Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In Which I disagree with Clive Crook

In this Bloomberg column, Clive Crook criticizes Paul Krugman for 1) smugly being right all the time, and 2) showing insufficient respect for those who are wrong all the time.  Please read it and form your own opinion.

I suppose it's not particularly relevant that PK has been called an idiot, a moron, a communist, a lying political hack, a racist lying hack, and my hands-down favorite, a war monger.  So let's just move along.

To support his point, Crook cites this blog post by PK, and extracts from it this idea:

Krugman was responding to critics who accuse him of seeing everybody who disagrees with him as either a fool or a knave. He says that’s not right: Many of those who disagree with him are sociopaths. 

 “The point is not that I have an uncanny ability to be right; it’s that the other guys have an intense desire to be wrong,” he says. “And they’ve achieved their goal.”

Do you see the problem here?  Crook overstates his case rather dramatically.  PK hasn't called anyone a sociopath, so far as I know, and certainly not in this post.  [Though I have no doubt that a certain congressman, whom PK has criticized loudly and often, qualifies - in spades.]  What he is saying is that they have an agenda, and being wrong means exactly nothing to them, as long as their agenda is promoted.

Crook goes on to say this:

Krugman says his opponents are motivated by politics. “Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy.” 

 Talk about lack of self-awareness. Does Krugman imagine that he isn’t motivated by politics? 

Crook actually has a point, but not the one he intends.  First off, PK has a valid theoretical and practical basis for his beliefs, while the other side really has been consistently wrong, intellectually nihilistic, and responds by doubling down with more wrong.  More importantly though, if PK had been less polite, and said "rabidly purblind partisan politics motivated by a starkly anti-democratic agenda" he would have been less polite, but far more accurate.  So Crook's quibble with the word "politics" is either a bit vacuuous or the resultant of trying to hard to find something to dispute - an all-too-common feature of PK's would-be critics.

If you've read Krugman's writings from the 90's you know that at that time he was a basically apolitical middle-of-the-road, actually rather conservative writer, making economics accessible to know-nothings like me.  He later became politicized by the persistently willful wrongitude of the Bush administration, which set the stage for the even more wrong and more extreme current Republican party. He doesn't criticize them because of his ideology, he criticizes them for theirs, which is consistently and demonstrably wrong.   And he does this while generally maintaining a high level of politeness.

So, yes, PK is motivated by politics, but it's a politics that strives to reach the truth and promote the common good, rather than some ideological predetermined end point that favors an already privileged overclass. 

Here is Crook's thesis:

Meanwhile, for the side that thinks it has the better arguments, naked contempt for dissenters is plain bad tactics. That isn’t how you change people’s minds.

But there's a problem here, too.  And it's one I understand, since the same criticism has been leveled at me.  There's a truth contained there, it's pure Dale Carnegie, and it would be spot on - if we were contending with rational well-intentioned people.  But there's a deeper truth that Crook reluctantly acknowledges in his final paragraph.

It’s true that the modern Republican Party includes a growing number of extremists who have no interest in the kind of discussion I’m recommending. In their case, attempts at outreach would be so much wasted breath.

That's the reality.  The suggestion that PK needs to get out more is fatuous in the extreme. When you are dealing with liars, the best and most appropriate response is to refute the lies and reveal these fools, knaves and sociopaths for what they are.

1 comment:

Suzan said...


Baby, tell it.

I couldn't agree more.

And you're being so non-political or is that non-sociopathic?

Love you,