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February 06, 2007

The Krugman Show

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm normally pretty good about avoiding Paul Krugman, who is obviously a brilliant guy but who's also a grandstanding egomaniac. Life's too short, why not keep the blood pressure under control, etc. Occasionally, though, I do slip up.

Intrigued by the idea of Paul Krugman writing about the recently-deceased Milton Friedman, for instance, I read this New York Review of Books piece. (Link thanks to ALD.) Could Krugman -- a Clinton-style Democrat -- really have found it in himself to write an appreciation of a legendary free-marketer?

Maybe so, I thought. During a previous bout of weakness, I listened to a long interview on Radio Economics with Krugman and was surprised to discern some gentlemanliness in his conduct and language. Not that the usual compulsive showing-off was in short supply, you understand. But it was enough to let me think he might deserve another try. So I bit.

Verdict: both sides of Krugman are on display. He does indeed frame his piece as a tribute and an appreciation, and he does acknowledge Friedman's importance and contributions: "By the century's end, classical economics had regained much though by no means all of its former dominion, and Friedman deserves much of the credit ... I regard him as a great economist and a great man." Generous! If a bit pompous: "I regard him ..." indeed. The world was waiting for Paul Krugman to deliver that opinion.

Yet ... Well, let's just say that, although the corpse of Milton Friedman hasn't yet cooled, Krugman can't leave matters there. The usual thing in this kind of piece -- the kind one combatant writes about a worthy opponent -- is to slip a few reservations in along the way but let the whole thing stand as tribute. It's all a big debate, why not root for people who make great cases, etc. But that's not for Krugman, who doesn't just note down a few reservations, he turns the essay into something really poisonous.

The signs are apparent early on. For instance: "This essay argues that Friedman was wrong on some issues, and sometimes seemed less than honest with his readers." That "less than honest" bit is going to bloom in the course of the essay. The portents quickly grow darker and stormier: "questionable logic ... serious questions about his intellectual honesty ... a bit slippery ..." Finally, the accusation itself: "Over time, Friedman's presentation of the story [ie., free-marketism] grew cruder, not subtler, and eventually began to seem -- there's no other way to say this -- intellectually dishonest."

Gotta love that "there's no other way to say this" bit. Krugman isn't peddling mere opinion or disagreement. No, he's speaking because the gods and the fates have chosen him to deliver their judgment.

What could Krugman possibly have in mind, I wondered. I've read many criticisms of Friedman's work and thought but I can't remember a one that accused him of intellectual dishonesty. I focused in on the piece more closely ... OK: Krugman thinks Friedman was wrong on some points ... Krugman argues that some of the policies Friedman advocated didn't work out too well ... Krugman himself is sensible, correct, and objective, and can't understand why he hasn't yet been awarded a Nobel Prize ... And then the essay was over.

A tactless piece, needless to say. After all, would you show up at someone's funeral in order to score political points? Let alone to assert your own superiority to the dear-departed? FWIW, people don't behave like that where I come from.

But what became of the "intellectually dishonest" bit? That's a seriously serious charge, and Krugman has structured his essay so his reader is panting in expectation of a gigantic revelation. On finishing the piece, I felt as though I'd sat through a Hitchcock film but had been denied its final reel.

My jaw still down around my ankles from the spectacle of Krugman's showboating, I treated myself to a re-read of the essay. After all, serious accusations are usually followed by proof, or at least attempts at substantiation. Where were they?

This time I did find some traces of the case Krugman apparently thought he was making. As far as I can tell, Krugman is accusing Friedman of intellectual dishonesty because, in his role as a free-market propagandist and a public figure, Friedman didn't convey the complexity and depth of his academic work.

Really, seriously. This is Krugman's accusation: In his Newsweek columns and on TV shows and in interviews, Friedman peddled an easy-to-digest, cartoonified version of his own highly-sophisticated work.

Am I being unfair? Here's an example of how little Krugman's case (as far as the "dishonest" thing goes) boils down to:

By 1976 Friedman was telling readers of Newsweek that "the elementary truth is that the Great Depression was produced by government mismanagement," a statement that his readers surely took to mean that the Depression wouldn't have happened if only the government had kept out of the way -- when in fact what Friedman and Schwartz claimed was that the government should have been more active, not less.

Let's inspect this bit of prose. Friedman wrote a sentence in a column-for-civilians claiming that the Depression was caused by government mismanagement. This is true, not-true, helpful, not-helpful, etc, of course. But what in this statement does Krugman find to criticize? As far as I can tell, nothing at all. In the bat of an eyelid, Krugman moves from what Friedman wrote to how Friedman's readers "surely" took his sentence.

Gotta love that "surely"!

First, does Krugman offer proof that Friedman's readers took Friedman's statement in that way? Nope. Does he offer an attempt at proof? Nope. But let's say they did. How on earth is Friedman responsible for that misreading? What does he deserve blame for? After all, Friedman's own statement is in fact fairly nuanced: "government mismanagement" is a long way from "government should get out of the way."

In other words, despite all Krugman's reluctant / frenzied carrying-on, and despite his Mosaic portentousness, Krugman is lowering the moral boom on Milton Friedman for absolutely nothing Friedman was actually guilty of.

But, to back up a bit ... Earth to Paul Krugman: simplifying the message? That's basic to what propagandists do. The public wrestling mat, er, arena is not a place for hair-splitting, much as some might like it to be. Coming up with catchy debating points is a big part of the job of a propagandist.

Next: Paul -- dude! -- have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror? Because, to the rest of us, "Paul Krugman" looks like a propagandist himself, one who is in fact notorious for his crude and aggressive debating techniques. Reading a Krugman column in the New York Times is -- as I'm the millionth reader to notice and mention -- rather like exposing yourself to a barrage by the Russian Army. Has anyone, including those who share his political p-o-v, ever read an 800 word Krugman column and thought, "Wow, what a subtle, nuanced, and in-depth treatment of a complex topic!"?

I read Krugman's NYRB piece marveling -- as I'd expected to -- at Krugman's ego, and at his lack of tact. What a guy: ever unable to resist tooting his own horn, ever eager to take matters that should be dealt with on the basis of issues and go personal with them instead. Disagree with Paul Krugman and in no time at all he'll accuse you of being a child-molestor, then strut around in a state of "Who da man?" self-pleasure. But this much was new to me: Paul Krugman can't even resist the temptation to cast serious -- serious and unsubstantiated -- aspersions on a man who is unable to defend himself.

As far as I'm concerned, Krugman has -- by virtue of this behavior -- opened the door on criticism for himself. So why not take the opportunity to award Krugman a demerit or two for insensitivity, aggression, absence of self-knowledge, and excessive self-regard? As well as -- let it be said -- intellectual dishonesty. After all, in this blog posting I've supplied more proof of the characteristics that I've accused him of than Krugman did in the NYRB of Friedman's supposed malfeasance. As far as I'm concerned, Krugman now officially qualifies as a mad dog. Let's give him the damn Nobel and hear no more from him.

Incidentally, Paul Krugman is -- no doubt -- the best economist who has ever lived. He's also -- no doubt -- the greatest hubby, lover, daddy, colleague, and neighbor of all time. No one, I'm sure, has ever been as trustworthy as Paul Krugman is, and I personally feel immense outrage that he wasn't awarded a Harvard degree upon birth. And, to make some small effort at equal-opportunity fairness, I'd be just as happy making fun of Slate's mad-dog smartypants libertarian Steven Landsburg, whose writing I find every bit as hostile and self-regarding as Krugman's. I'm talking here only about Krugman's manner as a writer and as a public personality.



posted by Michael at February 6, 2007


"...would you turn up at someone's funeral in order to score political points."

To those for whom politics is a religion, nothing supercedes the crusade they are on.

To answer the question more directly: many years ago I attended a funeral at which the deceased's son! mounted the podium to give the eulogy and proceeded to deliver himself of a rant about - what else? - inequality. It was a jaw dropping performance. But more important, a real eye opener.

For the true believer everything, everything, is grist for the mill. In this case the son used incidents from his own father's life to bolster THE CAUSE. In Krugman's case, Friedman, in death, is smeared to bolster the cause. But the main thing is that the cause be served. The cause comes first.

Ruthless. The true believer is utterly ruthless.

Posted by: ricpic on February 6, 2007 2:27 PM

I was reading through this post Michael, when I was brought up short by this passage: "After all, would you show up at someone's funeral in order to score political points?" Certainly scoring political points at a funeral would be the height of bad taste, but just as certainly Krugman wasn't attending a funeral. He was writing an essay about a recently deceased public intellectual's life and work in the NYROB. Friedman's funeral is over -- this essay isn't even an obituary. Are you saying all analysis or criticism of Friedman's work is off-limits because he died a few months ago? If so, at what point do you think such analysis wouldn't be "tactless"? Would you say the same about a public figure you disliked -- even a public figure who was widely reviled?

Posted by: Steve on February 6, 2007 2:29 PM

Ricpic -- That's saying a mouthful and saying it well. "Smearing" is a great word too, tks.

Steve -- People will certainly differ on what "letting a decent amount of time go by" means! Two months isn't by many standards a long time, though. People typically bury the hatchet for a few minutes after a death. And of course, sure people can criticize Friedman, not that that's up to me anyway. Let's hear it for vigorous debate. But there must be ways of doing it that don't involve bad timing, poor arguments, or smearing.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 6, 2007 2:37 PM

Other than writing for the New York Times, what exactly has Paul Krugman done? Which means---and there's no other way to say this---not much. I fully agree with your comment by the way---I think "government mismanagement" isn't to be interpreted as "the government should stay out of the way." Unless, of course, the government is going to mismanage. I don't think Krugman's article would have been any more relevant if he'd waited a longer period of time to publish it.

Posted by: annette on February 6, 2007 2:49 PM

Well, again, we're not talking about a funeral or burying the hatchet, are we? We're talking about a critical essay on a public figure's life and work by someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum. I remember equal snark from Clive Crook in the National Journal upon the death of John Kenneth Galbraith -- and within a couple of weeks, not months. It didn't particularly bother me then. They're dead after all, and of course their work will continue to be argued over and picked at. They're public figures with strong polarizing opinions. They *invited* argument and disputation and disagreement. In this light, an exaggerated sensitivity on their behalf strikes me as more than a little absurd.

Posted by: Steve on February 6, 2007 3:26 PM

Annette -- Krugman's actually a Big Deal economist himself, though I don't know if that means he's really "done anything" ...

Steve -- Timing in these things is a matter for taste, I suppose. I wouldn't go around dissing someone impressive who just died (even while pretending to be big and generous about it) -- Friedman wasn't Hitler, after all. He doesn't need instant trashing. But, you're right, so what? Still, I notice you aren't wrestling with the fact that in his piece Krugman repeatedly accused Friedman of a serious sin ("intellectual dishonesty") and then failed to provide proof, or even much of an effort at it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 6, 2007 3:49 PM

You caught me -- I haven't yet read Krugman's piece, so I can't discuss that aspect of your complaint. I was just brought up short by your "funeral" crack and the larger principle it seemed to imply. But since it appears I'm the only one here who likes Krugman and thinks he's done yeoman's work in exposing the fraudulence of the Bush administration's economic policies for the past six years, I guess I owe you a response to the rest of it.

Posted by: Steve on February 6, 2007 4:10 PM

Let me know what you think of his piece! Like I say, I'm just bitching about his manner ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 6, 2007 5:01 PM

Well, having read it, I can't say that I think much of the rest of your complaints Michael. First off, I missed the part where Krugman says that he himself should be awarded the Nobel prize. Was this blogger's license to make him seem like a bigger pompous ass than he really is, or did I really miss it? If it's blogger's license, then I really don't see where you get off taking Krugman to task for being unfair and dishonest.

The vast majority of the essay offers some serious economic/historical grappling with Friedman's most seminal ideas. You seem rather grudging on this point, dismissing it as "reluctant / frenzied carrying-on", so I'll make it for you. You seem very concerned with the locutions "I regard him..." and "there's no other way to say this but...." A couple of pretty thin reeds on which to hang ringing proclamations about Krugman's epic ego and strutting and showboating. Maybe you think that in merely presuming to write about (and question) Friedman's ideas at all Krugman exhibits an out-of-control ego? Perhaps he doesn't display the right on-bended-knee level of reverence? Certainly in terms of the *actual language* Krugman uses here, this essay would barely register on a preening scale calibrated to the self-regard of a typical blog entry.

As for what Krugman's case for dishonesty "boils down to," a little less boiling is in order. In the paragraphs immediately preceding the one you quoted, Krugman lays out the case for dishonesty in detail, including a quote from Friedman's 1967 address in which Friedman claimed that the Federal Reserve "forced or permitted a sharp reduction in the monetary base" during the Great Depression, even though the monetary base (as opposed to money supply) actually rose during that period. The nub of Krugman's argument here is that Friedman in later years argued that the Fed "caused" or "produced" the Great Depression, while the analysis in own book "A Monetary History" suggests that at most it failed to ameliorate its impact or shorten its duration.

Does this warrant Krugman's charge of intellectual dishonesty? Maybe he overstates the case against Friedman -- I'm not familiar enough with Friedman's output to say one way or the other. Certainly I've seen Krugman himself denounced by those on the right for far more minor offenses. In any case, I'd say his level of overstatement ain't nothing compared to yours in this post.

Posted by: Steve on February 6, 2007 5:37 PM

Steve -- Since your sense of humor seems to have deserted you, I suspect you're annoyed that I'm making fun of someone whose politics you like. But relax: I'm making fun of his manner -- which I find coarse and pompous -- and not his politics. My case consists of three points (and, unlike Krugman, I'm *deliberately* using overstatement to make it): his sense of timing stinks, his tone is hilariously full of itself, and he supplies next to no substantiation for the Big Dark Thing that he rumbles on about and claims to nail Friedman for. I'm not arguing that he's wrong, I'm arguing that he's an arrogant asshole.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 6, 2007 8:13 PM

Incidentally, it's not as if Krugman isn't routinely experienced as an arrogant windbag. Even people who like him often write things like, "Krugman's arrogant, but I love him." The New Statesman, hardly a right-wing outlet, kicked off a semi-positive review of one of Krugman's books this way:

Arrogant, self-aggrandising and preening, Paul Krugman clearly enjoys his position as America's leading liberal commentator. The way he tells it, for three years his twice-weekly column for the New York Times op-ed page has been a lone voice criticising the true extent of the mendacity and maladministration of the Bush presidency. Whether divining the causes of the Californian energy crisis or eviscerating fiscal laxness at the White House, he has always, according to himself, been the lone contrarian.
Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 6, 2007 10:24 PM

The last paragraph in Krugman's essay reads:

"In the long run, great men are remembered for their strengths, not their weaknesses, and Milton Friedman was a very great man indeed—a man of intellectual courage who was one of the most important economic thinkers of all time, and possibly the most brilliant communicator of economic ideas to the general public that ever lived. But there's a good case for arguing that Friedmanism, in the end, went too far, both as a doctrine and in its practical applications."

How is this not respectful, indeed admiring?

It seems to me you did not fully take Krugman's point on Friedman's depiction of the great depression. Friedman's academic work shows that the Federal reserve did not intervene strongly enough after a *spontaneous* (market-created) drop in the money supply. Krugman claims that Friedman's public depiction of his finding was that the Federal reserve *caused* a drop in the money supply, which then created the great depression. The two really are rather different.

On the other hand, you are correct that the piece is not written in the gentle tone of eulogy, but proceeds to directly argue the intellectual differences between the two men. Yes, that's aggressive. Given that the ideas at stake are central to policy and affect the lives of hundreds of millions, I'm not sure I fault it so much.

An irony here is that Friedman himself was notoriously argumentative and aggressive, and rarely let tact get in the way of making his points. Krugman and Friedman are in many ways quite similar as personalities and intellectuals, except on somewhat different sides ideologically.

Posted by: MQ on February 6, 2007 11:14 PM

Also, for a truly gracious eulogy of Friedman by a liberal economist, I suggest this by Brad Delong:

You will notice, though, that as a eulogy it does not engage critically with Friedman's ideas. Clearly doing this, not just writing a eulogy, was a major intention of Krugman's.

Now here is Delong's view of Krugman (from a letter to the editor in the "Economist"), a view which I regard as completely correct:

Paul Krugman a partisan hack ("One-Handed Economist", November 13, 2003)? Puh-leaze. Do your reporters not have time to find out what Paul Krugman has written about prominent Democrats like Robert Kuttner? Lester Thurow? Robert Reich? _American Prospect_ proprietor Robert Kuttner, at least, believes that Krugman is a right-wing mole: "far more charitable to very conservative fellow economists [like] Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Martin Feldstein... than to fellow liberals... whom he dismisses as pseudo-economists and mere 'policy entrepreneurs.'"

Paul Krugman wages and always has waged Intellectual Thermonuclear War against all he regards as denizens of the pit and carriers of error. He's usually right (80% of the time?). He's sometimes wrong (20% of the time?). The interesting question--the question your reporter should have asked him or herself but did not--is "What has the Bush administration done over the past three years to draw such a concentration of Paul Krugman's intellectual fire?"

Exactly. Krugman sounds extreme because the Bush administration really is that bad.

Posted by: MQ on February 6, 2007 11:27 PM

I do believe Steve and MQ are doing their best to turn this into a political debate ... Have a ball guys.

Look, let's go back to Reading Comprehension 101. I kicked my posting off saying that Krugman sometimes makes like a gent, and that that side of him is in evidence in this NYRB piece. I *also* say that his tendency to self-aggrandize and his determination to personalize and be hyper-aggressive are also in evidence. My proof: his language, and his shocking (and poorly substantiated) assertion that Milton Friedman was intellectually dishonest.

Dudes: Accusing an academic, and a world-renowned one at that, of intellectual dishonesty is not something that should be done lightly. It colors the whole piece, despite the politesse and tributes. It's like saying of a novelist, "He was a great novelist. Aside from that plagiarism thing, of course."

I further hint that now may not be the most tastefully-chosen moment for anyone to mount an attack. Questions of timing are debatable of course. But really: what's so pressing that Krugman has to smear Friedman a mere two months after his death? Let's not pretend that an essay in the NYRB is somehow going to change policies in Argentina or Indonesia.

Also in the posting: Krugman's failure to deal with the fact that propagandizers and popularizers (ie., Krugman and Friedman both, in one of their many jobs) necessarily simplify -- that's part of the job. That's not intellectual dishonesty, that's doing your job as a popularizer, and Krugman must know that.

Also in the posting: one of Krugman's most-stressed examples has nothing to do with what Friedman said. Instead it has to do with how Krugman asserts Friedman's statement was "surely" taken by his readers. That's proof of nothing, or rather of how little Krugman's case consists of.

In other words: maladroit timing, pompous language, and a serious charge badly backed-up.

As for Friedman's own tone ... Have you actually read him? He was legendary for his combativeness in person, but in his writing and his public statements he made a huuuuuge point of being civil and calm. That's a big reason why he won many people over to his side. They liked him. Krugman specializes in chest-beating and frenzies. He makes a point of carrying on in a high-and-mighty, annoying way -- see that passage from the New Statesman a few comments up. That's why he wins no one over -- he's heating up the already-converted, not persuading the skeptical. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But comparing the manner and tone of Krugman and Friedman is like comparing vinegar with tea. Two different things.

Try typing "+Krugman +arrogance" into Google -- you'll get thousands of hits. Type "+milton friedman +arrogance" into Google and you'll get nothing (or I got nothing) that refers to Friedman's writerly manner.

As for Krugman's even-handedess: again from the New Statesman:

He too often descends into an unthinking partisanship. Bill Clinton, as he was portrayed by Krugman, only ever acted with scrupulous fairness, while Bush is only ever venal. Ranting against nepotism, Krugman accuses those on the right (like the Bush brothers) of selfishly benefiting from inheritance, while those on the left (the Kennedys and the Sulzbergers, who own the Times) demonstrate "a strong sense of noblesse oblige".
Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2007 12:09 AM

You were making fun of his manner? I guess charges of "insensitivity, aggression, absence of self-knowledge, and excessive self-regard" just don't bring the funny for me. They sound like sincere, irritated grievances. And they may be valid! Probably Krugman *is* an arrogant asshole -- most Times columnists are, I suspect. (I doubt that Friedman was cuddly and self-effacing either.) I just don't think this essay makes your case for you.

Posted by: Steve on February 7, 2007 12:21 AM

Krugman may be a cuddly bear in person for all I know! But he strikes many, many people as an arrogant asshole on the page. Why not kick him around a little for it? Sorry to hear that my jokes didn't tickle you, though. Not even the one about how outraged I am that he wasn't awarded a Harvard degree upon birth? I thought that was pretty funny myself ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2007 12:33 AM

Note the irony that the only way to read Krugman's column in the NYTimes is by paying for it. We penniless ones note that and simply accept the headline as the content. At least it saves time.

Also, some people ARE essentially awarded Ivy League degrees at birth, simply by being born as legacies from prior grads. Isn't that how Bush got his?

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 7, 2007 1:03 AM

Krugman is indeed a big deal as an economist. John Bates Clark Gold Medal Winner, only one of them every two years.
I despise his NYT columns for the same reason Michael does. What makes it all so incredibly galling is that he cn be, when he wants to be, a fabulous writer. Try this:

Posted by: Tim Worstall on February 7, 2007 9:03 AM

I've just been glad that there's one person in the major newspapers who has been against Bush almost from the first. It has turned out that the people who started out against Bush were the ones who were right.

Contrary to widespread opinion, the characteristic major-newspaper guy is not a liberal Democrat. Most of them are fudging centrists who seem liberal because of their "academic elitist" personal style. During the 2000 election Gore got a lot of silly and aften inaccurate criticism about trivial stuff, whereas Bush's flaws and very weak record were scarcely examined. In 2002 the Iraq War got pretty uncritical support from the co-called "liberal hawks" in the media.

Before the Bush administration I did not like Krugman much, since he is a centrist Clintonista free-trade Democrat. (Free trade was a Republican issue -- CAFTA for example passed with only 15 Democratic votes in the House).

Personality, writing style -- no opinion, no problem, sort of like him. I was just glad to have someone there who wasn't fudging.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 7, 2007 9:05 AM

I've long believed that people who write a great deal, including novelists, ultimately reveal their inner natures no matter how much they try to veneer them. After writing sixty novels, I feel naked. There is nothing about me that can't be intuited, even through my fictional characters. Mr. Krugman, whose writings I've followed sporadically, strikes me as an angry man.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on February 7, 2007 11:51 AM

Mr. Krugman, whose writings I've followed sporadically, strikes me as an angry man.

You say it as though there were something wrong with that.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 7, 2007 12:13 PM

"Accusing an academic, and a world-renowned one at that, of intellectual dishonesty is not something that should be done lightly." First, I don't think Krugman is doing it lightly, for the reasons outlined above. Second, physician, heal thyself. Third, contentious public intellectuals, even "world-renowned ones," like Friedman and Krugman who put their ideas out in the popular media get accused of intellectual dishonesty by their opponents *all the time.* It's a standard debater's tactic, and I don't believe your attack of the vapors over it.

I actually agree with you that Krugman's analysis of the Newsweek quote was weak, maybe even less than honest (ooooo!), but he makes his case with his previous few paragraphs, and I think you're being somewhat dishonest in ignoring them (and I say that with the appropriate level of heaviness in my heart).

I second John Emerson and MQ in applauding Krugman for being (stridently) anti-Bush when it was far from fashionable. He was doing it at a time when the major newspapers and columnists in those newspapers were tip-toeing around (if not actually kissing up to) the corruption and incompetence. Was he shrill and obnoxious and widely despised? You bet. He wasn't always fun to read (no sparkling wit, he). He wasn't in the Friedman/Kristof/Dowd/Safire/Brooks clubhouse, that's for sure. But that cozy clubhouse atmosphere was stifling, and I enjoyed his breath of rancid air.

Yeah, now through no fault of his own he's stuck behind TimesDelete(TM), and I hardly read him. Plus everyone's anti-Bush now, so he's not as essential.

Posted by: Steve on February 7, 2007 1:01 PM

Steve -- You're flailing, I suspect because you like Krugman's political p-o-v. Which is fine, but the posting isn't about Krugman's politics. It's about his style and his manner.

Look: An accusation of "intellectual dishonesty" made in the pages of the NYRB is a serious charge. Krugman foregrounds the charge three or four times in the course of the piece. But his proof for it is next-to-nonexistent.

Fast question: If Krugman wanted to attack Friedman for being "intellectually dishonest," why didn't he do it while Friedman was alive? Does it speak well for Krugman that he waited until Friedman was dead?

BTW, Krugman is renowned far and wide for his aggressive, personalize-everything, name-calling style. At least in his role as an opinionator, he's incapable of disagreeing with someone without accusing that person of some serious personal sin. He can't keep it on the issues; he can't abide the idea that intelligent people might honestly disagree. He has some weird compulsive need to go on the personal attack.

Fun to speculate about where this compulsion comes from. My guess is huge-but-fragile-ego and bad upbringing. But who knows? Maybe it's just his style.

Y'know, you can agree with the guy and still admit that his personal style is ... a bit overbearing. It doesn't mean that he's wrong, it means his manner is what it is. You can even say you think his hyper-aggressiveness is great, or necessary, or something. But you're gonna have a very hard time finding many people who will argue that Krugman's manner isn't hyper-aggressive. Here's a Newsweek piece that turns entirely on how aggressive Krugman's style is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2007 1:10 PM

Allow me to flail some more. First, you say that your post was about Krugman's style and his manner, but by far your most serious charge was that Krugman's accusations of dishonesty were "next-to-nonexistent." And you keep ignoring the paragraphs in the article that contain the core of Krugman's accusations.

Krugman argues that Friedman was being dishonest in publicly claiming that the Fed "produced" the Great Depression when Friedman's own research suggests otherwise. This is not a small point. Krugman makes the analogy that this is like claiming the CDC caused an epidemic. To bolster his case, Krugman quotes Friedman a couple of times saying that... the Fed produced the Great Depression.

Yes, focusing on the word "mismanagement" in that Newsweek quote was a slip, but the key part of that quote was the word "produced." Krugman's point is clear, and clearly made. Why can't you admit it?

Posted by: Steve on February 7, 2007 1:53 PM

Steve -- 1) It's a serious accusation (made, forthermore, after the guy's death, thereby avoiding the inconvenience of having Friedman respond), and 2) Krugman isn't offering much substantiation.

This is a life-and-works-summation piece appearing in a prestigious publication. Krugman peppers it with swipes about Friedman's "intellectual dishonesty." Not a charge many people have ever brought against Friedman, btw. So it's not just a serious, potentially reputation-wrecking charge, it's also a very unusual one. Which means that Krugman really ought to have some big red pieces of meat to offer his audience.

And what does he come up with in this important piece to back his highly-unusual condemnation up with? Not much. Note that "not much" isn't "nothing." Although, as I showed, one of his featured examples does in fact come to complete nothing. And if that's one of Krugman's best examples, well ...

Note also that Friedman's "sin" might very well be excusable: Friedman was someone who operated both as an academic economist and as a popularizer/propagandist, much as Krugman does today. Of course he sometimes simplified his message for the popular audience. Do you think that Krugman hasn't streamlined/simplified his own findings and ideas for his popular audience? There's something wrong with that? On what conceivable basis? Further: How does "simplifying your message for a popular audience" convict a person of "intellectual dishonesty"? If it just automatically does, just because, then Krugman's as guilty as Friedman is/was. If it's acceptable that popularizers and propagandists sometimes simplify, then another question comes up which Krugman dodges dealing with: What's the difference between a fair simplification and an unfair one?

There are many ways a writer can raise stuff like this without bringing out the high-and-mighty, Old Testament bazookas. Krugman might have written something like, "I have some misgivings about the way Friedman represented his ideas to his popular audience ..." He might have said, "All of us who write for the popular audience are of course guilty of occasional oversimplification. Even so I think that Friedman overdid it when he ..." But Krugman didn't take that tack. He chose instead to bring out the high-and-mighty bazookas.

Incidentally, I highlighted Krugman's poorly-chosen, poorly-backed-up charge of "intellectual dishonesty" because it's an example of what an aggressive asshole he can be. Which, again, is what the posting's about.

Personally I suspect what's really going on in the piece is that Krugman is playing to his audience. The NYRB crowd hates Friedman's ideas. But they don't want to wrestle with the idea that he was impressive and worth a wrestle. They don't want to settle for "Well, I guess we just disagree on that." They want to think that Friedman thought the thoughts he thought and said the things he said because he was Evil. So much easier that way! And in his piece Krugman has gone and done his readers the favor of "proving" that Friedman was Evil.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2007 3:27 PM

I certainly don't think that Krugman does anything like try to prove that Friedman was evil (or Evil), and I seriously doubt that the Friedman-haters at NYRB would get much satisfaction out of this essay. Krugman thinks that some of Friedman's simplifications tipped over into dishonesty; you don't think he proves the case. This level of dispute hardly seems worth all the sturm und drang. If the essay does anything, it makes the case that Friedman *was* impressive and his ideas *were* worth a wrestle.

If you want to see a real NYRB hatchet job on someone we can agree about, check out the one on Pauline Kael way way back. It's got to be in an archive of all-time great hit pieces somewhere.

Posted by: Steve on February 7, 2007 4:25 PM

I actually like an aggressive style. It's not like Krugman invented that. Most liberals seem to have a wimpy, mushy style which hurts them terribly in the political arena. Any liberal who comes along who works differently is fine with me. Krugman and I were bitter enemies in 1996 or so, but that's water over the dam.

A lot of the moderates and centrists I know seem to be motivated y some kind of personal dislike of liberals, leftists, left-liberals, Greens, etc. based primarily on personal style. On my regular internet stops this includes people here at 2BH, people at NNXP, and some of the people at Unfogged. Even the Tapped people dislike Greens based only in part on the issues. Some people actually admit to having supported this Iraq War just because they hated hippies so much.

I confess to having an equal dislike for 90% of the Republican Party, but these are people I disagree with about almost all issues. And a lot of the big conservatives (Delay, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly) are extremely nasty, dishonest people in addition to being (from my POV) wrong, but they don't seem to get the same level of flak.

Whereas the moderates I'm thinking of often seem to be saying about liberals, etc., "X may be right, but I just can't stand him".

Weird. (Tat, you both dislike me and also disagree with me. I'm not talking about you.)

Posted by: John Emerson on February 7, 2007 5:16 PM

John -- Personally I wish that the Dems had someone like Friedman -- steadfast, brilliant, persuasive, and with an engaging personality. Friedman actually managed to win many people over to his side. I doubt Krugman has won many converts. This is just an impression, but my hunch is that Krugman's real value is in whipping up the faithful. I'd love it if the Dems showed more interest in reaching out and bringing people in. Instead they seem mainly occupied with cheering each other on. But: who you calling "centrist," white man? I've never had much patience with leftism, and I marvel a bit at those who trust it. But I've resonated to all kinds of far-out stuff, from semi-paleos like Bill Kauffman to cosmic granola-crunchers like Chris Alexander to Tories like Michael Oakeshott to eco-anarchists. Centrists, patooie. Well, I do like governmental gridlock. Maybe that's centrist of me ...

Steve -- The sturm und drang isn't coming from me. I'm just making fun of Krugman for being an arrogant asshole. In this piece, I'm having fun showing that even at his most statesmanlike, Krugman's inner arrogant asshole can't help coming out. Note that John Emerson, a Krugman fan, is perfectly fine with describing Krugman as aggressive ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2007 5:18 PM

I like and respect Krugman (and think MB calling him a "mad dog" and an "asshole" is massively over the top...might want to think about what's driving those feelings Michael...). However, I also see MB's point. Friedman was arrogant, but it was sort of a cheerful arrogance driven by his happy belief that his ideology was the answer to all questions. It really wasn't personal. Friedman's message was: hey, look at this great free market ideology, it explains the world pretty much completely, and if you disagree with it I'll happily tell you all the ways in which you must be wrong. It helps also that the U.S. is a pretty conservative, libertarian country and many people are pre-disposed to accept Friedman's ideology.

For Krugman, his criticism has a more personal and angry edge. He really is not so much of an ideologue, certainly not as much as Friedman. He doesn't believe there is a single ideology that explains the world. Instead, he believes that in a complex world there are many ways that people can get an edge and exploit others. Some of his major contributions to economic theory were in finding ways in which the happy Friedman-esque predictions of perfect competition and free trade models could easily collapse when some people had market power (i.e. an edge on the system). In the Bush administration, he saw essentially a bunch of liars who had managed to get an edge and were using it to exploit the country, and it pissed him off. So he hammered at it.

I'd say Krugman and Friedman are at least equally arrogant -- actually I'd say in certain ways Friedman is more arrogant. But Friedman's arrogance is driven by joy in the perfection and infinite possibilities of the free market system, while Krugman is more driven by anger at what he perceives as injustice and exploitation. It makes sense that the "non-converted" -- the people who voted for or at one point supported the unjustice -- would be turned off and annoyed by an attempt to tear down someone they had once supported. One of the hardest things to do in the world is to tell people they are wrong, and the more wrong they actually are, the more tact it takes.

Posted by: MQ on February 7, 2007 8:07 PM

"A lot of the moderates and centrists I know seem to be motivated y some kind of personal dislike of liberals, leftists, left-liberals, Greens, etc. based primarily on personal style."

This is so true, and it kind of blows my mind. Is politics just a theatre in which we project our personal, private pet peeves on to the screen of world history? Personally, I often like conservative types more than liberals, but I often think they're way off politically.

And as a P.S. to my last post -- didn't mean to imply that Krugman didn't have a side to him that theorizes about the beauty of the market. He's done some superb academic work, actually right down MBs alley in some ways, on mathematically modeling how cities become unique...modifying standard neoclassical economic models to show how the differentiation and historical uniqueness of particular places happens and is sustainable in the market. Very pretty stuff.

Posted by: MQ on February 7, 2007 8:54 PM

Perhaps "moderate" and "centrist" are not the right word for non-conservatives who despise liberals and Democrats for mysterious reasons. It's a weird dynamic, though. I worried a lot about about Gingrich's / Delay's power when they had it, and now these other guys are equally worried about the savage and fiendish Pelosi's power, and it makes no sense to me.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 8, 2007 12:47 AM

MQ -- (FYI, as a writing strategy in this posting I've taken my tonal cue from Krugman's own massive over-the-topness. Then I've added some light-heartedness, mockery, and raillery. Sweet of you to think that there's something more to my tone than that, though!) Yeah, when I've looked beyond the the beliigerant-columnist side of Krugman I've found that there's some expansiveness there. And I like the fact that he's into bounded-rationality ideas too, though he still strikes me as 'way too inside-the-establishment. (I thought it was interesting in his Friedman piece that he talks about the necessity -- in his view -- of "imposing" an intellectual order on the chaos of economic life. Spoken like a real academic intellectual, as far as I'm concerned. I don't know about you, but I don't feel any need to go around imposing intellectual order on much of anything. Life's too interesting!) But then it isn't a total surprise. I've known guys like Krugman and they often have many different sides, and aggressive belligerance and generous warmth are often two of them. Interesting cases, in a psychological/character sense.

John -- I won't speak for others who dislike leftism and Dems, but as for me ... 1) I know and live among lefties and Dems, and I'd really prefer they not run the world. They're some of the most awful and egocentric people I've ever known. 2) I don't just dislike Dems, I dislike politicians generally (never met a one I'd trust) and am intensely suspicious of the political class in general, 99% of whose drive is, despite the rhetoric and as far as I've been able to tell, to acquire power, power, more power. What I can't figure out is why any sensible and/or smart person would have any fondness for, let alone faith in, either party, or any politician. The political class has always struck me as something the rest of us need to protect ourselves against. Minimizing the damage sounds pretty good too as a political goal. Hence my enthusiasm for gridlock.

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 11:06 AM

Great point about the different types of arrogance MQ. And how *easy* it is to have Friedman's kind of cheerful arrogance if you're preaching free market ideology to the capitalist converted. Friedman's arguing from a bedrock of establishment support -- not the leftist academic establishment, necessarily, but a Wall Street establishment that can certainly endow university positions and fund think tanks like the Hoover Institute. Of course he's cheerful!

Krugman's a natural iconoclast, with no real consituency -- as irritating to many on the left as he is to those on the right. He's a gadfly. We need those. They're frequently the ones on the front lines of the culture wars, shot at from all sides.

Posted by: Steve on February 8, 2007 11:28 AM

"What I can't figure out is why any sensible and/or smart person would have any fondness for, let alone faith in, either party, or any politician."

"They're some of the most awful and egocentric people I've ever known."

Based on what I know about them, I don't like surgeons, but I'd rather have a good one than a bad one. I just don't understand the focus on personalities and social groups here, at GNXP, and sometimes at Unfogged. High-level policy isn't a personality thing, any more than surgery is, even though campaigning makes it seem that way.

I'm in somewhat the opposite situation -- I run into a lot of hard rightists, and face to face they can be nice warm pleasant people. But they like the idea of Armageddon, for example, much better than I do, and they have lots of other toxic attitudes about non-face-to-face stuff.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 8, 2007 2:28 PM

Steve -- You have your history a little mixed-up. When Friedman was doing the popularizing work he's best known for, his p-o-v was 'way out of the mainstream, to the point where it seemed outlandish to most people. He won many, many converts, though, (for better or worse, of course), and was able to do so partly because people liked him. He swam against the stream for a long time, and was one of the most amazingly successful p-r men of the last 50 years. Krugman's no gadfly or renegade, he's about as Clinton-centrist and establishment as can be. 49.9% of the voting population (or maybe 50.1%, depending on how you count) is already on his side. And I doubt that -- thanks to his antagonistic manner -- he's won anyone over to his team.

John -- I'm a little baffled that you keep putting me among Republicans. What's with that? An either-you're-with-us-or-against-us mentality? Like I say, I don't root for Dems or Repubs, I root for us (ie., the non-political-class people), and given a political choice from what's available in the US I'll opt for gridlock every time. And I'll remind you of something you'd nudge me about on some other day, which is that expertise doesn't exist in the abstract, let alone in a vacuum. The people who wield it have personalities and have points of view. "Expert" politicians don't just conduct affairs of state in a competent fashion -- would that it were so! They have predilections, educations, connections, and they steer things in directions that please them. Their expertise often embodies lots of prior convictions too: "Any educated person knows that blah blah ... " And off they go, expertly putting things over on the rest of us while helping themselves to ever more power. Happy to agree, though, that GWB is seriously not up to it. Happy to admit as well that if I were living among righties I'd probably be mocking them instead of lefties. But my life doesn't happen in the abstract or a vacuum either.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 2:46 PM

No quite sure what you mean by the "mainstream" that Friedman was supposedly out of, Michael. If you mean mainstream leftist academia, sure. If you mean the Wall Street/mainstreet business establishment -- well, that's who Friedman gave an academic voice to. Private enterprise didn't produce the Great Depression, big government did? That's my grandfather/great-grandfather/uncle talking. They *loved* Friedman's Newsweek essays.

Posted by: Steve on February 8, 2007 4:45 PM

MvB: Krugman's point about Milton Friedman relies on a statistic about the money supply --namely that the money supply (I believe it's defined as M3 here) increased in the period from 1929 to 1933, which indicates that Friedman was being dishonest about the causes of the Depression. You don't seem aware of the issue at hand. If Friedman knew and agreed that the money supply was increasing, he was being dishonest. Now, I don't trust Krugman at all so I'd really like economic historians to comment on whether he is indeed correct about the money supply but you can't rebutt Krugman's point with the sort of handwaving you do here. In sum, you've written an ill-informed, obscurantist post that does nothing at all to grapple with what Krugman wrote.

I read the entire NYRB article a couple of days ago and I thought it was a genuinely informative and appreciative account of Friedman's career -- with some very clear explanations of MF's research and the issues with which he grapples -- marred by a final page in which Krugman uses some spectacularly unconvincing GDP growth rates from two quarter centuries to somehow "prove" that libertarian economic policies have not benefitted the American economy. So it's a tale of two halves. The Greg Mankiw blog has a good discussion of the essay, by the way.

Posted by: jult52 on February 8, 2007 4:48 PM

Steve -- I think you're letting your political prefs get in the way of the facts. Friedman came along at a time when Western governments and the Western mainstream were all Keynesian -- JFK, LBJ, Nixon, the majority of Americans, Keynesians all. He helped turn the tide. For better or worse is debatable, of course. But these are simple econ-history facts. Krugman's own essay acknowledges as much.

JT -- Happy to agree that the economics is over my head, though I didn't think I had any trouble following Krugman's case. On the other hand, I recognize Krugman's essay-writing strategy quite clearly. He's doing a variation on the "He was a great novelist, too bad about the plagiarism ..." move. It's a standard way to do some "I don't want to but I have to" smearing.

Krugman is condemning Friedman in a prestigious publication for "intellectual dishonesty," and he's doing so a mere 2 months after the man's death.

A) Is now the moment? Friedman's still warm, after all. Looks tactless to me. Also: Friedman's dead, so he can't respond. Looks cowardly to me. Krugman gets some demerits.

B) What's Krugman got to back up his charge? One point. Friedman made many arguments in his life, appeared on TV hundreds of times, and wrote hundreds of thousands of words. Out of all that, all Krugman's got to back up his serious charge is one lousy point? Krugman gets more demerits.

C) Ok, then ... How well does that single point stand up? Well, in one of the examples Krugman offers, not at all. Krugman is attempting to nail Friedman not for anything Friedman said but for how his readers took him. That's bad, even slippery, arguing of a sort that someone who's accusing someone else of intellectual dishonesty should be a lot more careful about. I'm surprised the NYRB's editors let that one by. Krugman's stock falls further.

D) As for Krugman's other examples ... Well, popularizers will simplify. That's one of the things they're paid to do. I think we can agree that there's such a thing as a responsible simplification and there's such a thing as an irresponsible simplification. Was Friedman's move acceptable or not? Beats me. But Krugman -- a popularizer himself -- doesn't wrestle with this question. Why not? Surely any prosecutor -- and Krugman is clearly playing the prosecutor here -- would be questioned closely about this. Krugman hasn't done his job, as writer or prosecutor. He at best stays level here.

So: Krugman is making a serious charge in a prestigious venue against a man who can't respond. He's doing it based on one point, which on inspection turns out to be pretty debatable.

It's a little like declaring in front of the Supreme Court that so-and-so is guilty of serial murder -- great man though he otherwise is, of course -- and as proof presenting a few instances of possible jaywalking recorded on grainy videotape. You may or may not manage to paste the accused with a jaywalking fine. But does any of this in any way justify bringing the serial-murder charge, let alone bringing it before the Supreme Court?

These aren't complicated economics questions, these are straightforward human questions. We all get to have opinions about those. As far as I'm concerned, in his essay Krugman earned more demerits than gold stars.

You can disagree of course. But -- since my case against Krugman is that he often conducts himself like an arrogant asshole, not that he isn't a good economist -- I'm not sure why you're trying to go all technical on me. He's often a heavy-handed, aggressive writer, and I find him so even in this piece where he's doing his best to play the role of calm, Olympian gent.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 5:32 PM

I think you'd have a hard time making the case that a majority in the business community, Friedman's consistuency, were all Keynesians. And, oh Michael! "It's a little like declaring in front of the Supreme Court that so-and-so is guilty of serial murder"! Sturm, meet drang.

Posted by: Steve on February 8, 2007 6:20 PM

Steve: "I think you'd have a hard time making the case that a majority in the business community, Friedman's consistuency, were all Keynesians."

Indeed! (Although a lot of businessguys liked Keynesianism fine -- they loved feeding off the military-industrial complex.) But did I try to make that case? I was pointing out that the vast majority of the West was Keynesian, and that Friedman played a big role in turning the tide. All this happens to be true. Wikipedia: "Friedman's advocacy of free markets was a minority view during the big government, high taxation, high regulation, welfare state era of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. However, he lived to see his laissez-faire ideas embraced by the mainstream, especially during the 1980s, a watershed decade for the acceptance of Friedman's ideas."

Steve: "Sturm, meet drang."

Indeed! Funny though how eager you are to pin li'l ol' mocking-blogger me with your labels, and how willing you are to let Paul "Near-Nobelist Righteous Wrath" Krugman off the hook ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 6:36 PM

The actual choice we have is A and B, and one is much better than the other. I thought differently in 2000, but I was very wrong. I don't see the point any more of opting out our supporting an imaginary third choice.

Between the Republicans and the Democrats, I vastly prefer the Democrats, partly because of my strong dislike of most of what Republicans do, and partly because I like quite a bit of what Democrats do.

I don't think of you as a Republican. I think of you as saying both sides are equally bad, but a lot of your expressed reasons for thinking that seem to be at the level of disliking certain kinds of people, rather than thinking about what the two sides do.

For me this isn't like choosing friends. If I knew more bigshot liberals I might feel more like you do. They don't strike me as people I'd enjoy being around.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 8, 2007 6:54 PM

John -- I've lived through LBJ and GWB, and both sucked. The only pattern I've noticed that semi-regularly seems to lead to less-bad results is gridlock. So -- where politics (snooze) is concerned -- I'm led to a third choice, which is to mock what's become of the system, take note of how shamelessly self-interested the political class has become, and do my little bit to get a few more people saying to both parties, "Cmon, you can do a little better."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 7:30 PM

LBJ was almost 40 years ago, and I spent a couple of years trying to bring him down then. The real-world comparison is Gore or Kerry vs. Bush, and to me those were easy choices.

The reason I'm harping about this is that 1.) the barbs at 3BH seem almost all to be aimed at liberals and Democrats and b.) since Gingrich in 1994, and escalating with Bush in 2001, I think the Republicans have become amazingly worse.

I was never a Clinton cheerleader, though I defended him during the impeachment try. (Few Democrats were, he totally humiliated the Congressional Democrats). But the Monica thing was too incredibly silly, and Gingrich was just too vicious.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 8, 2007 7:37 PM

John -- Fun though it can be, I'm not sure how valuable alternative-history is. FWIW, I know someone who's spent a lot of time with Kerry, and he/she (no names) isn't at all sure he wouldn't have been a disaster. All he stands for, according to this source, is getting his name in the headlines. And I once spent a day around the Gore campaign. They were just like -- almost the exact same people as -- New York media people. Same schools, same backgrounds, same behavior patterns, same concerns, same opinions. Didn't inspire trust. But who knows, maybe both guys would have been passable. Let's hope. But how can we know?

In any case, I can certainly understand people cheering for their team. What I don't get is why the team-partisans can't understand people whose choice is to cheer (when we can be bothered) for a better-quality game. The real world includes that possibility too.

Incidentally, a fun yak. But what's it got to do with Krugman? I didn't go after him for his politics, I went after him because he sometimes writes like an arrogant asshole ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 7:56 PM

LBJ sucked? On everything, including civil rights?

Posted by: Ste on February 8, 2007 8:10 PM

Well, I've said my piece, I think. You're still talking about kinds of people. There are dozens of things that I think Gore would have done better, and not because he was especially good, but because Bush is so terribly bad. I doubt I'd like his people either.

By and large, you do go mostly after Democrats, liberals, and leftists, here. Even if there were a parity here I don't think that would be right, but I don't even think there's a parity.

Krugman is a breath of fresh air for me because he was one guy who would call a spade a spade. From my point of view, I can almost list the major-media guys who will flat-out do that: Olbermann, Froomkin, Cafferty....sometimes a few other NYT guys like Lewis and Rich, but they tend to be genteel.... Conason and the late Molly Ivins, but they aren't/weren't really major. (There's a whole stable of weak, ex-, or pseudo-liberals: Estrich, Stephanopolous, Mathews, Colmes, Kinsley).

So basically there are just a few guys out there who make me feel good, and you don't like him for personal reasons I don't really understand.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 8, 2007 10:12 PM

MvB: Your note responding to my post (Feb 8) was the beginning of an appropriate response to Krugman's essay. It should have constituted a first draft for your reaction piece. While being occasionally critical, Krugman was very positive about Friedman on a personal level in the piece. There's no backstabbing involved: Friedman was an intellectual and his ideas are fair game. And if you can't grapple with the economics, then don't comment on the debate. You could have just summarized Krugman's piece and asked for response from readers on certain points. Don't fall into the op-ed page trap of feeling like you need to comment on everything. Just spreading information can be a useful function for the blog at times.

John Emerson: Frank Rich and Molly Ivins are strong while Michael Kinsley is weak? You're serious?

Posted by: jult52 on February 9, 2007 8:43 AM

Kinsley plays the "on the other hand" game too much, running to the center to preserve his contrarian cred. He also relies too much on ingenuity. A smart boy, though.

He lacks oomph and cojones. When he was with Pat Buchanan I always imagined him and Buchanan as a atereotyped pair involved in unnatural acts.)

Posted by: John Emerson on February 9, 2007 11:39 AM

Ste (Steve?) -- Despite the fact that "the Civil Rights Act" sounds pretty, the LBJ years were in many ways a disaster for blacks. Welfare, crime, and illegitimacy rates skyrocketed. Despite explicit promises to the contrary, the Civil Rights Act quickly turned into the affirmative action industry that has so roiled the country since. Blacks who could got out of inner cities, leaving behind something the US had never had before, a permanent culture of dependency that continues to be passed down from generation to generation. The riots destroyed a lot of black-owned property and helped ensure the slow death of many cities. And '65's Immigration Act set in train the inflow that recently resulted in blacks' being displaced as the country's #2 minority. So: a mixed bag at best for blacks. And then there were the "civil rights" of all those dead Vietnamese ...

John -- "You're still talking about kinds of people." Right! I do it deliberately.

"There are dozens of things that I think Gore would have done better." That's speculative. Which is fun but not much to base anything but a daydreamy over-beers discussion on. What comes out of people when they're installed at the top is amazingly unpredictable, I've found. At work I've seen many top bosses come and go, for instance. In none of those cases did the new boss perform as anticipated. So I can't really see the point of pretending to know how someone would have performed. You don't know, you can't know. Although I certainly agree that it's hard to imagine how anyone could have done worse than GWB & Co...

"By and large, you do go mostly after Democrats, liberals, and leftists, here." By and large I mainly go after chic architects. But the relevant fact for me anyway is that I'm a blogger. Pay me scads of money, give me an organization and a budget, and I'll show you what I can do in terms of going out and producing a blow-all-the-lids-off publication. But I'm not paid, and I do what I do here in scattered bits of spare time. So I write about what I encounter in life. Given that I live and work in the media and arts worlds in NYC, of course I'm going to spend more time mocking lefties and their follies than anyone else. I barely know any righties. I have no idea who they are or what they're like. The handful of New Criterion types that I have met have actually seemed like quite intelligent, decent, responsible types, if a little crazed where Israel is concerned. They haven't been a big part of my life, though, so I hesitate to give anything but the most glancing impression of them. But no blog is going to give anything but a partial, restricted angle on things. Surfers can also go elsewhere to fill in some of the blanks. That's part of the fun of blogdom, no? Anyway, like I say, my main contribution to the political discussion is to hammer away at the borders-and-immigration issue, and to encourage people to reflect about the scene in its degrading totality. There's room in blogdom for that.

"So basically there are just a few guys out there who make me feel good, and you don't like him for personal reasons I don't really understand."

Glad he makes you feel good! I suspect I actually semi-approve of his economics, but there are other economists I find considerably more simpatico, so I tend to focus on them instead. Krugman's mighty establishment for my tastes. I do enjoy having malicious fun gawping at his preferred style of carrying on. What a spectacle!

JT -- Feel free to write the response to Krugman's piece that you think ought to be written. I've written the one I chose to, which is a piece of mockery about his manner and his conduct. If you don't feel like dealing with it that's OK. I'm a little mystified by how gullible and tone-deaf you're being where Krugman's essay as a piece of writing is concerned, though. It's transparently a poison pill slyly wrapped in a lot of statesmanlike-seeming verbiage. You also seem blind to its publication as a public act -- ie., timing, placement, and etiquette. These things all count, as you know. You're usually a lot more savvy about them than you're being. I'm assuming that it's because you're a fan of Krugman's and so are rallying to his defence with anything you can come up with ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2007 12:46 PM

Kinsley's getting worse about his "on the other hand" shtick too. He recent columns waffle around so much they don't seem have any POV at all.

Posted by: Steve on February 9, 2007 12:47 PM

John, Steve -- Wasn't Kinsley always an Ivy League neolib? Smart and clever, of course. Has his p-o-v changed much? I haven't checked in on him in years ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2007 12:55 PM

So, we shouldn't have outlawed the poll tax and desegregated buses/restaurants/hotels/theaters/public facilities and outlawed other aspects of Jim Crow because... black poverty wasn't eliminated and the '60s happened? Cancer wasn't cured either -- so what? The Declaration of Independence did nothing to stop slavery, led to the genocide of Native Americans, created a nation in which 37 million people live in poverty, and eventually resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. At best, a "mixed bag."

Maybe we can just agree that codifying certain fundamental rights (that are in the process of being violently trampled) is a good thing. Right?

Posted by: Steve on February 9, 2007 1:41 PM

Of course it's always speculative when you say things like "so-and-so" would have done things better. But there's one huge thing that we can be 99.9% certain about -- Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq. If Bush the First wouldn't do it after the first Gulf war, that it's as close to an iron-clad certainty as you can get that no Democrat would have done it in 2003.

Based on this one certain-to-have-been-avoided debacle alone, it's safe to say that Gore would have been a much, much better president.

Posted by: Steve on February 9, 2007 1:52 PM

Steve -- That's an impressive job of battling a straw man!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2007 1:54 PM

Admittedly, I had a tough time cutting through all the tendentiousness and dishonesty and specious logic in your last reply Michael, but I hardly think I was attacking a straw man. Your train wreck of implied causation led directly to my Declaration of Independence analogy.

But at this point I get the feeling that you're just desperately throwing arguments against the wall right now hoping that something will stick.

Posted by: Steve on February 9, 2007 2:17 PM

I'd say MB's answers are sort of demonstrating John Emerson's point. Politics is about what real decisions are made, not whether you like the personal character of the people who make them. The decisions made around e.g. the Iraq war and occupation were profoundly, deeply worse than any political decision that either Gore or Kerry were likely to have made, indeed worse than any decisions that a U.S. president has made certainly for the last thirty years and perhaps ever. If you can't see that, then you're either deeply uninterested in politics or emotionally invested in not seeing the obvious.

MB, you combine graciouness with resentment in some of the most interesting ways I've ever encountered. Your writing really gives the impression that you are kind, generous, and open, both intellectually and personally. But at the same time you seem to cultivate these particular resentments -- against certain kinds of liberals, elite "artsy" types, and so on -- in ways that are so predictable they almost seem to have a touch of the obsessive to them.

Posted by: MQ on February 9, 2007 2:31 PM

Yeah, I should add that your arts commentary is pretty brilliant Michael. I'll just try to tiptoe around your political resentments from now on.

Posted by: Steve on February 9, 2007 3:04 PM

Steve -- Thanks, and glad you drop by. The turning-it-into-politics thing, though, certainly isn't something I've been doing.

MQ -- Thanks for the compliment. I enjoy your visits a lot. You're reading too much into me, though, when you talk about "resentment." I don't have much in my unconscious that hasn't been already pretty thoroughly picked-through.

I'm curious about the way you and Steve resort to the "resentment" thing. Does not-agreeing-with-liberal-orthodoxy always need "resentment" to explain it? So liberals are the only people free of resentment? That certainly doesn't jibe with my experience ...

Anyway, I'm a simpler soul than that. I'm just commenting on what I encounter as I move through life. (I hope I'm doing it spiritedly, entertainingly, provocatively ...) The only people who really gripe me in any personal way are thought-police types. But I'm a promoter of freewheeling conversations, so I would be. And I'll be pretty frank about what I'm up to when I take them on.

As I said to John Emerson above, 99.9% of what I encounter in life is liberals and lefties. So I make observations and cracks about 'em. If anyone wants to pay me a few mill to spend my next decade in the boonies, I'll probably wind up cracking wise about Republicans. Such hasn't been my fate so far, though.

In this case, what's amazing me most is the determination of the pro-Krugman crowd to turn this comment-thread into a political discussion -- I guess they've succeeded! That's quite a display of willpower, because the posting is clearly about Krugman's manner, not his politics.

I'm probably fairly sympathetic to Krugman's politics, but his politics aren't my subject. His manner is. I state my subject (namely his manner) and then I re-state it in the posting. And in the comments I've re-re-stated it a dozen times over. Hard to imagine any way I might have clearer.

Apparently, though, any mockery of Paul Krugman -- even of his widely-noted (even by approving lefties) aggressivness -- will make his groupies take up arms. I wish they'd just say, "Yeah, he can be an aggressive asshole, but he's my man," or maybe "Sure he can be an aggressive asshole, but it serves a purpose," or something. The conversation could advance. Instead, they dig trenches, strap on the bazookas, and dig in for the long war of endurance. M. Blowhard isn't mocking Krugman's manner, no, he's ... Well, I don't know what they think exactly. Dissenting from the Correct Way to Think, I guess. Which is more than enough to justify the trench-digging and bazookas. Sigh: boring. It's that kind of reflex that makes it so hard to hang out with many lefties. They're incapable of being teased -- because, sniff sniff, life's so hard for them already, I guess. And they're always looking for a righteous battle to fight and then re-fight. (Not that righties aren't guilty of similar tendencies! I just don't know 'em well enough to generalize!)

Anyway, what interests me in the case of someone like Krugman is the character and psychology of someone who behaves in the way he does: pompous, belligerant. Surely he can't imagine that he's winning converts. So what really is he up to? I'm also interested in having some fun at his expense, of course. Taking the piss out of the puffed-up is always good sport.

But I guess nothing's going to put the political people off of having their pre-scripted, well-rehearsed political battles. There's a ritualistic quality to this gotta-turn-it-into-politics and gotta-duke-it-out behavior that I find pretty interesting ... Not sure what to say about it yet, though. The desire to turn everything into a political battle is foreign to my nature, so I may not have good instincts about it.

Political people, eh? Nothing's gonna stop them from turning everything into politics ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2007 3:27 PM

Jeez, Michael, Krugman is in politics. His style doesn't offend me. I'm just glad he's on my side at the moment. I wish we had more of him.

I spend so much time being pissed off at Bush people that just for sanity's sake I even have to let some of them slide. I sure don't have any energy left to care about Krugman's flaws.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 9, 2007 7:25 PM

Here's Norman Podhoretz in Commentary, not 24 *hours* after the death of Arthur Schlesinger

"Exceptionally bad historian," "worthless," "tendentious," etc. etc.

I guess this is why Michael's outrage over Krugman's comparatively respectful, serious-minded essay seemed so absurdly overblown (not to mention politically motivated) to me A little digging on the Web turns up all kinds of examples like this.

Posted by: Steve on March 5, 2007 2:47 PM

Steve -- Podhoretz is a clod too. But I think the "outrage" and the "political motivation" you're writing about may be your own.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 5, 2007 9:35 PM

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