Paul Krugman has once again decided to call a few “fools and knaves” who disagree with him by some nasty names. In fact, the Nobel Laureate’s habit of lashing out with vitriolic playground language is pretty well documented; and, quite frankly, it demonstrates an astounding lack of self-awareness when it comes from a Keynesian who has turned being wrong into a career option. But in this rare case, I might actually let his painfully ironic comments slide without condemnation.
Clive Crook, with Bloomberg News, decided to take “The” Krugman to task for being less-than civil in his critique of Paul Ryan:
My Bloomberg View colleagues Megan McArdle and Noah Smith have been discussing whether it's all right to call somebody stupid. “No, Paul Ryan isn't stupid,” said Kotlikoff. "No one, and I mean no one, deserves to be called stupid." When I see four extremely smart writers struggling to make sense of an issue, I feel obliged to help. First, as Krugman points out, he didn't actually call Ryan stupid; he called him a conman, which is worse.
Sure… Go read Krugman’s piece if you want the whole story. Or, if you’re trying to save yourself a little aggravation, you can grind a cheese grater against your forehead. I mean, The Krugman calls Ryan a conman, with an amazing degree of unintended irony. In fact, this splendidly fact-free analysis from Krugman would be filed under “fiction” by most people who consider economics a science, and not an ideological weapon for the vengeance of Keynes.
Remember how Krugman tried to use healthcare costs as a way to justify Obamacare? Remember how he said Europe would weather the economic turmoil far easier than America? Remember when he suggested that Europe’s debt crises was in no way related to an ever-expanding welfare state? (That was my personal favorite “Krugman” moment… Government’s spending more money than ever before on entitlements was, somehow, not related to an increasing government debt.)
Yeah… He was wrong about all of that. And that either makes him an intellectually dishonest hustler (read: conman), or he is woefully underequipped (intellectually) to tackle the concept of macroeconomics… Other economists might even use the technical term of “stupid” to describe this sort of classic incompetence.
But, the real question here isn’t whether or not The Krugman is an economist worthy of our attention; it’s whether or not it’s OK to call someone stupid, right? Well… Oscar Wilde once pointed out when you’re losing an argument, you still have the viable option of throwing out some insults. But, hey, I still say the term can be used with some degree of appropriateness. For example:
Congressman Hank Johnson suggested that the island of Guam would tip over if too many people wandered over to one side… This was a stunning illustration that not everyone uses the gray matter in our heads to any adequate degree. The term “stupid” is actually pretty difficult to avoid when describing the Congressman’s rambling concerns over Guam’s ability to stay afloat.
Remember when Nancy Pelosi explained that we needed to pass the bill, in order to find out what was in it? The comments themselves were more or less run-of-the-mill idiocy for DC insiders. But the idea that those were the appropriate words to help sell a massive, and unpopular, bill to a skeptical public? Yeah… Stupid.
Or, you might look at the moment that Anthony Weiner texted some pictures of his namesake. (Let me get this straight: a Congressman, with the last name “Weiner”, sexted some pictures of his Oscar Meyer? Yeah, pretty stupid.) Of course, he outdid himself by doing the exact same thing a second time after dealing with the political fallout of his first sextapade. This, ladies and gentlemen, is encroaching on the territory of habitual stupidity.
And, when people like Krugman argue that deficits are the topics of science fiction (yeah, really), it is at least borderline-stupidity. When The Krugman then follow up with a few comments about government spending being unimportant to our long-term fiscal sovereignty – well that might actually cross the border. I mean sure, Keynes might have once said that “in the long-run we’re all dead”; but he said that a long time ago… This is the long run. Only conmen, idiots, and Dr. Who would argue that the linear nature of time is somehow not a fixture of our limited existence.
So in short: No, there is no great reason to call someone stupid. (There are much better ways to drive such a subtle, and obvious, point home if needed.) But there are some pretty legitimate reason for such brevity. Sometimes, the sheer simplicity of the word is necessary for impact (maybe you’re speaking directly to Hank Johnson).
So, even though Dr. Krugman was wildly off base while using his childish playground insults, I’m not always opposed to the “incivility” of today’s politics. And, as an added bonus, when people like Krugman do let the insult slip, it lends a little irony to an otherwise aggravating and mind-numbing conversation.