2012-10-30

You Can't Speak To Someone Who Won't Hear

Robert Murphy exposes the plainly obvious lack of good faith in a recent Paul Krugman blog post. Add that to the other 189 posts on Robert Murphy's blog dedicated to dissecting and disproving things Paul Krugman says.

No, scratch that last sentence. Add that to the other 189 posts on Murphy's blog, and the blog maintained by William Anderson, the sole purpose of which is to dissect and disprove things Paul Krugman says. Then, add it to the thousands of posts throughout the economics blogosphere dedicated to dissecting and disproving the content of Paul Krugman's blog.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I would not be courting controversy were I to advance the argument that the contents of Paul Krugman's blog are inflammatory at best, frequently contradictory, and at times entirely wrong.

Paul Krugman Is An Awesome Economist
Krugman is a man who was awarded the John Bates Clark prize. Krugman is also a man who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. (Yes, I know it's not technically a "Nobel Prize," you sticklers.) One can criticize the validity of these two prizes if one so chooses, but I think doing so would be an incredibly audacious demonstration of a lack of good-faith. The fact of the matter is that these are two of the most prestigious prizes in the field of economics. They are not handed out lightly. Moreover, discounting the fact that virtually every human decision is somewhat political, both of these prizes have done a good job of ducking the kind of flagrant political maneuvering that marrs the Nobel Peace Prize.

What I mean to say is that Paul Krugman earned his fame, fair and square, by being a fantastic economist. Anyone who denies this is arguing in bad faith. If you don't believe or agree with me, do yourself a favor and delve further into Krugman's serious academic work, then get back to me. It's possible - or even likely - that you'll discover plenty of objectionable ideas. What you won't find, though, is a pile of weak academic work. You'll find strong ideas, well-defended, that have contributed to society's understanding of various economic problems.

Whatever else can be said for Paul Krugman, he is a great economist.

Paul Krugman Is A Paid Political Pundit
So what gives? One of the most highly honored economists, among the greatest of his generation, propagates lies, falsehoods, and contradictions on his blog?

Well, yes. And he's also not particularly shy about it. Paul Krugman writes a column entitled "The Conscience of a Liberal." He his fair, open, and honest about his biases. Not only does he not hide them, he makes them the centerpiece of his work at The New York Times. All of his columns and blog posts consist of economic-flavored arguments for ostensibly leftist political policies. In many cases, Krugman highlights arguments advanced by those he perceives to be right-wing or corporatist, and spins them another way, providing his predominantly leftist readers with some ammunition against arguments that oppose leftist policy or ideology. This is the whole purpose of Krugman's work at the Times. It is what it is.

None of this, by the way, should alter how we view Paul Krugman's legitimate scientific contributions to economics. At the time he performed his breakthroughs, he was being paid to research, conjecture, analyze, and develop good theories. He was a star employee, a model of what it takes to be a great economist in this day and age.

Just as today, he is the perfect NYT economics blogger. He buttresses all the policy stances taken by the NYT editorial board with economics-y sounding arguments, cheap potshots, spin, slant, quick wit, and an appealing writing style.

Where Does That Leave Us?
I see many bloggers out there pulling their hair out over the things Krugman writes on his blog. (Those few economists who have hair, anyway.) I recall a lengthy back-and-forth between Paul Krugman and John Cochrane, for example. I felt sorry for Cochrane during that very public exchange because Paul Krugman is a very smart guy who is simply ahead of his peers... Not in terms of economic understanding, but in terms of having his finger on the pulse of economics blogging.

What I mean is, Krugman knows that he doesn't really have to prove his case. He knows that it's not even his job to make an airtight case for the ideology he supports. Paul Krugman, more than any other economics blogger out there, understands that the public isn't any hungrier now for awesome economic analysis than they were when he was toiling away in obscurity, making good contributions to economic theory as an academic. Krugman knows that all readers want is a plausible-sounding argument for what they already believe. And, he knows that his readers happen to be leftists, predominantly.

So, Krugman panders to his audience, and does so quite effectively. That's fine, so why don't the other economics bloggers understand that? When will they figure out that responding to Krugman's points is a waste of time because it misses the mark? When will people figure out that Paul Krugman isn't in it for the dialogue? You can't win an argument with someone whose only goal is to make you look like a jerk in the court of public opinion.