January 30, 2013

Mr. Krugman's Science, Part 1

Paul Krugman occupies a unique place within the intellectual punditry community, and I've often wondered how this came about.  For one thing, I suppose, not many academic economists (Mr. Krugman is a professor at Princeton, from whose stately halls the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was emitted) write a regular column in one of the few remaining newspapers of actual national reach, in this case, the New York Times.  Which is to say, America's newspaper of record.  For another, there is the ubiquitous nature of his presence: he's a regular panelist on TV (ABC's "This Week"), he is interviewed frequently on talk shows (Morning Joe, CNBC, Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers), and he blogs perhaps more than any other prominent pundit in the history of the internet.  It appears that he blogs all day long, if you follow the date stamps on his relentless posting, hammering out his wooden, repetitive prose in which he engages in nonstop self-adulation and boasting about the peerlessly accurate nature of his economic predictions, along with vicious attacks on many other economists and political enemies, a cohort that seems to multiply at an alarming rate, as Mr. Krugman goes out of his way to write nasty things about people he's just been with on television, or shared a panel with at an academic conference, or wrote something which challenges one of his cherished Keynesian axioms.

It helps also that Mr. Krugman is for all the Right Things.  The Huffington Post, for example, the liberal riposte to the numerous right wing sites (the Drudge Report, Red State, Powerline) idolizes Mr. Krugman, republishing his columns and blogs and usually including a summary of "Krugman's Greatest Takedowns," a compilation of Mr. Krugman's attacks on arch-villains such as Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie.  When you read such "classic" takedowns, you're struck by how lame they all are, how anemic in their thrust.  How dull.  Well, you think that way if you're like me.

What I admire is Mr. Krugman's conscious and deliberate construction of his persona as a showman and as the bete noire of the conservative side of politics.  That isn't easy to do if you're an economist, especially if you look rather ill-at-ease in your television appearances.  He won the Noble Prize for Economics (an award which was not part of the original Alfred Nobel will of 1895 but was endowed in 1968 by the Sveriges Riksbank, which funds the award) largely, I believe, because he used his column at the Times to denounce and attack the Bush Administration and the Iraq War from 2003 forward.  This played very well in Europe, of course, and raised Mr. Krugman's visibility markedly.  It appeared to me that the Nobel Committee had to rummage around in Mr. Krugman's back issues to find something that was academically interesting enough to justify the Prize, and came up with something (from 1988, I believe) about international trade.  Mr. Krugman discovered that if a country engaged in international trade establishes an industry (whether or not you might think such an industry is peculiarly suited to that nation's "natural" production), then other supportive industries will spring up around such an "anchoring" industry and give that nation a competitive advantage internationally.  This might strike you as perhaps one notch slightly above obvious common sense, but the Committee, having decided that this worthy American ought to receive the Prize for his outspoken resistance to the despised Bush Administration, needed to find something "original," and this is what they came up with.

I agreed with Paul Krugman's position on the Iraq War, and in those days he was very concerned about budget deficits caused by simultaneously (1) reducing the top marginal income tax rate on the plutocrats while (2) embarking on a large military buildup and invading two Muslim countries. Alas, his critique was no more effective in curtailing the massive American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq than anyone else in this country; the electorate is virtually powerless to stop the relentless incursions of the American military into any country it chooses.  All such decisions are made in the Emerald City of Washington, D.C., far from any accountability, and when we elect a liberal naif, such as the genial Mr. Obama, to take on the entrenched power of the military-industrial complex, we see how rapidly such an out-of-his-depth personality gets co-opted and turned into another spokesman for the status quo.  Guantanamo remains open, the wars in the Muslim world proliferate and accelerate, Bin Laden is shot with no thought given to his capture, the Obama Administration cooperates in the making of a hagiographic movie about the efficacy of torture in the war on terror.  And moving past the MIC into the rest of our Corporatacracy, the Wall Street banks remain Too Big to Control (let alone dream of prosecuting), Big Pharma runs the medical care industry (and Obamacare), and the "changes" are in rhetoric and in "social issues" such as who can marry whom and who can stay in the country legally, and whether a drug-addled citizenry can be convinced not to shoot each other so much if we reduce the ammo clips from 30 to 10 bullets.

In such a political climate, maybe the smart players, like Krugman and Obama, learn the best way to play the game as a nominal liberal is to make all the right noises (from time to time) while remaining a power player and stalwart supporter of the Establishment.  That is, as a liberal who is for all the right things provided that nothing substantial gets changed in the way we do things now.

As I continue this musing, I will consider the Keynesian economics of Mr. Krugman, and describe how I play one of my favorite intellectual games:  Guess what Mr. Krugman's position will be on this!

No comments:

Post a Comment