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January 20, 2010
In which I step up to
defend Paul Krugman from Paul Krugman isn't bothering
Richard Posner: (presumably he has more
important things to do).
"Honesty About the Stimulus", Aug 18 2009
"... I am concerned with the fact that
academic economists, when they become either
public officials or public intellectuals
(like Paul Krugman), leave behind their
academic scruples. (This is one of the
themes of my book Public Intellectuals: A
Study of Decline )--and Krugman was
one of my examples of the phenomenon.)" And this article
apparently has a
number of different
Posner has sniped repeatedly
at Krugman, and he repeatedly
cites a few pages of his own
book for support, but I've
read those pages, and they
don't support much of anything. At least, they don't support
anything against Krugman.
You can read them
too, easily enough:
"Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline"
Posner's big gripe here against Krugman?
Krugman supported a reasonable claim
with some examples that are dubious.
The claim is simply that the present state
of the economy is "path dependant",
e.g. there is such a thing as a "first
mover" advantage that can win out over
products of superior quality.
The two examples that
Posner complains about In the interests of not just
(there are many others assuming that Posner has
that he doesn't mention): represented Krugman exactly, let's
take a look at the original...
(1) that Krugman once used the
QWERTY keyboard as an example Peddling Prosperity (1994)
of first mover lock-in. Posner
argues that the evidence that PEDDLING_PROPERITY
Dvorak is better than QWERTY is
weak, though it is a common
impression that the Dvorak is
superior (Dvorak did a good job
of selling us on at least that
much, if not on the keyboards Taken together, these
themselves). sound like they might
be something we would
(2) Posner has a gripe about call "mistakes", perhaps
Krugman's take on events with the even "honest mistakes".
aircraft industry after WWII--
It took me a few reads to get The claim that this
it, but it's this: reveals some sort of
corruption of intellectual
standards is, shall we
Krugman suggests (in a footnote!) that say, not established.
you might expect the superiority of the
British spitfire in WWII to translate The idea that academic
into a lasting economic advantage, and peer review makes
he suspects that a "likely culprit" for minor gaffs like this
the loss of this lead was heavy impossible (or even,
Pentagon spending, which effectively reduces their
supported US industry during it's likelihood all that
formative years. much) seems a trifle
Posner, with a dazzling display of
heavily footnoted detail, says that
this wasn't necesarily the case.
He doesn't prove it wrong, you He makes one point that at least
understand, he just wants to say sounds like it might be a good
it's not an established point. point, stating that the US was
already a leader in commercial
aircraft during WWII.
It would seem to me that
Krugman's initial point
still survives: the Brits
were a leader at least
in military aircraft,
and then after awhile
they weren't. Why not?
"My point is not that Krugman is
wrong in his analysis of
international trade; I am not What, Posner is not
competent to say. Nor is it that competent to comment
path dependence is a nonexistent or on a given subject?
unimportant phenomenon. My purpose Whoa.
is to draw the reader's attention to
the casualness with which evidence is The casualness with
handled in much public-intellectual which evidence is
work because of the absence of the handled? Krugman
usual gatekeepers who filter an cites by name the
police academic publication." (p.99) primary researchers
Meanwhile, Posner is ignoring
many other examples Krugman Is Posner sincerly
marshalls that no one is asserting that if one
going to challenge: the tried to publish an
success of the VHS tape academic paper refering
format, the location of to David and Arthurs's
Silicon Valley, etc. work in the '80s without
mentioning this one
What does that matter, compared gotcha publication that
to the fact that Kruman had a Posner knows of from
few examples that might be weak? 1990, the reviewers
would catch that and
Hey, that just goes to show what kick the work back?
happens when a professional
oversteps the bounds of their
profession (unless you're a
genius like Posner, of course).
From a New Yorker interview [ref]
with Richard Posner:
"It does bother me about economists--not just
(Paul) Krugman and De Long; it's just not a
liberal versus conservative thing. Some
conservative writing bothers me also. They
are not at all reluctant about taking
extreme positions in an Op-Ed, or in blogs, Is being a
and so on. It really demeans the profession." conservative
It's nice to hear that some
conservatives bug him. It's (Silly
not worth naming their names question,
though, not when you need to I know.)
dig into Paul Krugman some more.
More from the same interview:
"Krugman is obviously a good
economist. He's got this book, 'The
Return of Depression Economics.' It's
very good...But his column for The New
York Times is really irresponsible,
nasty. Sometimes on his blog he makes Whoa. Accusations!
accusations." Of what? (Does he
accuse people of being
irresponsible and nasty,
"In one of his columns, he maybe?)
suggested that conservatives
were traitorous. He used the Then there's the fact that
word 'treason.'" Posner accused Krugman
of having "left behind
his academic scruples".
Okay, now it only
takes a minute to (It's often observed
find the Paul that their may be a
Krugman "treason" touch of ironic
article he's self-reference in
complaining about: Posner's sub-title:
"A Study in Decline".)
"Betraying the Planet", June 28, 2009
Why don't you go read
that, I can wait.
Oh, what the hell, let me quote some
of it. Here's Paul Krugman being
"irresponsible" and "nasty":
"... most rejected the bill because they
rejected the whole notion that we have to
do something about greenhouse gases.
"And as I watched the deniers make their
arguments, I couldn't help thinking that
I was watching a form of treason --
treason against the planet."
"... you didn't see people who've thought
hard about a crucial issue, and are trying
to do the right thing. What you saw,
instead, were people who show no sign of
being interested in the truth. They don't
like the political and policy implications
of climate change, so they've decided not
to believe in it -- and they'll grab any
argument, no matter how disreputable, that
feeds their denial."
Are you feeling a deep sense of outrage there
at that immoderate use of the word "treason"?
But that's the old "shrill" Paul Krugman for
you... to get calm, intelligent commentary,
you might look up this quote:
"... the inanity of trying to substitute
will for intellect, as in the denial of
That's by Richard Posner.
He actually doesn't disagree
with Krugman on this issue.
"Is the Conservative Movement Losing Steam?" May 10, 2009
The important thing, you see,
is not whether the planet
is on the brink of destruction,
the key thing is that we must
be polite about it.
(Calling people who disagree with
you inane is okay, though.)
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