Paul Krugman's largest theme

What is the state of the culture: Krugman has made these points before, but they represent his largest theme. In this new blog post, he again discusses the decline in intellectual culture in his own field, economics.

First, he discusses a basic question: Is the field of economics actually making progress? At present, his judgment is no:
KRUGMAN (9/27/11): I’ve never liked the notion of talking about economic “science”... Still, when I was younger I firmly believed that economics was a field that progressed over time, that every generation knew more than the generation before.

The question now is whether that’s still true. In 1971 it was clear that economists knew a lot that they hadn’t known in 1931. Is that clear when we compare 2011 with 1971? I think you can actually make the case that in important ways the profession knew more in 1971 than it does now.

I’ve written a lot about the Dark Age of macroeconomics, of the way economists are recapitulating 80-year-old fallacies in the belief that they’re profound insights, because they’re ignorant of the hard-won insights of the past.
That's a remarkable judgment. But as he continues, he asks a second question. In effect, he asks if economists are even trying to get things right. Again, the answer is no:
KRUGMAN: What I’d add to that is that at this point it seems to me that many economists aren’t even trying to get at the truth. When I look at a lot of what prominent economists have been writing in response to the ongoing economic crisis, I see no sign of intellectual discomfort, no sense that a disaster their models made no allowance for is troubling them; I see only blithe invention of stories to rationalize the disaster in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide. And no, it’s not symmetric: liberal economists by and large do seem to be genuinely wrestling with what has happened, but conservative economists don’t.

And all this makes me wonder what kind of an enterprise I’ve devoted my life to.
In our view, this pattern can be observed in all sorts of areas and disciplines. In many areas, it escapes the simple division of conservative versus liberal. Whatever explains our past as a nation, we simply aren't a very bright or honest people at this point in time.

Our experts aren't smart, and our experts aren't trying. It seems to us that these observations describe the culture's decline.

Alas! In many areas, the lazy, lousy work is coming from the culture's "liberals." It's very easy to get paid for being stupid these days, as long as you keep telling tales that send thrills up targeted legs.

The growing dumbness isn't all political. On the other hand, most of it is mercantile in some way. It connects to the desire to sell pleasing, predictable stories to some target audience which waits to be pleased. At any rate, it seems to us that the dumbness and phoniness Krugman describes are actually all around.

11 comments:

  1. Paul Krugman is well-qualified to write about economists who rationalize in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide, because he is one. In Krugman's many years as a New York Times op-ed writer, I cannot recall a single column in which he said that conservatives had done something better than liberals.

    His double-standard can be seen in his concern about federal deficits. In 2004, when George Bush was running deficits of $400 billion, Krugman called those deficits, "comparable to the worst we've ever seen in this country." OTOH, now that Barack Obama's $1.5 trillion deficits are three to four times as large as Bush's, Krugman has not a word of criticism.

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  2. Your last paragraph should be set to music...

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  3. Krugman: "I see only blithe invention of stories to rationalize the disaster in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide."

    Ironically, the statement is a blithe invention of stories to rationalize etc., bereft of any examples that might make Krugman's case.

    In much of the Internets, Krugzi is a laughingstock. There are virtual cottage industries devoted to picking him apart. He's so often wrong, or lying, that it's difficult to believe that anyone ever gives him any kind of credence.

    And, no, economics, in the manner Krugman dispenses it, is not a "science", and it's a wonder he ever thought it was, if he ever did.

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  4. "In much of the Internets, Krugzi is a laughingstock. There are virtual cottage industries devoted to picking him apart. He's so often wrong, or lying, that it's difficult to believe that anyone ever gives him any kind of credence."

    Well, if you and David in Cal and "much of the Internets" say Krugman is untrustworthy, wrong and/or a liar... then it must be so.

    Thanks for your helpful contributions, guys!

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  5. There are virtual cottage industries and seriously corporate industries devoted to dismantling the truth, Soja. Then there's David in Cal's comment that there exists a double standard because Krugman does not contend that liberal economists are as bad as conservative economists (the "they all do it" aka false equivalency excuse). There's a reason so many attack Krugman, and it's not because he's wrong, it's because entrenched interests don't like their own malfeasance made obvious, somehow it makes them uncomfortable, and you know, they're all about comfort...

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  6. The fact is Krugman is consistent in that Keynesian theory holds that deficit spendig at a time of business surplus is wrong which is why Bush deficits were so bad.
    The Obama deficits, a majority portion of which came from Bush policies, are less bad, in Krugman's eyes, comes from that same theory which has government spending takes the place of the recession induced missing business and consumer spending.
    Blaming Obama for Bush spending policies is good. For the simple minded.

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  7. "Whatever explains our past as a nation, we simply aren't a very bright or honest people at this point in time."

    That's the problem the rest of the world finds so baffling . . . WTF happened?

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