Krugman’s response to Alex

You’ll read it here, see also various (mostly weak) responses in the comments to Alex’s original post.  Most of you, including Krugman, are missing Alex’s point.  The issue is not that Krugman changed his mind (I’ve done that plenty, Alex too).  The issue is that Krugman a) regularly demonizes his opponents, including those who hold Krugman’s old positions, and b) doesn’t work very hard to produce the strongest possible case against his arguments.

Krugman’s response shows that he has changed his mind on debt, and explained why, but Heritage has not.  It’s an “I am better than they are” response.  That is beside the point, which is about elevating the views of others not oneself.  The need to show all the time that one is better or more right than the others is itself harmful to depth, and responding with “but I really am better than them” is just falling into the trap again.

Krugman calls himself a Humean but has he studied and internalized the lessons from Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion?  Is it easy to imagine the current Krugman writing rich multi-voiced dialogues which extend both his points and those of his intellectual opponents?  Can you imagine the current Krugman writing something sufficiently multi-faceted that you might come away thinking — because of the piece itself — that the opposing point of view was the better one?

Krugman has shown a remarkable and impressive capacity to reinvent himself, more than once.  He could reinvent himself again — in a truly Humean direction — and become the most important American public intellectual — and perhaps intellectual — of his time.  Or he could keep his current status as a sharp and brilliant someone who has an enormous number of followers but relatively little influence over actual events, and perhaps, like most of us, won’t be read much fifty years from now.

The reality is that neither the early nor the more recent Krugman is especially convincing on debt, and if anything the conjunction between the two shows that switching sides isn’t quite the same thing as changing your mind.  The odds are that government spending cuts are not literally budget balance destroyers on net.  How about writing a NYRB essay that lays out the short-run negative output gradient to austerity, presents why austerity is considered a serious option nonetheless, discusses catch-up and bounce back effects and their relevant time horizons, analyzes what kinds of policies are actually possible in a 17 (27) nation collective, engages with the best public choice arguments (including Buchanan and Wagner) on a serious level, ponders the merits and demerits of worst case thinking, and ruminates on the nature of leadership in a way which shows some tussling with Thucydides and Churchill?  Surely that is within Krugman’s capabilities and if it still comes out Keynesian or left-wing, great, at least someone will have seen those arguments through.  Such an essay would stand a far greater chance of influencing me, or other serious readers, or for that matter President Obama.  We should hold Krugman to the very high standard of actually expecting that he produce such work.  Not many others are capable of it.

There is a kind of hallelujah chorus for Krugman on some of the left-wing economics blogs.  The funny thing is, it’s hurting Krugman most of all.

Addendum: Here is a response from Krugman; note he has turned my description of “regularly demonize” to “always demonize.”


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