Ed Driscoll

The Krugman Recursion

Or as Drew M puts it on Ace’s blog, “Paul Krugman Thinks Republicans Are Stupid Because They Agree Wtih, Er, Paul Krugman”:

James Taranto looks at Krugman’s Thursday column in the NY Times attacking Republican Senator John Kyl. Krugman was not impressed with Kyl’s argument that extending unemployment benefits created an incentive that could actually increase unemployment.

Krugman scoffs: “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view—but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.”What does textbook economics have to say about this question? Here is a passage from a textbook called “Macroeconomics”:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. . . . In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

So it turns out that what Krugman calls Sen. Kyl’s “bizarre point of view” is, in fact, textbook economics. The authors of that textbook are Paul Krugman and Robin Wells. Miss Wells is also known as Mrs. Paul Krugman.

I was out with a liberal friend one night when I saw a flyer promoting a local appearance by Krugman. My friend said she was a big fan and expressed disappointment when she realized the appearance was the night before. I explained that I too was disappointed because I would have loved to have gone and heckled the guy.

Apparently once upon a time, Krugman was actually a rather good economist. It seems at some point he decided he’d rather have the fame and fortune that goes with toeing the liberal line in a Times column. Life is about choices.

As Tom Wolfe has noted, “An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others:”

The great H.L. Mencken, probably the most brilliant American essayist of the 20th century, started it with his term “the booboisie.” Then Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio presented us with the oh-so proper, oh-so twisted mid-western preacher who in fact is a Peeping Tom. That formula has now been ground out and ground out and ground out until it takes the form of movies like “American Beauty.” We in the arts have been complicit in the denigration of the best people on earth. Why? Because so many of the most influential ideas of our time are the product of a new creature of the 20th century, a creature that did not exist until 1898: and that creature is known as “the intellectual.”Now, we must be careful to make a distinction between the intellectual and the person of intellectual achievement. The two are very very different animals. There are people of intellectual achievement, who increase the sum of human knowledge, the powers of human insight, and analysis. And then there are the intellectuals. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others. Starting in the early 20th century, for the first time an ordinary story teller, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, a playwright, in certain cases a composer, an artist, or even an opera singer could achieve a tremendous eminence by becoming morally indignant about some public issue. It required no intellectual effort whatsoever. Suddenly he was elevated to a plane from which he could look down upon ordinary people. Conversely—this fascinates me—conversely, if you are merely a brilliant scholar, merely someone who has added immeasurably to the sum of human knowledge and the powers of human insight, that does not qualify you for the eminence of being an intellectual.

I’ll give you an example right across the river (I think I’m pointing in the right direction [points over shoulder to the northeast]; I’m standing right near where Pete Suder used to play second base for the Boston Braves). Anyway, right across the river there is the amazing figure of Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky on his own did an extremely brilliant thing. He’s a linguist, he’s a scientist, and a scholar. He figured out on his own that speech, grammar, and the human capacity to record in memory are literally, physically, built into the human nervous system. It is not something learned; it is built in. That is why a child can take a new word like “chair” and immediately drop it into a sentence at the age of two and say, “My doll fell off the chair,” a whole sentence with a subject, a predicate, an object. It’s only in our time, the end of the 20th century, the beginning of the 21st, that neuroscientists have the instruments by which they are beginning to prove that Noam Chomsky was right. A brilliant, brilliant human being. Did anyone call him an intellectual merely because he was one of the most brilliant people in the United States? No. When did he become an intellectual? When he finally spoke out concerning something he knew absolutely nothing about: the war in Vietnam. When he denounced the war in Vietnam, Chomsky put on the requisite display of utter ignorance and thereby became a leading American intellectual.

Krugman fits Wolfe’s definition of an intellectual to a T-Bill.