Man Without Qualities

Sunday, October 12, 2003

The Ecs Come For Herr Doktorprofessor!

Arnold Kling posted a thoughtful article explaining how and why Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Krugman has gone so badly off course. Kling argues in part that Herr Doktorprofessor routinely fails to establish economic facts or likelihoods, but instead imputes the motives of any person who disagrees with him - often asserting that the person is lying.

Don Luskin points out - I think quite correctly - that Herr Doktorprofessor's problems go further and deeper than those described by Kling:

With the imprimatur of his Princeton professorship and the New York Times, Krugman dares to hold his own opinions so sacred that to differ with them is to lie. Krugman is lying about lying.

Luskin's point is very well taken. Indeed, my reference to Paul Krugman as Herr Doktorprofessor in this blog is an allusion to his tendency (now an obsession) to treat his own attenuated economics arguments as TRUTH, as some of the more bombastic professors in 19th century german universities were infamous for doing. Herr Doktorprofessor's columns scream: YOU MUST AGREE WITH ME, I AM A FULL PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AT PRINCETON, I HAVE WON THE CLARK MEDAL AND I WRITE TOO OFTEN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES. AGREE WITH ME OR YOU ARE A BASE LIAR, AN ENEMY OF SCIENCE AND OF REASON ITSELF ... AND A DUMMER KOPF! And he does this despite the fact that his economics arguments are increasing pale and specious, and - as with his most recent embarrassing and confused extrusion - entirely gone, with the column having the intellectual content of a stuck-out-tongue. Charming.

OpinionJournal today provides a spectacular example of Don Luskin's point in the form of an article by three distinguished economics professors, Gary S. Becker, Edward P. Lazear and Kevin M. Murphy. Professor Becker is, of course, a winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, and Professor Murphy is a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association, which is also Paul Krugman's greatest credential. The OpinionJournal article begins and ends as follows:

Every Democratic candidate for president has called for rolling back all or part of George W. Bush's tax cuts. All politics aside, and with the economy showing signs of recovery, perhaps now is the right time to revisit the rationale behind tax reductions and what seems to be an excessive fear of budget deficits. ....

The evidence is clear: Cutting taxes will have beneficial effects. Tax cuts will keep government spending in check and will provide the incentives necessary to produce a highly skilled, productive work force that enables high economic growth and rising standards of living.

I do not want to argue here that these three worthies are right (I agree with them, that is irrelevant). But I do want to point out that Herr Doktorprofessor has repeatedly treated his conclusion that the Bush tax cuts and the deficits he associates with them are dreadful for the nation as indisputable, economic, scientific facts - and he has correspondingly bottomed many of his hysterical (in both of the common meanings of that term) assertions that the President is a base liar on that "economic fact" and his observation that the President just doesn't see things the way Herr Doktorprofessor does on this point. Herr Doktorprofessor routinely and repeatedly argues that it is a fact that the tax cuts are ineluctably dragging the nation down the path of economic decline already traveled by Argentina. If there is one person on the globe whose writings express an excessive fear of budget deficits, it is Paul Krugman. In short, this OpinionJournal article is not directed at Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman (these three authors couldn't be bothered with such an insignificant target, I am sure) - but the article does, incidentally, demonstrate the fault line in his thinking.

So long ago, as the forces of Herr Doktorprofessor Kraugaman pillaged the fair valleys of economics and public policy, the Man Without Qualities pined:

Yes, it is true that with each Kraugaman foray a fellowship of the ring of Kraugaman watchers sallies forth to flood the zone with Kraugaman-corrective critiques. But where is the powerful if slow moving leader to arouse the Ecs - the ancient shepherds of economic intellectual growth! Do they think this is not their battle?

What will it take to stir them to flood the zone at Ostelfenbeinturm as Treebeard led the Ents to flood the zone at Isengard!

Or will the Ecs hold off indefinitely? As one Ec remarked about an advocate of dangerous market and price regulation fulsomely praised by Kraugaman: "I think we have better things to do than beat up a straw man."


And now, tho the ecs write in an elliptical manner uniquely their own, it has come to pass. The Ecs seem to have completed some inconceivably long council and concluded that the kind of argument that Herr Doktorprofessor and others, such as the Democratic presidential wannabees, have been offering for so long is just bad economics and contrary to the clear evidence that cutting taxes - including these Bush tax cuts - will have beneficial effects.

Now, is Herr Doktorprofessor going to accuse Professors Becker, Lazear and Murphy of lying? Or is he going to admit that his accusations against the President and Congressional Republicans amount to nothing more than criticisms of their failure to accept Herr Doktorprofessor's side of an academic dispute on which the better economists substantially agree with the President?

And, if Herr Doktorprofessor doesn't make such an admission, who's doing the lying then?

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