Column on Krugman’s Trashy Debating Style

Krugman’s Trashy Debating Style


Tibor R. Machan

Looks
like critics of the free market are at their whit’s end.  At least one
of the most prominent of them clearly appears to be.

Princeton economics professor and columnist for The New York Times
Paul Krugman has always been discourteous to those with whom he
disagrees but his latest exhibition of his way of going about debating
issues takes the cake.  It used to be that he would call everyone who
finds even the slightest merit in free market economic theory a “market
fundamentalist,” suggesting thereby that such folks are, like all
fundamentalists, mindless in their convictions and merely blindly follow
some sacred text or book of instructions.  Besides wishing to score
points for his statist economic politics by smearing the ideas and
methods of his intellectual adversaries, he also regularly distorts the
scholarly lay of the land by claiming that America is in the grip of
such fundamentalism.  This basically meant that throughout the academic
landscape departments of economics are filled by people who hold and
teach views similar to those held by the late Milton Friedman, F. A.
Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (among others).  

While
these thinkers did consider the free market superior to its statist
alternatives–ones that give a decisive role to government intervention
in the lives and activities of market agents–they did not, of course,
hold identical views.  Nonetheless, Krugman lumps them all as
fundamentalists.  Moreover, he rarely takes on living supporters of the
free market, such as James Buchanan or Gary Becker, not to mention such
current members of the Austrian School as NYU’s Israel Kirzner.  Might
we suppose that he doesn’t wish to engage anyone in a dialogue about
economic policy but merely discredit them once they could not respond?
 (Just after Milton Friedman died, he and his frequent co-author Robin
Wells penned an extensive and it turns out demonstrably inaccurate essay
on Friedman for
The New York Review of Books.)
 Also, despite Krugman’s allegation, there is plainly no dominance of
free market thinking in American universities.  Mainstream economists
are mostly followers of such notables as Paul Samuelson and, of course,
John Maynard Keynes, with quite a few who are influenced by the
political economics of welfare statism. At the universities where I have
taught throughout the last 40 plus years, economists may have been
respectful toward free market theorists but were by no means fully in
line with their views.  So even in this elementary matter, Krugman has
it wrong.

But
the claim that the country is in the grips of market fundamentalism is
also mistaken if it’s meant to apply to official public policies bearing
on economic matters.  Just for starters, the financial market place has
been heavily regulated for over a hundred years–consistent free market
theorists usually don’t favor a central bank such as the country’s
Federal Reserve Bank (even though, somewhat paradoxically, Alan
Greenspan had been such a consistent free market thinker before he was
selected to head up the Fed).  Furthermore, the plethora of government
regulation of various elements of the economy, including virtually all
professions (apart from the clergy, journalism, and writers of all
stripes who are protected against such regulation by the First Amendment
of the U. S. Constitution), is decisive evidence that free market
thinking does not dominate public policy in America.  

Yet,
despite all this, here is a Nobel Laureate and professor from a most
prestigious academic institution and columnist for a most distinguished
newspaper who keeps trying to distort reality.  Why?  But I will not
speculate, again.  Who knows what Krugman’s agenda is.

One
thing does clearly stand out in his approach to making a case for more
and more government involvement in the economy.  This is that he relies
extensively on name calling, on besmirching those with whom he
disagrees.  In a recent column he went so far as to dismiss all those
who hold views opposed to his as
zombies!
 Yes, zombies.  That means that people, some very distinguished
scholars, who are convinced that a public policy of laissez-faire when
it comes to a country’s economic affairs is best are all mindless.  They
do not merely think mistakenly but cannot think at all.

When
a critic of a position needs to resort to this kind of technique with
which to attract readers of his missives to his own outlook, it suggests
that the intellectual merits of that position are truly hopeless. And
that is precisely so.  Statism in economics has for a long time been
proven and shown to be utterly unsupportable, be this the Draconian sort
one found in Soviet Russia and finds in North Korea or the less drastic
kind that has just produced the worldwide financial meltdown, namely
the more or less interventionist welfare state.

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