Man Without Qualities

Monday, September 19, 2005

Free Krugman?

For peculiar, unstable and probably wrong reasons of its own, the New York Times has placed its columnists - including Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and the rest of the motley gang - behind the "For Pay Only" wall of "TimesSelect."

Is TimesSelect a good thing for Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman? Well, my guess is that for reasons discussed below the answer may be that TimesSelect will be a very good thing for Herr Doktorprofessor - and for his readers and the Times, too.

No less an authority than Herr Doktorprofessor's former student Greg Mankiw has addressed the reasons for Herr Doktorprofessor's intellectual disintegration since he became a Times columnist (here or here):
Mankiw: I had Paul as a teacher at MIT. And when I was at CEA in '82 and '83, he was there as well. ... It's strange what's happened since then. When he became a New York Times columnist, he decided to abandon writing about economics as an economist does. He's very liberal, which is fine - most of my friends at Harvard are liberal - but whenever someone disagrees with him, his first inclination is to think that person is either a liar or a fool. It's amazing to me that an academic would behave that way. The one thing that I value about academia is open-mindedness, the premise that all ideas and different points of view should be considered. No one has a monopoly on the truth. The one defining characteristic of a good professor is to be open to all viewpoints.

Q: How do you explain what you describe as this change in Krugman?

Mankiw: I guess if you're a columnist, you want to be widely talked about and be the most e-mailed. It's the same thing that drives talk show hosts to become Jerry Springer.
If what Professor Mankiw said here is right, TimesSelect should create at least two very important changes for Herr Doktorprofessor. First, it is highly unlikely that Herr Doktorprofessor's column will remain among the "most e-mailed" items throughout the Times, simply because the TimesSelect fee will probably reduce his readership dramatically compared to the portions of the Times that are not hived off into TimesSelect. This should help reduce the impact of what Professor Mankiw notes may be one of the most pernicious factors leading Herr Doktorprofessor to become the Times/Princeton version of Jerry Springer.

In addition, Herr Doktorprofessor will now likely focus on becoming the most e-mailed and read columnist behind the TimesSelect scrim. But that means he will be competing for readers who are willing and able to pony up the rather stiff TimesSelect fee. That's probably going to be a very different type of reader than he has had in the past. People who pay more will likely expect more than the paranoid rantings, distorted or outright misrepresented pseudo-facts, embarrassing arguments, and endless doom sayings that have become Herr Doktorprofessor's stock in trade.

Can he do it? Will such shock therapy set Herr Doktorprofessor free from his demons? Or will TimesSelect just reduce him to a passive, vegetative state? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, it appears that for the moment at least one can still obtain Herr Doktorprofessor's columns for free at the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archives! (Lucky us!) Today, Herr Doktorprofessor is peddling the contemptible line that "The truth is that there's no way to know" whether "federal aid took so long to arrive in New Orleans in part because the city was poor and black."

Today's column, like almost every one of Herr Doktorprofessor's columns recently, is ineffectual drivel whether considered from a political or an economics perspective - and for that reason is not worth rebutting. But as long as I'm here (lucky me!), why not address at least this one bizarre assertion of Herr Doktorprofessor?

Perhaps there is no way to "know" such things as the effect of racism on the Katrina federal aid timetable with the certainty with which one "knows" that, say, Haley's comet visits the Earth every 76 years as a result of the laws of universal gravitation. But one can surely "know" that the federal government didn't screw New Orleans because its citizens are (were?) largely African-Americans with a great deal more certainty than one can "know" most of the things Herr Doktorprofessor has made his entire academic reputation proclaiming as "knowledge" - such as whether a particular country dominates international trade in a particular good because of "home market effects" or "comparative advantage" - the very topic that won Herr Doktorprofessor whatever shred (fig leaf?) of reputation he retains as an economist (as discussed here and here and here) .

How can one "know" whether racism was a factor? One can compare what happened in regions in which African-Americans were not such a large percentage of the population. One can look at the effects of local incompetents (the mayor and governor - who presumably were not motivated by racism) and try to estimate the extent of those effects in comparision to supposed federal failings. One can check around FEMA and other federal agencies for memos indicating racial considerations, and ask FEMA and other affected federal agency employees whether they witnessed examples of racism in action during the decision making. One can ask what benefit the perpetrators of such dastardly decisions had to obtain, and what costs such decisions would entail. One would be especially interested in that last line of enquiry if one were a serious economist - but of course we're not discussing any such person. Many, especially in the media and Democratic Party, have searched for such evidence of racism - and no such evidence has been adduced to the public.

Nor does Herr Doktorprofessor adduce any such evidence. He relies on "larger factors:"
And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? ... Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.
That's it! No need for evidence. No need to compare anything to anything. No need for economic theory.

Will people pay for that kind of drivel? Herr Doktorprofessor's new TimesSelect therapy session is just beginning, so he and we are about to find out.

I can hardly wait!

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