The Straw Krugman

Dr. Cowbell (to steal just one of his nicknames) is both flattered and amused by how he has become the favorite boogeyman of the right:

Funny: Angry Bear finds some of the usual suspects explaining How to Debate Paul Krugman, and the answer appears to be this: invent a straw man who bears no resemblance at all to the economist/columnist of the same name, and ridicule that imaginary person.

I have to say, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I could play the role of History’s Greatest Monster to so many people. Thank you for the honor!

Aside from the silliness of the exercise, this little exchange is another illustration of a point I’ve noticed before: the way hard-right commentators assume that the other side must be their mirror image. They insist that no government intervention is ever justified; so liberals must support any and all government interventions. They want smaller government, as a principle; liberals must want bigger government, never mind what for. They believe that deficits and printing money are always evil; liberals must be for deficits and money-printing under all circumstances.

I’m sympathetic to this argument because I’ve seen it in action. It seems that expressing an opinion that the legitimate of role of government is slightly more than what Friedrich Hayek (or Ron Paul) would allow makes one an advocate of Politburo-style central planning.

The column Krugman links too has a deeper link to this item where Krugman’s Articles of Faith are enumerated. I’ve conveniently bolded the portions which do seem like legitimate strawman statements.

1) Recessions, depressions and crises are the result of the unhampered market. We actually do not have to investigate if markets were really free when recessions occurred or what really were the specific causes of whatever threw the economy off track. When there is a recession, depression or crisis, there must have been too much of an uncontrolled market.

2) The Great Depression was caused by uncontrolled markets.

3) Recessions, depressions and crises are practically the result of one problem: a lack of aggregate demand. People, for whatever reason (and who cares about the reason; let’s not get hung up on those details) don’t spend enough. If everybody were to spend more, people would sell more. Problem solved. It is the role of government to get people spending again. This is done by printing money and causing inflation so that people spend the money rather than save it. Or by the government running up deficits and spending it on behalf of the stupid savers.

4) The Great Depression was solved by the government spending lots of money and the central bank printing lots of money.

5) This explains ALL economic problems.

6) If there are recessions, depressions and crises, they can all be solved by printing money and by deficit spending.

7) If after many rounds of money printing and deficit spending, there is still a recession, then only one conclusion is permissible: There was obviously not enough money printing and deficit spending. We need more of it.

8) If after another round of money printing and deficit spending we still have a recession, then….well, do you not get it? We obviously have NOT PRINTED ENOUGH MONEY and we are NOT ACCUMULATING ENOUGH DEBT! And, by the way, remember 7) above.

Krugman is practicing Keynesianism as a religion. The 8 commandments above are not to be questioned. Whoever questions them is not worthy of debate.

Now, this attack is not completely unfair since Krugman is easily the most visible and vocal advocate of classical Keynesian stimulus. But also in the article is a video of noted libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a stereotypical Austrian Economist in both accent and philosophy, who says this is the way to engage Krugman:

Ask some questions almost like a child. Explain to me how increases in paper pieces can possibly make a society richer. If that were the case, explain to me why is there still poverty in the world? Isn’t every central bank in the world capable of printing as much paper as they want?

Now here is a debating style I have come to be familiar with recently. Just pepper someone with a litany of seemingly simple questions which belie the fundamental assumptions and premises beneath them.

If we were to pick a Most Ridiculed Pundit on ATiM, Krugman would probably be in the top three. And I am no fan of his tendency to insult the basic education of his opponents, particularly ones with credentials approaching his own. But to engage in my own logical fallacy of Arguing From Authority, they don’t give out Nobel Prizes for collecting box tops. Krugman is both fun to read and fun to ridicule but he rarely makes the arguments people claim he has made. Or when he has, he is far more likely to be right than the people just tearing him down on an ad hominem basis.

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