Why only ‘special’ people think Paul Krugman is wrong about austerity

Paul Krugman has a great blog post on the sloppiness of both Michael Kinsley and Charles Lane in their attacks on Krugman’s opposition to austerity.

Kinsey and Lane both wrote long and rather tedious articles predicated on the belief that they had noticed an economic principle the Nobel prizewinner in economics had not considered. You won’t be surprised to hear that both are wrong.

Kinsley’s argument merely confirmed Krugman’s longstanding hypothesis that the austerians think economic policy is a morality play, and that the poor must suffer for the sins of Wall Street.

Lane argued that economic stimulus is easier to start than to stop, an argument Krugman had addressed two weeks earlier in the New York Times. This sloppiness leads Krugman to ask:

Whence cometh this epidemic of sheer sloppiness?

I’m not really sure, but in these cases I suspect it has a lot to do with the famed TNR/Slate premium on being “counterintuitive”, which in practice meant skewering supposed liberal pieties. (Kinsley himself joked that TNR should be renamed “Even the liberal New Republic”).

Paul Krugman on MSNBC.

Paul Krugman on MSNBC.

There is actually a very good reason that journalists value counterintuitive thinking more than (say) academics. Journalists are paid to be interesting rather than right. An ingenious argument that the reader hasn’t seen before is much more interesting than a simple rehash of conventional platitudes.

As usual though, Krugman sticks the knife in, but leaves it to the reader to do the actual twisting. Kinsley and Lane are merely rehashing the smalltalk of the beltway folk, their arguments are only ‘counterintuitive’ in their own minds.

But why stop at journalism? It seems to me that the fetish for counterintuitive thinking is actually at the root of a lot of policy blundering as well. Here is how it happens…

When people get elected (or appointed) to positions of high power there is a natural tendency for them to ask ‘why me?’ This naturally leads them to the conclusion, ‘because I am very special’. Which in turn leads to the question, ‘why am I so special?’ And the answer, ‘because only people like me understand that common wisdom might be wrong.’

And so, the very fact that everyone thinks something is right only provides more evidence to the ‘counterintuitive’ thinker that it is wrong. If you have ever wondered why it is so hard to convince a Republican that climate change is a fact, it’s because you don’t understand that only such a special person as they could see through all that ‘sciency stuff’.

The idea that they are so special is of course pure conceit: The real reason the shlub got to where they are is pure luck, or if I am to be generous, both are ‘special’ at running for state office.  Neither did terribly well at the federal level. And in any case, their skill at winning state elections says nothing about their intellect or the wisdom of their positions. Yet both think that they are special because only they dare to think what others dare not.

This is how the Reagan administration ended up supplying Iran, designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, with spare parts for its planes and other military equipment, and illegally using the proceeds to fund terrorists attempting to topple the government of Nicaragua. Reagan must have told himself that only a really innovative, counterintuitive thinker could have ever thought up such a special plan.

This is also how the Bush Administration ended up in the torture chambers of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. The fact that they could compass such extraordinary measures was to the Bushies simply proof that they were extraordinary men.

And it is how Margaret Thatcher ended up begging Gorbachev to send in the tanks to put down the protests in East Germany in 1989. While everyone else thought that the end of Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was a good thing, the Iron Lady knew that she was special because she could see that change might be bad.

In each case the conventional wisdom was completely correct, and the self-styled ‘extraordinary thinkers’ were proved wrong. The reunification of Germany did not threaten NATO security as Thatcher feared, the security of NATO was strengthened. Use of torture did not assist the war on terror, it gave the terrorists their main recruiting call. And Iran-Contra damaged US interests in both Iran and Nicaragua.

Apologists for Bush and Reagan have always maintained that the Iran-Contra and Abu-Ghraib scandals were the work of subordinates acting beyond their authority. And the schemes were so contrary to common sense that it seems only common sense that the likes of Lynndie England and Oliver North must have imagined such things, rather than Dick Cheney and Caspar Weinberger.

But whatever else their faults, Lynndie England and Oliver North were not the sort of people who had to ask themselves what extraordinary qualities had put them in their current position, and find a clever answer. Only people at the very top of an organization have the special kind of conceit necessary for grasping at the dumbest answer around, and anointing it the most brilliant.

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35 Responses to “Why only ‘special’ people think Paul Krugman is wrong about austerity”

  1. Aeriel says:

    There is something taking place: neo-serfdom. How many undocumented workers earn slave wages in Germany versus California? Austerity also fails to invest adequately in infrastructure, which includes human resources (including higher education). If you want the global economy to have 1:1 correspondence between dollars and products then austerity has what role, exactly? Sitting on money accomplishes what, exactly, that using it wisely wouldn’t?

  2. I.V. Baker says:

    Okay I have an issue with people that disagree with ‘Austerity’ though I do not think it the best tool to use, well ever. I also get upset at people who say the Austrian economic school of thought is bunk, it has tools just like Keynes gives tools to dealing with economic issues.

    Krugman is in a place all by himself in his arrogance and to be honest double talk when it comes to economic thought. He predicted the ‘economic collapse’ tow years before it occurred .. I predicted it 5 years before it occurred You cannot have an asset bubble persist for more than a couple of years before it is going to cause significant harm to the economy. Does that mean I am ‘smarter’ than Krugman… Well actually I think most people are except for sycophants like this article writer.

    Now as far as the Austrian school of thought. We simply believe that in the end the economy is going to heal itself REGARDLESS of what the government does to ‘fix’ things. That in cases like this the pressure placed on the market by the Fed and the Federal Government will simply prime the pump for another bubble and distort the market place faster than if you allowed a normal market recovery. That making people reliant on Federal Spending causes a serious change in market beliefs and therefore in the results of the market place.

    Now as far as Austerity and whether it works or not I have one word. California. They have practiced Austerity in this state and it is now back on track and now has the potential to be back on track. Notice however that Krugman only points to places like Europe where Austerity is NOT working to make his point. Europe has fundamentally flawed systems in place where Krugman is criticizing the use of Austerity ( not that California does not but… at least it is not Europe lol ) In 2007-2008 California was spending $104 Billion a year. It is now spending only $93 Billion… A recovery is taking place in California. So what can we say about it. Countries in the Euro zone are no longer separate political entities in the traditional sense ( at least economically ) They operate much more like States do. Ergo if Austerity worked in California and is not working in Greece, perhaps there is something else taking place. operate

  3. MarshallKeith says:

    Oh the progressives hate people like Sowell who refuse to play the role of victim. As long as they can make you believe and live as a victim they can control you.

    http://www.teapartyperspective.com/2013/05/14/i-am-alpha-no-blame-no-excuses-no-apologies/

  4. MarshallKeith says:

    LOL of course did you follow the links? The progressives pushed the Jim Crow Laws using their pseudoscience called eugenics. The fact that I believe in property rights does not make me a racist, It’s actually funny it is actually the ones that call anyone that strays from the democratic (plantation) party uncle tom’s token n’rs, oreo’s etc etc etc. How tolerant of you. BTW here’s one of many of my blogposts.

    http://veritasvincitprolibertate.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/southern-strategy-fact-or-myth/

  5. MarshallKeith says:

    Ah yes he has more experience then Krugman and of course the Austrian economist where right and the Keynesian’s like Krugman were wrong. Which is normal.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnekzRuu8wo

  6. BeccaM says:

    It’s a cheap rhetorical trick they use now, when a given position cannot be defended logically or with facts, so they accuse people of being oversensitive and irrational.

    In other words, they don’t want to defend their position, so they attack you for pointing out just how wrong they are.

  7. karmanot says:

    True, the Baroness Green Grocer finally got her pearls, brooch and tiara.

  8. karmanot says:

    Exactly Not to mention the hiring of war criminal Condi Rice for a right wing fluff tenured professorship.

  9. karmanot says:

    pathetic Did you ask Mommie to give you an up arrow?

  10. karmanot says:

    Not to mention that the mathematical ‘facts’ underlying ‘austerity’ justification by a pair of Harvard jaybirds have been proven wrong by an enterprising grad student reworking the findings.

  11. Monoceros Forth says:

    Seriously, he brought up the hoary old complaint about “political correctness”? It’s not just for morons whining that they don’t get laughs from racist jokes any more?

  12. Jeffrey Karter says:

    In a more recent post on TNR (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113267/michael-kinsley-vs-anti-austerians), Kinsley wrote:

    There are two possible explanations. First, it might be that I am not
    just wrong (in saying that the national debt remains a serious problem
    and we’d be well advised to worry about it) but just so spectacularly
    and obviously wrong that there is no point in further discussion. Or
    second, to bring up the national debt at all in such discussions has
    become politically incorrect.

    Michael: It’s explanation #1. You are spectacularly and obviously wrong. Also, it’s not about you, it’s about the facts. If the facts supported you, people would agree with you (but probably still think you’re a jerk).

  13. emjayay says:

    Thanks for posting this video. Most interesting. Now, how did this guy get a Phd in economics, and how did he get jobs teaching economics at prestigious academic instututions, although he didn’t seem to stay too long at any of them for some reason. Of course, it’s been a while since he’s been a prof – he’s been at the Hoover Instutuion for over three decades.
    Looks like he bought his last glasses frames around when he got that job. Well, I guess that’s economical.

  14. emjayay says:

    Still getting the white space below the post (and that other random stuff) and an ad over the Leave a message box. Explorer/Vista.

  15. samizdat says:

    Is that the imprimatur of the Hoover Institute? Nuff said.

  16. silas1898 says:

    Margaret Thatcher. Evil until the end. I wonder how the Germans and Eastern Europeans feel about this. She and poppy did not want Germany re-unified. He will be joining her in hell soon.

  17. slappymagoo says:

    It’s also part of the ever-popular “rogue cop-ification” of America. In our movies and tv shows and books (what’s a book, Grandpa? Shut up, that’s what), it’s always the rogue cop who doesn’t play by the rules and ignores the red-tape BS that gets results. Same with our rogue spies and federal agents. who cares if we out Valerie Plame, it’s the Jack Bauers & Harry Callahans that get results.

    With a dash of Sheriff Andy Taylor thrown in, of course. Not the genial I-don’t-want-to-hurt-anybody aspect of Andy Taylor, but the fact that he used common sense wisdom over proper police procedural to get the job done.

    Never mind that a: their instincts to rooting out evil aren’t as good as Bauer and Dirty Harry and b: they don’t have the common sense of Andy Griffith because c: they’re all a bunch of fictional f*cking characters speaks volumes as why we’re as screwed a nation as we are.

  18. MyrddinWilt says:

    Milton Friedman prated on for hours about freedom.

    But the main reason he became well known is that he went to work for the Pinochet government as a booster for the military dictatorship that murdered the democratically elected President and 30,000 other civilians.

    Like Thatcher, Friedman was a big fan of Pinochet. You see amongst the ‘freedoms’ that Pinochet brought was freedom of employers from having to worry about trades unions and the freedom of wealth to exploit the poor. And those are the ‘freedoms’ that people like Thatcher, Friedman and Sowell really care about. Having made it from the working class that prefers to consider itself lower middle class to the upper class they made sure to kick the ladder away so that nobody else might follow.

  19. MyrddinWilt says:

    It is not clear to me that Obama is quite as clueless on chained CPI as he tried to make out.

    The dirty little secret of Washington politics has been that the deficit will take care of itself as the economy recovers. The deficit was about $400 billion before the crash and it will return to a little less in 2015. So there has never been a problem with the deficit really, the problem for Obama has always been how to take the credit for it.

    So he let the GOP throw him into the briar patch on the sequestration which allowed him to cut $90 bn of waste out of the military budget. He talks big about chained CPI and grand bargains but at the end of the day he can be pretty sure that the GOP is never going to say yes.

    Its a bit like the Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace’ process where neither side actually wants or will accept a two state solution but they both propose schemes that they are pretty sure the other side will reject. Which side is right depends on which side you want to blame. But neither side is negotiating in bad faith.

    I do think that there is a little bit of ‘counterintutive’ ego boosting in Obama’s search for the grand bargain. But he has to realize that the GOP will oppose things just because he is proposing them. Each time they have a face off with the GOP the GOP declares victory immediately afterwards then six months later complains that the President got what he wanted and they didn’t get what they wanted.

    My view is that the fondness for drone war and cyber-attacks is the area where Obama is more caught up in this mode of thinking. Stuxnet bought the administration a 30% reduction in the rate of production of weapons grade uranium in Iran for about 6 months. Which means they lost 2 whole months of production. And for that the US set the precedent that civil nuclear power is fair game for cyber attack. Yes, I know that Beshehr is really military, but the US and UK ‘civil’ nuclear programs were also heavily military driven. That is why the UK built the Magnox reactor design in the first place. The West has lied about their civil nuclear power just the same as Iran. And Obama has set the precedent that those facilities are fair game.

  20. Raoul Paste says:

    Damn, this is a good post.

  21. MyrddinWilt says:

    Krugman has won all the top honors in his field. Sowell has only won awards from Conservative pseudo academic institutions that exist for publishing propaganda and giving prizes to Conservatives.

    Sowell is not considered a distinguished thinker in his field so I have never bothered to consider his work. The arguments he makes in the few pieces I have seen were superficial and tendentious.

    Accusing people of being racist for not agreeing with someone might be seen as evidence that someone is a troll. But that is actually how a lot on the right genuinely discuss.

    And you have the wrong Hoover institute, everyone knows that it was really names for the maker of vacuum cleaners and that is why everything they write sucks.

  22. JayRandal says:

    Austerity promoters are very sick selfish people whom need to go elsewhere in world to live.
    I would be willing to drive every one of them to airports to drop them off to depart.

  23. guest says:

    First of all, Thomas Sowell does not have more experience than Paul Krugman as an economist, except in his own delusional world view. Second, he’s a classic Uncle Tom whore for the establishment that pays him. For crying out loud, anyone who takes this paid-off shill seriously needs his head examined. The guy’s made a career out of trying to make himself acceptable to white people who run things.

  24. Naja pallida says:

    The guy who says that holding corporations accountable for the damage they cause is akin to Hitler. Endorsed by Sarah Palin and Louie Gohmert. Who works for the Hoover Institute, yet, doesn’t seem to have learned anything from Hoover’s poor economic decisions, and would see them continue to be repeated. Yeah. Real winner there.

  25. pappyvet says:

    thanks Nicho

  26. pappyvet says:

    John,the zap 22 post from jadezakozyl is an ad and also has some dubious roots,thought you would like to know and check it out

  27. condew says:

    You know, of course, that Disqus gives us all instant access to all 33 of your posts. Someone who says “The civil rights act violated the same 5th and 14th amendments …” or “progressives have had a long history of discrimination and using junk science to justify it.” is a fine one to be calling someone racist.

  28. nicho says:

    Not a racist. Just someone who thinks for themselves. He’s a Milton Friedman asswipe. He’s about as reliable as the bot who tells us his roomate’s ex-wife makes $66 an hour on the computer.

  29. nicho says:

    How interesting that I have to sign in to Dick-sucks about three times a day, but these spambots are always signed in.

  30. condew says:

    So Obama tells himself that he’s special because only he can see that Social Security is a bad thing, and he should help Republicans phase it out?

  31. MarshallKeith says:

    Anyone with an IQ higher then 1 questions the integrity of krugman. Thomas Sowell an economist who has much more experience then Krugman disagrees. Of course if you disagree with Sowell you must be a racist.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SDLBqIubCs

  32. BillFromDover says:

    “The idea that they are so special is of course pure conceit:”

    Nah, once their missives are published in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages is when their heads explode. After all, who has to make a logical argument after being raised to that pedestal?

  33. jadezakozyl says:

    мy rooмαтe’ѕ eх-wιғe мαĸeѕ $66 αɴ нoυr oɴ тнe coмpυтer. ѕнe нαѕ вeeɴ υɴeмployed ғor 7 мoɴтнѕ вυт lαѕт мoɴтн нer pαy wαѕ $1ЗЗ29 jυѕт worĸιɴɢ oɴ тнe coмpυтer ғor α ғew нoυrѕ. нere’ѕ тнe ѕιтe тo reαd мore Zap2­2­.c­o&shym&shy

  34. nicho says:

    No more calls, please. We have a winner!

  35. pappyvet says:

    What nobody seems to get is that “solving” the economic problems is not the rightwing’s plan or goal.
    Never ending austerity is a great tool for control.

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