Krugman Retreats to Cult Compound

Krugman Prayer

An entertaining article at American Thinker exposed me to a bit more Krugman than is allowed by my physician. It really doesn't cover the myriad ways of why the perennial priest of Keynesianism is wrong, it is assumed the reader knows that already, it just goes into how his blog has become a cult compound now that Krugman has started moderating responses to avoid being exposed for the charlatan he is.

What little I know of Krugman was from bits I read here at the DR and via an excellent article I came across while eating sushi, coincidentally. So, I was pleased to see the retreat of Krugman from the relentless barrage of common sense and logic that his commenters had began to issue.

What better than people taking apart his doubleplusunlogic? His double-thinking supporters.

Here is a brief excerpt:

By July, Krugman had lost his "Battle of the Blog." On July 23, Latrina commented, "Who is this Sean from Florida? He takes everything that [the] Professor [says] and shreds it, piece by piece. He shouldn't be allowed to post his comments on this blog since he seems to be winning all the debates. We progressives need to stick together and embellish our talking points without someone from the outside pointing out fallacies in our ideology."

Enjoy, or not. As usual with Krugman, self-dosing can be dangerous. Please consult a physician.

http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/08/paul_krugman_gives_up_1.html

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That "Latrina" comment reads

That "Latrina" comment reads like a pretty obvious case of concern trolling.

The Latrina comment seems to

The Latrina comment seems to be an obvious case of sarcasm.

I checked out half the links

I checked out half the links and then just gave up. The ones I saw were all pre-pundit. It's his Times column which gave birth to krugman the pundit. In fact, the age of your links (all the ones I saw are from the nineties, which coincides with when I liked and read everything krugman wrote for a lay audience) actually argues the case that you're trying to rebut.

Krugman was a pundit back

Krugman was a pundit back then, just a different kind of pundit. I agree that his views and interests drifted over the years, but it is just plain false to claim that "Paul Krugman has spent his career as a pundit advocating that government bureaucrats and political process replace markets" unless you are defining pundit to mean something like "only the opinion pieces he has written after his gig at Slate and for the NYTimes". And even then, if I searched long enough, I bet I could find exceptions.

"A different kind of pundit"

"A different kind of pundit" acknowledges a category change. What you might have said, but didn't say, was, "Krugman was a pundit then and now, and the only thing that changed was his opinions." But instead you said, "different kind of pundit".

I agree that his views and interests drifted over the years, but it is just plain false to claim that "Paul Krugman has spent his career as a pundit advocating that government bureaucrats and political process replace markets" unless you are defining pundit to mean something like "only the opinion pieces he has written after his gig at Slate and for the NYTimes".

In his early career as a public intellectual he is what I would have called a popularizer of economics, like Steven Landsburg or David Friedman, who have written books intended for a popular, non-expert audience. The focus was on explaining economics. The nature of what he did shifted after the nineties. Now he focuses more on opinions. Maybe the pressure of a regular column is what caused this change, or maybe writing for the NYT. He is more like George F. Will now.

So, he started public writing as a popularizer, a teacher to the masses, like Carl Sagan or any number of other popularizers. At some point he became a pundit. No longer focused on teaching the masses his specialty, now more focused on pontificating. It's what I would call a pundit. Webster has a definition which matches this:

a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media

Popularizers, teachers, explainers, aren't about giving opinions. Carl Sagan wasn't opining that there are billions and billions of stars. Nowadays Krugman opines, in an authoritative manner, through the mass media.

And even then, if I searched long enough, I bet I could find exceptions.

You're interpreting the statement you're critiquing as an exception-less absolute, which is rarely how such statements are meant.

In his early career as a

In his early career as a public intellectual he is what I would have called a popularizer of economics, like Steven Landsburg or David Friedman, who have written books intended for a popular, non-expert audience.

Even back when he was writing for Slate, Krugman was always much more opinionated than someone like Landsburg or Friedman. Just read his critical book reviews, especially those of Grieder, linked above.

What, you mean The Accidental

What, you mean The Accidental Theorist? This is a classic example of Krugman the educator of the masses. It starts out:

Imagine an economy that produces only two things: hot dogs and buns.

He then immediately explains what he is doing with this toy economy ("You can't do serious economics unless you are willing to be playful."), and then continues with the toy economy - the implication being that he is "doing serious economics" right in front of our eyes. Which he is.

The essay is called The Accidental Theorist. That's significant, because that makes it the title essay of his book The Accidental Theorist. In the introduction he writes (I boldface some key passages):

Still, there should be a lot more accessible, interesting, even exciting writing about economics than there is. Astronomy is a difficult, technical subject too; yet where is the economics equivalent of the late Carl Sagan? (Did you know that U.S. consumers spend trillions and trillions .. never mind). On many issues, including some of those where passions run highest, economics offers startlingly illuminating insights, insights that could with a little effort (all right, with a lot of effort) be explained without the jargon. Yet that explanation is usually not forthcoming. We are a profession without popularizers.

But wait - aren't there some very influential economic gurus, men whose books routinely grace the best-seller lists? Yes, there are, but they are not popularizers in the proper sense of the word. Sagan was a popularizer: he found a way to make serious astronomy - the discoveries and theories of professional astronomers - comprehensible and exciting to a wide audience. Our popular economics writers, however, are not in the business of giving their readers a ringside seat on the research action; with no exception I can think of, they use their books to do an end run around the normal structure of scholarship, to preach ideas that few serious economists share. Often, these ideas are not just at odds with the professional consensus; they are demonstrably wrong, and sometimes terminally silly. But they sound good to the unwary reader. In fact, as far as most people know - including people who regard themselves as well-informed, who watch public TV and read intellectual magazines - that is what economics sounds like.

The essays in this volume represent attempts to do something about that. For most of my professional life I did what most academics do: I taught my classes, wrote papers for professional journals, and in general talked mainly with other academics. As far as I was concerned, getting at the truth and convincing a select audience of cognoscenti that I was right was all that mattered; it was somebody else's job to communicate that truth to the world at large. To be honest, I would go back to those innocent days if I could; in a way I feel that I have been expelled from Eden. But there is no going back, for I have become all too aware that the truth does not, in fact, always prevail - that plausible charlatans can often convince even the great and good that they are men of wisdom, that economic ideas of (it seems to me) self-evident silliness often sound profound to the untrained ear. And I cannot count on somebody else to make the case for the kind of economics I believe in; if I want that case made, I'll have to do it myself.

Luckily, though it's a tough job, it's not impossible. If you work at it hard enough you can often find a way - a parable, a metaphor, a particular angle of approach - that makes a seemingly abstruse piece of economics easily accessible. And there is also a lot of pleasure, of sheer fun in the craft of writing clear English about a technical subject. And so a few years ago I found myself launched on a sort of second career, writing the sort of pieces that are collected in this book. Often I write articles that use some current issue as their starting point; I also often try either to explode some plausible- sounding idea that happens to be false or to promote some implausible, disturbing idea that happens to be true. But I always have the additional purpose of demonstrating what it means to think, really think, about economics.

Krugman always had opinions which he didn't make any secret about, but that didn't stop him from being a popularizer in the tradition of Carl Sagan, as I pointed out and as Krugman himself confirmed. We see that this is how he viewed his own "second career": as a popularizer in the vein of Carl Sagan. I'm a bit puzzled by his remark that economics has no popularizers, but whatever he meant by it does not seem to negate the point about whether he was, and considered himself to be, a popularizer, a professor to the masses - including in the very essay that you cite.

The remaining question is whether he has continued to produce such output in the past decade. If he has, I have not seen it. I see that he recently came out with a book called The Conscience of a Liberal. So he's now talking about his partisan identity, and talking about "conscience". It does not seem very likely that the focus of this book is to popularize economic theory, whereas the focus of The Accidental Theorist (the book, which includes the essay) was explicitly to popularize economic theory.

Another recent book is The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, which according to an Amazon reviewer contains the famous babysitting coop toy economy, but this is a slightly expanded version of a book that came out in 2000. The babysitting coop parable is from 1998.

I looked in Amazon for other books by him post-nineties, and found one called The Great Unraveling. According to Publishers Weekly (bolding mine):

This is not, I'm sorry to say, a happy book," says Krugman in the introduction to this collection of essays culled from his twice-weekly New York Times op-ed column, and indeed, the majority of these short pieces range from moderately bleak political punditry to full-on "the sky is falling" doom and gloom.

So Publishers Weekly is calling this political punditry. I have not read this particular book but the label is consistent with what I have read of Krugman's NYT columns.

To recap, my strong impression from having read everything by him I came across in the nineties, and having read a few things by him lately, is that in the nineties Krugman was a popularizer like Carl Sagan, and in past decade he has been a political pundit like George Will. Since he's a human being I'm sure the change wasn't like switching a lightbulb on or off. Nevertheless it seems to me to have been pretty sudden and pretty pronounced. If you had asked me about Krugman in the nineties I would have told you that, though I wasn't convinced by many of his conclusions, he was nevertheless one of the best popularizers out there. Ask me about his recent writing any time in the past ten years or so, and I wouldn't tell you any such thing. The change is not that I used to agree with him and now disagree. I recall that I actually disagreed with his conclusion from the babysitting coop parable. But the toy economy was a good way of really explaining the ideas.

That lengthy quotation isn't

That lengthy quotation isn't very sporting: It's an orgy of evidence.