Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A Form of Looting

"What we have here is a form of looting." So Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman quotes George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, as saying about the Bush administration's budget.

But it could more accurately be said of Herr Doktorprofessor's own column because he's busy looting the reputations and accumulated good will of Princeton University, the John Bates Clark Medal and even the New York Times itself. Kaiser Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman's new clothes all belong to somebody else. But that doesn't stop him from willfully wearing them out.

Writing erratically in the Boston Globe, Alex Beam argues:

A columnist has two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read. New York Times scribbler Krugman scores in the top percentile on both counts. He may be the best in the business right now -- he also has a day job, as a distinguished economics professor at Princeton -- and I think a visit from Mr. P., as in Pulitzer, is only a matter of time.

But what Mr. Beam fails to note is that for most columnists being a columnist is the day job. That means that their arguments have to stand on their own and not rely on the crutch of the columnist's academic credentials. For example, unlike so many Paul Krugman efforts, David Brooks' charming column today on all that Americans have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving does not leave the reader with this kind of Krugmaniacal dare:

Sure what I'm writing and you've just read is tendentious, unsupported, obviously incomplete and completely crackers. But I'm a professor at Princeton and a holder of a fancy economics prize. SO WHAT I SAY GOES!

Paul Krugman can - and often does - satisfy his two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read simply by making statements so bizarre, tendentious and unsupported that an aware reader simply cannot believe a Princeton professor and John Bates Clark Medal holder would do it - such as the howler Herr Doktorprofessor committed at the end of July when he asserted, one month into the third quarter for which the GDP growth rate is now known to have been 8.2%, that There is very little evidence in the data for a strong recovery ready to break out. Herr Doktorprofessor made his assertion while other economists - including Steve Antler - were quietly showing that the evidence existed in abundance.

Mr. Beam should give it a try. Let him write a column with some typically crackers Krugmaniacal viewpoint. Maybe something circulating around a bold assertion such as:

Notwithstanding the Bush Administration's fraudulently positive economic data now regularly released by the completely corrupted Treasury Department, there has been no true economic recovery in this country - and those evanescent positive developments that have been manipulated into existence by the Administration are all timed by the incompetent-but-omnipotent George Bush (or, rather, by the handlers of this empty sock puppet) to blow the country completely apart shortly after the November 2004 election.

That's certainly a provocative argument and Mr. Beam's column would probably get read if it got past his editors. But he would probably not be allowed to write any more columns for the Globe because the Globe and its readers would know right away that he's completely crackers. They would know that because Mr. Beam isn't trafficking in Princeton's reputation - or any other entity's reputation.

So if Mr. P. does think about visiting Herr Doktorprofessor, I hope Mr. P will keep in mind that other columnists who might be given that Pulitzer don't have the benefit of cashing checks drawn on the bank accounts of Princeton University, the John Bates Clark Medal and the New York Times itself to satisfy those two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read.

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