A Tale of Two Columns

I only have time for quick blogging today, so how about a brief observation.

Here is Paul Krugman's latest column. It is a characteristically lucid and informative column about some bad economic ideas that are circulating around Washington these days. Here's a sample:

What ideas am I talking about? The economic historian Peter Temin has argued that a key cause of the Depression was what he calls the “gold-standard mentality.” By this he means not just belief in the sacred importance of maintaining the gold value of one's currency, but a set of associated attitudes: obsessive fear of inflation even in the face of deflation; opposition to easy credit, even when the economy desperately needs it, on the grounds that it would be somehow corrupting; assertions that even if the government can create jobs it shouldn't, because this would only be an “artificial” recovery.

In the early 1930s this mentality led governments to raise interest rates and slash spending, despite mass unemployment, in an attempt to defend their gold reserves. And even when countries went off gold, the prevailing mentality made them reluctant to cut rates and create jobs.

But we're past all that now. Or are we?

Good stuff.

Next to him on the op-ed page is Ross Douthat, the Times' resident conservative. Given space on one of the most read op-ed pages in the world to make a case for conservative principles, he instead serves up this tripe. What has him worked up today? Obama's Nobel Prize.

Meanwhile, the prize makes every foreign-policy problem Obama faces seem ever so slightly more burdensome. Now he's the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He's the Nobel laureate who'll either have to authorize military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for the Middle East. He's the Nobel laureate who'll probably fail, like every U.S. president before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.

Ever so slightly more burdensome? Deep insights, there.

Folks, that's the difference between liberals and conservatives. From one of America's premiere liberal columnists we get a strong argument on an important issue based on a level of expertise that most of us do not possess. On the conservative side we get boilerplate and talking points, and nothing that has not already been said by dozens of talk-radio blowhards and empty-headed pundits.

Small wonder that these days “conservative” is basically synonymous with “lightweight.”

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Ross Douthat doesn't have the stature, wisdom, or experience to be worth readingâhe's a conservative Ezra Klein.

But calling Krugman "characteristically lucid and informative?" Krugman--as a columnist--is an hysterical, partisan opportunist who routinely says things he can't possibly believe as an economist. He routinely mischaracterizes his opponent's arguments, uses arguments from authority, adjusts his principles to the moment's political purpose, mis-states his own past analyses and positions, and elides important mitigating information to make a point.

Here he's defending a weak dollar. He creates straw men by associating strong-dollar proponents with gold bugs. He mischaracterizes mis-steps made during the great depression as having caused the great depression. Effective, but not lucid or informative.

There are better people on both the left and the right than either Krugman or Douthat. You won't find them in the New York Times. Pretending that the Krugman of the NY Times is anything other than a lightweight partisan shill is disingenuous.

By dillwheed (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

Can you say character assasination, Mr. dillwheed?
Evidence please.

See Ezra Klein's great comment on Douhat's stupid column.

I don't read Douthat or Klein, jimvj, neither can provide "â¦a level of expertise that most of us do not possessâ¦" They're ignorant kids.

No one needs to rehash the duality of Krugman's academic and columnist personas. I'm just surprised to see someone like Dr. Rosenhouse take Krugman as an exemplar.

By dillwheed (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

US Conservatives worried about the US conceding ground to a theocratic mafia make me amused and confused in equal measure. :)

By Captain Obvious (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

Hey, does everybody remember when Krugman was saying how the stimulus wasn't big enough to fight back the recession a few months ago? And how Obama was merely delaying the inevitable need for more money?

Does everybody understand they're talking about needing more stimulus now? Weird how a lightweight partisan shill would totally go against his party's extremely popular president, say unpopular things, and be right.

And it's even weirder how Krugman has been one of two people consistently right on the economy, along with Nouriel Roubini. That doesn't sound right...

Lastly, out of pure curiosity, what is it that you do, mr. Dillwheed, that allows you to so piously demean the work of a Nobel Prize-winning Economist?

Re Damien

Interestingly enough, conservative economist Martin Feldstein, formerly an economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, also said at the time that the stimulus package wasn't big enough and that a second such package might eventually be needed.

As Damien notes, Krugman has been demonstrably correct on a lot of economic questions when a lot of more conservative commentators were getting things completely wrong. Somehow I think I'll trust his opinion on these topics more than someone who calls himself “dillwheed.”

I see that Peggy Noonan is also ranting in the Wall Street Journal about how terrible the 2009 Nobel peace prize is, calling it "a wicked and ignorant award," and how it cheapens the prize. Oddly, neither Noonan nor Douthat mention Henry Kissinger.

By Bayesian Bouff… (not verified) on 13 Oct 2009 #permalink

"I don't read Douthat or Klein, jimvj, neither can provide "â¦a level of expertise that most of us do not possessâ¦" They're ignorant kids." - Dillwheed

You don't read them, yet you know them to be ignorant, and that they possess no relevant expertise.

In both your comments you seem to acquire unattributed data in convenient accordance with your beliefs.

Really, Krugman hasn't been spectacularly right about the economy. He was somewhat more right about the financial crisis than many others. (Economists and non-economists.) But he was far from completely right.

As for the the stimulus package not having a lot of effect; this was predicted by many, not all for the same reasons. Anyway this hasvery litte to do with the quality of Krugman's columns and the arguments they contain.

I'd say dillwheed's opinion about Krugman's columns are very widely shared among economists. Of course, he can be interesting when he wants. His earlier popular writing is often very good, in his best moments he is as lucid as Dawkins when explaining things.

You don't read them, yet you know them to be ignorant, and that they possess no relevant expertise.

"Don't" isn't the same as "haven't". "No relevant expertise" isn't the same as "â¦a level of expertise that most of us do not possessâ¦", the standard that Dr. Rosenhouse proposed. Having read plenty of their work, I'm not going out of my way to read more of it.

Somehow I think I'll trust his opinion on these topics more than someone who calls himself âdillwheed.â

Yes, me, too. But that's different from holding him up as an example of a superior columnist. I'm critical of the guy because---unlike Douthat or Klein---he has the stature and experience to raise the level of discourse and chooses instead to engage in the crude, base behaviors common to the form.

â¦what is it that you do, mr. Dillwheed, that allows you to so piously demean the work of a Nobel Prize-winning Economist?

I didn't mean to say anything about his work as an economist, just as a columnist. Krugman the columnist demeans Krugman the Nobel Prize-winning Economist.

By dillwheed (not verified) on 13 Oct 2009 #permalink

While I agree that Krugman has a substantive topic, he has served up a good deal of tripe when veering off of economics into the Bush hate.

He was so blinded by the hate that his columns become hard to read. But, he was still worth reading.

And, your comments about Douthat's columns are hardly substantive. If you have a disagreement with the substance of his column, then you should state it. Making fun of it and then insulting him really isn't an argument.

By Mike Keenan (not verified) on 13 Oct 2009 #permalink

Krugman is a horrible economist. The guy doesn't understand the difference between money and labor dollars. The quote Rosenhouse gives is utter ahistorical tripe. The current economic policies are stupid and doing them on a bigger scale would be even stupider.

Krugman cheered on the low interest rates and housing bubble that got us further into this mess. He also failed to recognize the economic problems being caused by Greenspan during the Clinton administration. He was completely blindsided by the current economic collapse, which was pretty obvious from an Austrian perspective.

The ignorant fail to recognize Krugman's incompetence because they lack the tools to see through his baloney.

By Brian Macker (not verified) on 28 Nov 2009 #permalink