbers that the power comes about, and it because of the power that the numbers come about. Once this process has been started (and it clearly has) this constitutes a stable equilibrium that functions as the perfect parasite. The more it grows, the more it harms the host. The more it harms the host, the more it grows. It can perhaps be slowed or even stalled, but it can only be brought to an end when the host dies.

  • Krugman’s no more an economist than I an astronaut, and he’s got a Nobel prize to prove it.