Paul Krugman Accidently Got Something (Almost) Right

Michael Schaus
Posted: Aug 28, 2014 12:08 AM
Paul Krugman Accidently Got Something (Almost) Right

Full body shiver… I really loath the sentence I’m about to type. In fact, I hate it so much, I’ve retyped it almost a dozen times; and there is no better way of articulating the disturbing truth: Paul Krugman was right.

Okay. I’ve showered. Also, I have slept on this thought. And yet, it’s still haunting me. The Left’s most adored “economist”, who has managed to turn being wrong into a career option, actually stumbled across a small kernel of truth in an otherwise typically inarticulate column. The King-of-Keynes managed to write a completely, and unavoidably, coherent thought last week. I now have reason to believe that if you give a typewriter to a room full of monkeys, they will eventually type the work of Shakespeare.

In a column published in the New York Times on August 17th, Krugman wrote at length about the folly of Putin’s interest in overthrowing the pro-western Ukrainian government. Almost every war of the 20th century, Krugman points out, made no economic sense whatsoever. The general point articulated isn’t enough to merit a Nobel Peace Prize; but it is borderline insightful. Wait… Don’t rush to sign me up for Code Pink just yet… I still have a few thoughts on this topic; and, unlike our loveable progressive hack over at the New York Times, my points are not the amalgamation of anti-war clichés.

Pondering why wars still happen, despite the obvious cost in lives and treasure, Krugman begins his pontification with a quick (albeit half-blind) trip through history:

Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens.

I don’t know that “fun” was a huge factor when Caesar was conquering Gaul… Heck, I’m not even sure that profit was a driving motive. Many generals (such as Caesar) fought to buy the loyalty of the army, so that they might have a little momentum in their hostile trek back across the Rubicon. (The die is cast!) But still; Krugman made a decent point. In days of yesteryear (I actually crafted this whole sentence around that phrase) war could be quite beneficial, financially speaking, to an emerging empire.

Such war-for-profit still exists in today’s world. And even our dependably Liberal Krugman notes that such war mostly exists among under-developed, tribal, and lawless nations. (Think Somalia, the Middle East, North Africa, etc.) So why do developed nations go to war?

If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay. And this has been true for a long time… One answer is that leaders may not understand the arithmetic…

Right… Silly George Bush. Here we thought democratizing Iraq would be a quick billion dollars in oil revenue. (I mean, we could have just drilled here at home. But I guess that’s not as much “fun” as blowing things up, right?)

Of course, Paul has another theory as well:

The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests.

I’ll admit that war can often entice even the most spineless politician to salute the flag, but I don’t think many politicians would believe that sending young men to their death is a great campaign slogan. Oh sure, Dems might have voted with Republicans for the Iraq war (I’m looking your way Obama, Hillary and Kerry), but that whole armed conflict in the Middle East didn’t exactly pan out as a great boost to “Dubbya’s” popularity.

I will give (very reluctant) credit to Krugman in one sense: War does make it a whole lot easier for governments to centralize their power. The TSA, the Patriot Act, the NSA surveillance program, and George Orwell’s Oceania would not be able to exist without the constant and imminent threat of foreign defeat. But, judging by the egregious violations of liberty and sovereignty embedded in the “Affordable” Care Act, Dodd-Frank, and Obama’s IRS, I’d have to say that war is not really a requisite for government over-reach.

But, just as I was preparing to entertain the idea that Paul Krugman is less of an intellectual-void than I previously considered him to be, he made his final conclusion:

If authoritarian regimes without deep legitimacy are tempted to rattle sabers when they can no longer deliver good performance, think about the incentives China’s rulers will face if and when that nation’s economic miracle comes to an end — something many economists believe will happen soon.

The surprising part: Krugman acknowledged that China’s crony-capitalist hybrid with Communism isn’t sustainable. The predictable part: He managed to miss the real lesson modern warfare has to offer. Oh sure, he is accurate when he peripherally states the truth that war, for industrialized and democratic nations, is not beneficial. The cost in human life, treasure, and overall morale (war fatigue seems to be inflicting the West as the world wallows in violence) is tremendous… And yet, wars happen with the same predictability as death and taxes. Krugman closed his column by asking “why?”…

It almost seems as if the Progressive New York Times hack columnist is equating what Putin is doing in Ukraine, to what America did in the Middle East. It’s almost as if he is calling industrialized nations moronic, masochistic, and unintelligent for waging war throughout the last hundred years. What he fails to notice, is that not all wars are created equal. The choice to send troops to Normandy in 1944 was a far more complex decision than Putin’s decision to send “peace keeping” units to Crimea. Stopping the march of Communism in Korea was a far different set of circumstances than Russia’s decision to “reclaim” Ukraine as part of the Russian empire Federation.

Yeah… Krugman was right. War is an economic mess; and Vladimir Putin’s excursion into Ukraine is an ill-advised (third-world) effort at politically rattle a saber. Of course, he managed to miss the bigger picture:

I hate to break it down to such simplistic terms, but I almost feel as if small comprehensible terms are needed for our Keynesian champion (Krugman) to understand: The free world goes to war to preserve freedom. The rest of the world goes to war to eliminate it. That’s why we have war, Mr. Krugman. And that’s why its economic cost will never make sense on an Excel spreadsheet..

So, tell Code Pink I said hello. And prepare for more war.