Much Bigger Than The Shutdown: Niall Ferguson's Public Flogging Of Paul Krugman

Posted: Oct 29, 2013 12:01 AM

While America was distracted by the theatrics of the government shutdown and threat of default something of much greater importance occurred. Niall Ferguson undertook a public flogging of Paul Krugman.

Krugman’s horns now forever will show under his dislodged faux halo. For this the world will prove a safer, and much more decent, place.

Niall Ferguson — Harvard professor (and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution fellow, and Jesus College, Oxford, Senior Research Fellow) — launched a three part series, in the Huffington Post, entitled Krugtron the Invincible, Parts 1, 2 and 3 with a notable coda at Project Syndicate. Ferguson succeeds in methodically humiliating New York Times columnist, celebrity blogger, and Nobel economic prize laureate Paul Krugman, together with his “gaggle of bloggers who are to Krugman what Egyptian plovers are to crocodiles.”

Ferguson calls Krugman and his acolytes out for many, meticulously documented, errors and omissions. And he does not just show Krugman up as wrong but as a blackguard surrounded by a bodyguard of hooligans, all guilty of bullying. Ferguson on Krugman:

Where I come from, however, we do not fear bullies. We despise them. And we do so because we understand that what motivates their bullying is a deep sense of insecurity. Unfortunately for Krugtron the Invincible, his ultimate nightmare has just become a reality. By applying the methods of the historian – by quoting and contextualizing his own published words – I believe I have now made him what he richly deserves to be: a figure of fun, whose predictions (and proscriptions) no one should ever again take seriously.

Ferguson’s riposte, a courageous, moving, and decisive reply to Krugman’s infamous defamation, was a tour de force worthy of the virile Glaswegian. Ferguson candidly states that among his motives was “to teach him the meaning of the old Scottish regimental motto: nemo me impune lacessit (‘No one attacks me with impunity’).”

After Ferguson’s prosecution and execution there isn’t really enough of Krugman left to bury. Yet in case you missed it … let us reprise, and celebrate, the event. The essence of Ferguson’s argument nicely is summed up in Part 3:

I am not an economist. I am an economic historian. The economist seeks to simplify the world into mathematical models – in Krugman’s case models erected upon the intellectual foundations laid by John Maynard Keynes. But to the historian, who is trained to study the world “as it actually is”, the economist’s model, with its smooth curves on two axes, looks like an oversimplification. The historian’s world is a complex system, full of non-linear relationships, feedback loops and tipping points. There is more chaos than simple causation. There is more uncertainty than calculable risk.

The most that we can do in this unpredictable world is read as widely and deeply as we can, think seriously, and then exchange ideas in a humble and respectful manner. Nobody ever seems to have explained this to Paul Krugman. There is a reason that his hero John Maynard Keynes did not go around calling his great rival Friedrich Hayek a “mendacious idiot” or a “dope”.

For too long, Paul Krugman has exploited his authority as an award-winning economist and his power as a New York Times columnist to heap opprobrium on anyone who ventures to disagree with him. Along the way, he has acquired a claque of like-minded bloggers who play a sinister game of tag with him, endorsing his attacks and adding vitriol of their own. I would like to name and shame in this context Dean Baker, Josh Barro, Brad DeLong, Matthew O’Brien, Noah Smith, Matthew Yglesias and Justin Wolfers. Krugman and his acolytes evidently relish the viciousness of their attacks, priding themselves on the crassness of their language.

He reprises the coup de grace — that Krugman is guilty of behavior unbecoming to a gentleman and a scholar — at Project Syndicate, in Civilizing the Marketplace of Ideas:

Finally – and most important – even if Krugman had been “right about everything,” there would still be no justification for the numerous crude and often personal attacks he has made on those who disagree with him. Words like “cockroach,” “delusional,” “derp,” “dope,” “fool,” “knave,” “mendacious idiot,” and “zombie” have no place in civilized debate. I consider myself lucky that he has called me only a “poseur,” a “whiner,” “inane” – and, last week, a “troll.”

The Huffington Post reports, after the fact, that Paul Krugman Says He’s Not Responding to Niall Ferguson (But Kind of Does). Krugman’s plovers, of course, have recourse to their pathetic, characteristic, tactic in defense of their idol: snark. “Business Insider’s Josh Barro probably offers the best take because it includes a Lindsay Lohan reference: ‘Niall Ferguson will teach us the importance of humility! Presumably in the same manner that Lindsay Lohan can teach us the importance of sobriety.’”

A fish, indeed, rots from the head.

This columnist, from a far smaller perch, and possessed of vastly less personal prestige, also, repeatedly, has called Krugman out. Last July, here, in If Paul Krugman Didn’t Exist, Republicans Would Have to Invent Him,

… Krugman ridiculed adversaries who anticipated inflation right before the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that inflation has ticked up, if only for a month, to 0.5% — a worrisome 6% annualized rate. (Core remained at an unworrisome 0.2%, yet still it is a chilling gust….)

This blip does not disprove Krugman’s sanguine stance on inflation. It may yet prove, however, were further proof needed, that the Greeks were right: Nemesis inevitably follows hubris. Prof. Krugman might privately reflect on this … and on his own call, in 2002, that “Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.”

Krugman, the record shows, was an accessory to the crime of the century: the creation of the housing bubble that produced the financial collapse. Krugman, conveniently, has forgotten.

But the record is indelible.

Last April, this columnist here set forth Paul Krugman v. David Stockman: The Great Debate Over Gold Continues, noting how

Krugman himself got acidly critiqued by the populist progressive Mike Whitney in CounterPunch for blowing his debate with Stockman on This Week: ‘… It’s that Krugman’s elitist way of saying, ‘You dopes can’t possibly understand the economy, so leave it all to us experts.’ … And that’s how it ended, with Krugman backing up against the ropes while Stockman delivered one haymaker after another like a windmill spinning in a gale-storm. Mercifully, moderator Stephanopoulos intervened and stopped the carnage…’

And, last year, here, Unemployment Reality to Paul Krugman: “I Refute It Thus”

Krugman’s Fairy Tales would be wonderful entertainment … but for their power to destroy the livelihoods of millions. The confusions Krugman and his progressive colleagues sow in the minds of less astute policy makers have led, and are leading, to pure misery for millions of working people.

Krugman, himself a member of the nomenklatura rather than a worker, professes to champion labor’s interests. But the evidence is that his prescriptions crush our dreams.

The gentlemanly Keynes, whose reputation Krugman sullies by exalting, wrote, in the General Theory of Unemployment, Interest, and Money(chapter 24, part V):

[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

Paul Krugman is a primary perp in the popular distillation of frenzy in our era of political economic discourse. Shame now is on him, and on his editors, for debauching contemporary journalistic standards with so much unfit to print.

Now Niall Ferguson has court-martialed Paul Krugman for intellectual high crimes and misdemeanors, administering a long overdue public flogging. Ferguson also, conveniently, has disposed of “Krugman’s plovers” … who henceforth deserve to be known by that fine diminutive, befitting their very diminutive stature.

Keynes, in The General Theory, continued his reflection on public intellectuals: “But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.” While you were watching the melodrama in Washington, Niall Ferguson captured the intellectual high ground and indicted, and convicted, the perpetrator of many “ideas … dangerous … for evil.”

Ferguson thereby makes the world a safer, and more humane, place.

Play Taps for Private Krugman.

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