Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Paul Krugman We Used to Love

Someone forwarded a link to this post, from October 25, 1996, by Paul Krugman in Slate. This is an excellent piece. It's beautifully written and well-argued. I agree with essentially everything in it. It's bold, in that Krugman sticks up for Economic Science in the face of a barrage of criticism from what he thinks are loose-thinking innumerate "economists." He concludes with:
The literati truly cannot be satisfied unless they get economics back from the nerds. But they can't have it, because we nerds have the better claim.
I know some nerds too. Bob Lucas: nerd. Mark Gertler: nerd. Nobu Kiyotaki: serious nerd. Ed Prescott: very serious nerd. Mike Woodford: nerd. Neil Wallace: serious nerd. Tom Sargent: incredibly serious nerd nerd.

But somewhere between 1996 and 2012, Krugman changed his tune. He stopped being defender-of-the-nerds and went over to the dark side. What happened in between? Was it like the 3 stooges where the bowling ball falls off the shelf and hits Curly in the head? Here's my interpretation of events. I can't remember exactly when Krugman began writing op-eds for the NYT, but that certainly predates the Bush administration. My memory of the early NYT period was that Krugman was pretty much in defend-the-nerds mode. The bowling ball hit the head during the George W. Bush administration. You can find an account of Krugman's political metamorphosis in this New Yorker article. I can remember reading Krugman's political op-eds during this period. They were somewhat over-the-top, but I pretty much agreed with him.

The Bush Administration period was profoundly upsetting. After 9/11, George W told us we were at war, and we knew that meant trouble. Being at war can justify all manner of bad behavior. We can invade Iraq to get rid of a bad guy. We can torture people to get information we imagine is critical for our survival. We can get our lawyers in the Justice Department to write memos to convince us that this is all OK. George W as President was a man with a lazy intellect, and little patience for the details of policymaking. Simple stories are best. No need for nuance. The world consists of evil people and good people who are easy to tell apart. We won't even discuss Dick Cheney, for fear that my tone will offend Tyler Cowen.

My mother was a smart, educated woman, calm and methodical, but with a bit of a tough side. Before she died in 2002, she told me: "George Bush is a jerk." In 2006, I met one of the nerds I mentioned above in the Corner Bakery in Chicago, adjacent to the Palmer House, where I was staying. The nerd told me: "There are two people in the world I can't stand. One is my brother-in-law, and the other is the President of the United States."

The next turning point in the Krugman saga was his September 2009 article in the New York Times. This quote tells you almost everything you need to know about that piece:
As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.
Note the stark contrast with 1996:
Academic economics, the stuff that is in the textbooks, is largely based on mathematical reasoning. I hope you think that I am an acceptable writer, but when it comes to economics I speak English as a second language: I think in equations and diagrams, then translate. The opponents of mainstream economics dislike people like me not so much for our conclusions as for our style: They want economics to be what it once was, a field that was comfortable for the basically literary intellectual.
So what happened? For Krugman, the financial crisis provided the same thing that 9/11 did for George W. There was now a convenient excuse to wage war, but in this case a war on mainstream macroeconomics. But how can this make any sense? The George W era produced a political epiphany for Krugman, but how did that ever translate into a war on macroeconomists? You're right, it does not make any sense. The tools of modern macroeconomics are no more the tools of right-wingers than of left-wingers. These are not Republican tools, Libertarian tools, Democratic tools, or whatever. These are the tools of Economic Science, and they can indeed be used for the benefit of mankind. No need to destroy the reputations of serious scientists among the lay public.

Here's a group project. Go through Krugman's 1996 Slate piece, and look for the corresponding contradictory statement, either in Krugman's 2009 NYT piece, or in his NYT blog. Feel free to search my blog using "Krugman" as a keyword. Then post this in the comments section.

What's the bottom line? Read the 1996 Krugman Slate piece, and read his academic contributions, and you get a picture of a brilliant scholar who is willing to devote some time to public policy discussions to promote serious economic ideas. Read the 2012 Krugman, and we see a snarly dishonest guy intent on destruction ... a man with a lazy intellect, and little patience for the details of policymaking. Simple stories are best. No need for nuance. The world consists of evil people and good people who are easy to tell apart. It's George W again. Never mind what my mother would say. This just makes me feel ill.

72 comments:

  1. With all due respect, you really need to see a psychiatrist about your Krugman problem. It's embarrassing.

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    1. Hmm PK is supposed to be Bradley Manning of Macro.

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    2. Hurled bravely from behind the cloak of anonymity. Well done, gallant souls.

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    3. Anon from 3.30pm here.The name is Ilya.The matter of my identity may or may not be relevant to Stephen's fixation with PK, but thing is in those rare moments that this blog turns to actual economics, it is thought-provoking. As such, I feel perfectly entitled to express the collective frustration of Stephen's readership, whether behind a cloak or, as it were, cloakless. Leave Krugman alone.

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    4. Two points:

      1. I don't write this blog simply to entertain people who want their intellect tweaked.
      2. The first three commenters are obviously of the school that believes that, if you see something you can't explain, it must be the result of irrational behavior. There is actually carefully thought-out rational behavior behind my Krugman bashing. If you need help thinking about rationality, look up the section on it in this paper:

      http://epress.anu.edu.au/apps/bookworm/view/Agenda,+Volume+18,+Number+3,+2011/7641/Text/williamson.html

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    5. No, you wrote this people for the same reason 95% of your ilk write about Krugman. To try to leech off his popularity.

      Not a bad business tactic. Hell, Scott Sumner would be invisible but for his relentless attacks on Krugman.

      But you all econ-blog-leeches don't get what Krugman's about.

      People are his fans because he's:

      1) as angry about the bullshit going on out there as they are,

      2) willing to call a spade a spade, while most of you leeches hide behind your little tenured "don't rock the boat" acacdeme-speak,

      3) been right about nearly everything through one of the most complicated and serious economic crises in American history.

      He's a Martin Luther King of our age for the economically disrespected.

      So hate away. You're worthless, as far as the public is concerned.

      He, on the other hand, is trying to make a real difference.

      Delete
  2. I really don't get whats so difficult to comprehend. He isn't attacking you guys because you use tough math that is hard to follow. He is basically saying that the models constructed and employed in some quarters might be elegant math but don't correspond to the real world even fleetingly. So, there is no point translating policy implications from these models even if they look, oh scientific. Besides, he has always used simple (I mean high school or college level) mathematics to get to some serious results. All he is pointing out is that all the sophistication of stochastic calculus won't help you much if you get lost in the calculus as an end in and of itself instead of focusing on how it helps understand the world around you.

    Unlike the comments above, I don't mind the Krugman bashing. I did learn from you (and verified with others) that he is just settling scores from an era gone by using the freshwater and saltwater divide. But, I really don't see what is so hard to understand about his critique in the NYT magazine piece. You can disagree with elements or all of it. But, what he is critiquing isn't hard to follow. And oh, as a PhD in Computer Science with a lot of econ PhD friends, I mostly agree with him, in that the marginal utility of complicating economic models with fancier math doesn't provide as much insight as I would have expected it to.

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    1. "I really don't get whats so difficult to comprehend. He isn't attacking you guys because you use tough math that is hard to follow. He is basically saying that the models constructed and employed in some quarters might be elegant math but don't correspond to the real world even fleetingly. "

      They real Krugman-haters know that; they're pissed that somebody is pointing out that their theories aren't right. (they don't mind that their theories aren't right, but they really hate having somebody shine a light on this).

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  3. The math in econ models doesn't really get all that fancy, unless you are doing hard theory. And, let me tell you, hard theorists are not in the business of giving policy advice.

    If anything, having good computational skills is more of a requirement for doing modern macro. The reason is that you want models that you can take quantitatively seriously. Writing a few equations and showing how an effect can go one way or another is very easy to someone with Krugman's caliber (or Steve's, for that matter). The hard thing is showing that it matters.

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  4. Steve: thanks for the post. Your description of Krugman's trajectory is exactly as I always felt, and sometimes I thought whether the fact that I really liked, enjoyed and agreed with his earlier writings was a sign of immaturity on my part. Good to know I wasn't crazy.

    Funnily enough, it was some of his writings that convinced me when I was in college that mainstream economics really has something going for it. Here is an excellent example that you will enjoy, it is a beauty:

    http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/dishpan.html

    - wimpy anonymous

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    Replies
    1. Yes, this is a beauty. I wish I had read this before I started grad school!

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  5. I've made this point frequently. 90s Krugman was absolutely incredible. Sharp, honest, little partisanship and no ideological blinders. There are many (seriously, go read through the pkarchive stuff and look at this 90s articles) but these are some other ones you would probably enjoy:

    http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/vulgar.html
    http://www.pkarchive.org/others/29-cnt.html

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  6. And i'll also say, while I think the blog was a little more enjoyable when it wasn't so Krugman/DeLong focused, someone's gotta do it. When a small collection of people insist on being relentlessly nasty and dishonest in their treatment of intellectual equals (and in some matchups superiors), someone needs to call them on it. You're pretty much batman. The hero we deserve. Or something.

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  7. Krugman has morphed into George W (who took the country to war just to get rid of that bad guy). A non-nuanced non-simple analogy tied to stunningly insightful historical commentary.

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  8. Steve,

    I'm going to suggest that you talk to the psychiatrist about your obsession with George W. Bush, not Krugman. At least your essay started out to be about Krugman, so it is reasonable to talk about him.

    But you had to foray into George W. Bush and assert that he has a "lazy intellect." How could you possibly know that?

    Because some reporter says so? Please. You can't be that naive. Ever hear of "confirmation bias?"

    Go read some class evaluations of professors by students who failed the class.

    W was said to be outright stupid, until we found out that his Armed Forces test scores were about the same as (sooper-genius) Al Gore's and put them both in the low 120s for IQ and W's college grades were slightly better than those of the highly nuanced John Kerry. (Neither were making the Dean's list, I think.)

    I'm sorry that your mother hated GWB. I think that -- in fairness -- lots of people hate politicians with whom they disagree. I'm guessing that it wouldn't be hard to find some smart Repulicans who hate Bill Clinton and/or Barack Obama. This is a normal human response and doesn't say much about the politician's actual character.

    I also think that your description of US policy in the war on terror is more than a bit skewed but I doubt that we would benefit from rehashing that.

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    Replies
    1. Touched a nerve there, didn't I? I have thought long and hard about GWB, and come to the conclusion that he was good a something, which was getting elected. He used his God-given connections, some hard work, and some people skills to get to the White House. Then he showed us what a dim-wit he was, and made the world a worse place to live in.

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  9. So I don't really see much contradiction in his writing now and then. Then, he was arguing for using silly little mathematical models to capture particular features of reality.
    I don' think he has really gone from that position, he's actually still writing those type of models. I think his gripe with the Chicago guys was not that they used math, but that they did not capture reality. And there is a big difference there .....

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    1. Exactly my thought. I think Williamson is missing the point here.

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    2. Give up you guys, and admit defeat.

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    3. Well there's a classy response.

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    4. Right.
      Everybody agrees that the DSGE models are completely at odds with the data - but hey, they use fancy math, so they are very serious.

      Delete
  10. It is seriously amusing to see people afflicted with man with the hammer syndrome, and no insight into people or human nature, I mean none at all, write about Krugman or Bush II.

    I would suggest Krugman sees much farther over the horizon than does Williamson and he fears what he sees. History is full of such wise people, whether one considers the Civil War or WWII.

    As to the Bush defender, how about a little thought experiment. Imagine an exclusive club of all the greats from History that meets every Saturday to have lunch and play bridge.

    The featured table is always Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon. Each Saturday they invite someone to join them. FDR and Washington and Lincoln and Franklin are in the Club and Hamilton is favored and always welcomed as a guest. Churchill is there and so is Kruschev whose style of play is crazy. Pompey and Attilla the Hun, all the players are there.

    Well Bush I is at the table and up walks a waiter with a message, Bush II is there to talk to his Dad. The Group consents, and Bush II walks toward the table with that silly grin and what happens: Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon all start laughing at him.

    Sport, Truth, like Art, is in the eye of the beholder, but history, art, and literature tell me that Bush II was a silly little fool.

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  11. Krugman currently isn't in the business of writing mathematical models of any type.

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  12. The tools of modern macroeconomics are no more the tools of right-wingers than of left-wingers. These are not Republican tools, Libertarian tools, Democratic tools, or whatever. These are the tools of Economic Science, and they can indeed be used for the benefit of mankind. No need to destroy the reputations of serious scientists among the lay public.

    As a counterfactual, let's try a little recent history.

    It is early 2002 and Economy is seriously ill and underperforming. To make it appear healthy, Greenspan, a wack job follower of A. Rand and FED permit unprecedented expansion in private debt, letting home equity withdrawals conceal lack of adequate income. Without such withdrawals the economy would have been in a depression from 2002, on.

    Greenspan and the Fed also turn a blind eye to unprecedented levels of fraud in loan application process, knowing that his friends at Goldman Sachs, et al, are making billions in compensation, packaging and selling this garbage. 2006-08, private equity bubble collapses and banks are bailed out to the tune of billions more, with bonuses continuing. In one decade we have $7 trillon in lost home owner equity, $7 trillion in additional federal gov't debt and 7 million foreclosures, but $2 trillions +/- in bonuses and ex. comp. paid to bankers.

    Such is how we have most recently used our tools of modern macroeconomics.

    And, what worries Williamson the most now: (1) savers are not getting interest on their CDs and (2) inflation. Since 99% of the people in the USA don't have any money, how could we possibly have inflation, except for opera tickets and caviar.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottdecarlo/2011/09/26/cost-of-living-extremely-well-index-the-price-of-living-large-is-up/

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    1. You said it yourself. Greenspan is a Randian. His decisions were not informed by the tools of modern macroeconomics. The Fed's decisions are not always informed by modern macro, either.

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    2. Anon., you comments raise more than a few questions:

      1) where was modern macro when Greenspan was on the loose?

      2) where was modern macro when Krugman wrote in one of the pieces linked above, "the disappointing performance of the U.S. economy over the past generation"

      3) where was modern macro when, and this one really goes to the core, the Fed decided to "pop" the bubble in housing prices. Having violated its charter and having failed to maintain price stability in housing, it did not follow that the Fed had the authority to "pop" the bubble. People have to have housing.

      And, yet no one in "modern" macro questioned the Fed when it raised interest rates.

      beloved, "modern macro," offered no solution for the problem which confronted the fed. What was needed was inflation but no more private lending, until inflation reduced private debt as a percent of GDP to an acceptable level.

      Delete
  13. I got interested in economics reading krugman's 90's books. Now I do this for a living, so he is sort of important for me.

    Something strange about Krugman is that, if you have a close look at his substantive views about economics, they have not changed so much: he has always believed in fiscal policy, he has been sort a staunch "keynesian" (whatever that means). The main thing that has changed is his public stance.

    There is a nice passage in an interview of Arjo Klamer with Bob Lucas which talking about Leonard Rapping:

    "Rapping was always much more interested that I am in being where the action is. He did a lot of work for the Defense Department in those days. He had come back all excited about the billion dollar decisions he said they were making. I was interest in anti-trust issues in those days and he’d come in and say, “Look, Bob. If you finish this paper – which you probably won’t- and if anybody pays any attention to it- which they probably won’t – and if it ever gets any influence in policy – which it probably won’t – it’s going to be a matter of a hundred million dollars. And I was at the Defense Department yesterday talking about twenty billion dollars” [laughter]. So you get the feeling you’re just sort of scribbling in your office doing trivial things. "

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  14. (...) I think Krugman saw himself in the last quarter of his career as a scholar and thought he wanted to let his impringe as a pundit and contribute in a way to his community, either for altruistic or pure ego reasons. Moreover, he understood that it was hard to find a "middle point" in political confrontation and that he could use his political leverage to influence public opinion.

    Then came the financial crisis and several prestigious economists made some arguably silly claims (Prescott talked about an "Obama Shock"; Fama showed that he did not understood basic intermediate macro, etc). Additionally, several other economists -think of Taylor or Mankiw for example- were actively siding with the government. I understand that in this context, several of the critiques that he could have made about modern macro in the past were turned into a sort of bullshit that was not acceptable for serious economists but that was quite good political ammunition, specially when you get a large parte of your prestige thanks to a blog and interacting with Tyler Cowen, Brad Delong and non-academic economists. The game in the blogosphere and the political arena is just a different one from that in the academy, and I think that he perceived, rightly or wrongly, that the ambiguity and nuance that are the bread and butter of scientific discussion was bad politics, specially in the current environment.

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  15. Let me just give a final example about how the political and academic arenas differ. We have in economics several ideas and contributions that are very useful from the scientific point of view, though they must be handled with care; we have a bunch of counterintuitive results like neutrality theorems and all that stuff. In the academy, it is interesting to ask provocative questions because they might be fertile and lead to interesting ideas.

    Now, the problem is that this is not any more the rule in the political arena. I read an account of how Larry Summers took his academic stance to the political world and put forward the very provocative suggestion that Africa could well be under polluted. This was a view a bit controversial, but that made sense from an economic point of view; but it was terrible politics. You really don't want to push too far the idea that fiscal contractions are expansionary or that fiscal and monetary policy are really neutral if you want to do sound policy and sound politics, though it might well be a great starting point when you want to write a paper.

    My view is that Krugman saw this and understood that several economist had mistaken the rules of the game in the academic world for those in the political arena and in many cases, this was used to put forward a political agenda. His reaction was to adopt the opposite stance, mainly as a political marketing device, maybe with the hope that other economists would follow him. At some point, he may have crossed the line and his political character tookover the economic that he is.

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  16. The macroeconomy is a real operating system.

    What is macroeconomy's big picture and is there a main driving element of the system? Do the mathematical constructs match the reality and are they reliably useful to predict the future.

    Can the mathematical constructs help the general public to understand the way the system works and make it easier for those guiding the credit and the money system to make societally useful long term rules .... and bend those rules during times of macroeconomic saturation.

    With the recent US good employment numbers (disregarding the associated lower wages and the denominator of a rising population)
    which of the current models predict a near term great nonlinearity in in asset valuations?

    And what is the remedy?

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  17. From the 2005 Mainpage of the Economic Fractalist; kindly look at the last paragraph...

    ...The ideal growth fractal time sequence is X, 2.5X, 2X and 1.5-1.6X.

    Observe the March 2009 to October 2011 nodal low monthly fractal pattern 5/13/10/7 months :: x/2.5x/2x/1.5x

    The flash crash of 6 May 2010 was the second fractal nonlinearity cited in this paragraph.

    This is THE mathematical model; this is the way the accumulative debt-dependent system works..

    Expect nonlinearity.

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  18. I read the Tyler Cowen post Stephen linked to, and then stupidly looked at the comments there. re: Influence with the profession and the central banking world, what Stephen says strikes me as correct--he does have influence. But it's through papers, not the blog. I've not heard the blog brought up where I work. And if someone brought up the blogs of Cowen, and Scott Sumner, and the rest, they'd be laughed out of the room. No one gives a crap what these guys say. This is mainly because they do not speak in models, write some blah blah (in cowen's case, punctuated by some pretentious "bleg" on how to the best Congolese soup in Beirut or Almaty)

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    1. "But it's through papers, not the blog."

      I actually know that's not true. Why? People tell me.

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    2. Fair enough. I retract this part of my assertion.

      Delete
  19. Finally while PK's models do not compare with the elegant simplicity and empirical 2006-2009 proven truism of saturation macroeconomic's mathematical fractal progression(11 October 2007 was predicted prospectively as the Wilshire's all time nominal high by The Model), his stimulus approach is on target.

    QE to the Nth will be bitterly approved by the polarized US two party circus; the rich will continue to have their accumulated wealth grow and grow - taxed less than earnings from real labor and services; 30 year loan interest rates will fall to 2 percent keeping people in their overvalued homes, and the lenders will indenture servant a new yearly crop of a college students turning the debt paper ownership over to private loan sharks whereby the 18th century seven year service contracts for passage will retrospectfully look like really good deal.

    Expect nonlinearity of equity and commodity composite asset valuations. Expect 150 year lows of US long term interest rates.

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  20. Steve has ventured outside of the realm of economics and informed us that, after thinking long and hard, he concluded that GWB was a 'dimwit.' While he's hanging out in that realm, I wonder what such thinking might yield about the following thoughts Glenn Greenwald offers:

    http://www.salon.com/2012/02/08/repulsive_progressive_hypocrisy/singleton/

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  21. Steve: Three points.

    1. This may interest you:
    http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/paul-krugman-and-polemical-style-of.html
    Krugman often says that the Bush years "radicalized" him. Maybe Krugman believes that his strident tone is necessary to balance out the stridency of paid Republican hack think tanks and media outlets?

    2. Would it be fair to say that the reason you spend so much time dissing Krugman is that you feel Krugman is attacking nerdiness (i.e. quantitative approaches) in macroeconomics?

    3. You say "The tools of modern macroeconomics are no more the tools of right-wingers than of left-wingers. These are not Republican tools, Libertarian tools, Democratic tools, or whatever." I am not sure that's entirely true. Publication of papers that use DSGE modeling seems biased toward frictionless models, because frictionless models are more computationally tractable and analytically transparent. That's why it took so many years to move from Kydland/Prescott to Woodford and Mankiw.

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    1. So you want to give more attention to models that are not tractable and not transparent? Interesting.

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    2. Noah,

      1. 2 wrongs don't make a right.
      2. Yes, that's fair, but that's not everything.
      3. Suppose I say that "DSGE" is essentiallly all modern macro. It's all dynamic, much of it is stochastic, and it's for the most part GE. It's of course not all competitive equilibrium, as sometimes we use strategic approaches - dynamic games and bargaining, for example. Thus, most of what we do is DSGE. Here are some frictions papers: (i) everything I have ever written including my recent forthcoming AER. (ii) Bernanke/Gertler (1969) and financial accelerator models (iii) Bewley and Aiyagari type incomplete markets models. (iv) Diamond/Mortensen/Pissarides/Shimer macro/search models. (v) Kiyotak/Wright/Lagos/Lagos/Shi search models of money. (vi) Dynamic contracting Green/Atkeson/Lucas private information models. (vii) Kehoe/Levine models with limited commitment and debt constraints. (viii) New Keynesian sticky price/wage models. (ix) New public finance Werning/Kocherlakota/Sleet models.

      That's just a start. That is all widely-cited work, and there is at least one Nobel prize in there. Holy crap, Noah. What are you saying?

      Delete
    3. Ha ha.

      But it took a lot of time to develop those models; DSGE has been around since the early 80s. And those models necessarily rely on a lot of simplifying micro assumptions that are probably not realistic. Also, each one of those has only one friction; it's hard to combine them all because the state space blows up.

      Also, look at models like Smets-Wouters that actually try to match most of the main business cycle facts. Those models necessarily rely on shocks that aren't really "structural," meaning that they aren't that useful for policy advice. But that's the only way we know of to fit the macro facts.

      I don't know if it's true, but it definitely seems to me that DSGE biases models toward having fewer frictions. But maybe the same would be true of any modeling approach...

      OK, enough ranting. ;)

      Delete
    4. Andrew from U of MinFebruary 17, 2012 at 11:16 AM

      Huzzah, Noah! Someone who isn't a sea cucumber that briefly comments on this blog. Thanks! Oh and don't go away too quickly - we need more of you.

      Steve, looks like there is an emanation of positive, constructive criticism occurring.

      Huzzah!

      PS: Thanks, Steve, for the link to Bullard's paper.

      Delete
    5. Stephen you know that DSGE models in their current form; that is the "Dynamic Equilibrium" part with micro foundations haven't been around since Walras. Show us the Difference Equations....

      Delete
  22. Steve: "Then he showed us what a dim-wit he was, and made the world a worse place to live in."

    Was it a worse place for the women who weren't raped because the Coalition's armed forces closed Saddam Hussein's torture chambers?

    I doubt it.

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    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse

      Delete
    2. Chris,

      Here's my bottom line on the War in Iraq:

      1. If the war effort was so important to you, why weren't you over there putting your own life on the line?
      2. The United States of America does not have the resources - human beings, equipment, etc. - to invade all the countries in the world in which horrific things are happening.

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    3. 3. Wait another 10 years or so. Then see if you like what you see in Iraq any better than what was there pre-invasion.

      Delete
    4. For today's middle school social studies class, let's recall some details from the life of FDR (a member of 'greats from History' club referred to above):

      1. The WW II 'Operation Pastorius' German saboteurs were sentenced to death by a military commission. FDR commuted the death sentences for two of them, and the other six were executed.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pastorius

      2. During the Allied invasion of Italy, troops from the US 45th Infantry Division participated in the killing of 71 unarmed German and Italian prisoners. Remember who was the US commander in chief at the time.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscari_massacre

      So, was FDR, typically listed in the top three of US presidents by historians, an unethical scumbag? Discuss.

      Delete
    5. Professor Rothman:

      It is hard for me to refer to a teacher at East Carolina as a professor but I am doing that only because I am going to take a moment to let you know how uninformed you are.

      1) During WWII the United States had two different official policies regarding POWs. In Europe the policy was that troops could execute POWs, if, in their discretion, they thought it best. As I recall, some of the scenes in Saving Private Ryan depict this, especially the landing on Normandy.

      In the Pacific, the official, but unstated, policy was to take no prisoners. Now, if you don't know why that was the policy in the Pacific, I am not going to help you. You are so embarrassing uninformed about American History that you shouldn't be teaching.

      Why you make no mention of our deliberate bombing of civilian populations of use of Big Boy and Little Boy is beyond me.

      You also should be aware that the Union routinely executed Confederate prisoners, with the approval of Lincoln.

      Now, sophisticated students of history understand that this is the great strength of being a democracy; it means that you will be the most lethal of killing machines.

      What you do not understand is that Bush II was put in charge of this awesome power and with it great moral responsibility and there are lots and lots of reasons for anticipating that History is going to judge him badly (and us for giving him the job).

      The members of the Club---History has judged them. The scene at the Club chaffs you because it is realistic and believable.

      Now, please go ready history for 10,000 hours, come back, and lets see what the situation is in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc.

      Delete
    6. Stephen Williamson wrote:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse

      And he compares the pushback to getting tortured in Abu Gharaib.

      He just gets classier and classier.

      Why don't you give it up and just go work at Fox News where blowhard wastes of time and negativity without any ability or desire to make a contribution to society go, eh?

      Delete
  23. I read an interview with someone who had been in Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein and was asked to comment on the "scandal" under the Americans. (Sorry, no link so you will have to trust my memory, or not, as you chooose.) He thought that there was not even a remote comparison betweeen the conditions, as I recall. Found it beyond contempt. A bunch of fat, happy Western lefties comparing Auschwitz to a fraternity hazing.

    1) Why wasn't I over there? Please, Steve. Super lame, lame, lame. You know that the military wouldn't take me. And they wouldn't have taken me 10 years ago. (Ever watch me walk?)

    Or maybe I am just a huge, huge chicken. Suppose that were true. So what? What does my lack of character have to do with the argument? Maybe I wouldn't pull someone out of a frozen river if it made me late for coffee. Maybe I am a terrible human being. What does that have to do with right and wrong? If Charles Manson says that we should love our neighbor, does that make it wrong?

    2) No, the US doesn't have resources to right all wrongs. Absolutely. But that is not the issue. You are moving the goalposts.

    Lack of resources to help everyone doesn't mean that it is wrong to stop some of it. Lack of resources to help everyone doesn't mean immorality to help anyone.

    3) I don't doubt that Iraq might be seriously screwed up in 10 years -- but at least they will have had a chance to screw up their own country.

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  24. BTW, Steve, if you thought that the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein made the world a worse place, why weren't you over there fighting off the evil Americans?

    Isn't it your responsibility to fight all morally correct fights? Like the courageous fight to reinstate the Ba'ath party?

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  25. Phil,

    Yes, FDR was an unethical douchebag, but not for any of the reasons that you cite.

    -- CTRR

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  26. @Anon 5:33

    Go back to the playroom. The grownups are talking in here.

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  27. "Now, sophisticated students of history understand that this is the great strength of being a democracy; it means that you will be the most lethal of killing machines."

    Presumably they know: the logical relevance of counter-examples; that the scrimmage in Stalingrad was not fought by two bastions of democracy; and that ad hominem churlishness paired with affected analysis doesn't get you very far. Casual empiricism suggests that Anon 5:53AM doesn't know these simple things.

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    Replies
    1. Williamson says to leave you alone but . . . recalling Patton: the object of War is to make the other guy die for his country.

      Compare our kill to "be killed" ratios. We were far far more lethal, but I know, this involves math, critical thinking, etc.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

      Germany and Russia mastered killing their own soldiers.

      Delete
    2. Stop trying to be ironic.

      Delete
    3. Anon you’re embarrassing yourself. Democracy has got nothing to do with ‘kill ratios’. Military success has got everything to do with things like strategy+tactics, logistics, resources, etc. etc.

      Delete
  28. @ Anon 5:53,

    I could comment on your self-contradictory statements -- an unstated official policy? -- or the grandiose claims made with no evidence or your terrible prose but I prefer to take issue with your silly, ad hominem attack on Phil Rothman.

    I did a little research on Phil. He has 967 Google Scholar citations, which is about 967 more than you, I am guessing. Phil has published in REStat, the JMCB, JBES, IER and other very good journals. In short, Phil is a good scholar and deserves whatever titles he has.

    You, on the other hand, are a juvenile twit.

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  29. @ Anon Feb 5:53 AM: Phil Rothman is a friend and I know him to be a serious scholar, and an open-minded one at that. So you're rather far off in questioning his ability to think through matters. What he is not is foolishly partisan.

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  30. @Phil 2/12/12 04:19:
    This is an interesting discussion, although perhaps a bit far afield from the presumed sins of Paul Krugman. However, what you wrote stirred a couple of thoughts. While I'm a little way past middle school, perhaps I may respond to your points.
    I'm not following your argument here, unless perhaps you're responding to something other than the criticism of GW Bush. It seems to me that you are attempting to compare/contrast FD Roosevelt to GW Bush in some way; am I incorrect?
    1. While it is true that spies/saboteurs have traditionally and generally been treated differently from POWs, I'm not sure how this particular case applies here. Are you suggesting that (a) the individuals in the 'Pastorious case' were not spies or saboteurs, or that (b) some or all of the captured individuals were tortured, whether or not on the orders of the President of the US, or that (c) accusations of terrorist activity are the equivalent of conviction by a military tribunal, or that (d) allowing the death sentence of such a tribunal to be carried out is the equivalent of ordering torture, or that (e) saboteurs captured on American soil are equivalent to people who have been captured, rounded up or turned in in other parts of the world, or that (f) indefinite detention, extra-judicial murder and torture of unconvicted and unindicted individuals (potentially including American citizens) is equivalent to anything in the 'Pastorius' case? Or even that I'm missing the point entirely, and there is something else involved in the 'Pastorius' case which makes FD Roosevelt's actions immoral, if not illegal. Please explain, if you will, how this makes Roosevelt an "unethical scumbag"?
    2. Assuming that your Sicily information is correct, murder of unarmed captives on the battlefield is one of the 'horrors of war'. That was not the only time such behavior has been documented for American soldiers, althogh one would suspect it was far more rare in the Pacific ToO, for obvious reasons. This is clearly a Bad Thing, and may be considered a War Crime, no matter how you slice it, and despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge every party involved in WW2 (and probably every other war ever fought) has done this. What you did not do was indicate that this was an official policy of the US military, and condoned, if not ordered, by FD Roosevelt. Occasional action by troops engaged in active combat should not necessarily reflect on GW Bush or FD Roosevelt alike; officially-condoned or ordered methods should be regarded as abhorrent, just as the "anti-infrastructure" actions of Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley and Sherman in Georgia are still held by many citizens of those regions of the US to the account of Abraham Lincoln as War Crimes.
    Again, we come back to my previous question: how does this make FD Roosevelt an "unethical scumbag"?

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  31. Sorry for the double post, but the html limitation on my novella left some of it unpublished! Accordingly, and more to the point, there are a couple things Stephen wrote which interested me:
    1. Just out of curiosity - has Krugman in fact been wrong in his assertions? Where has he been dishonest? What makes you say he is 'bent on destruction'? (I'll pass on the "snarly" bit, since that's a matter of opinion, and opinions are notoriously subjective.) I'm genuinely curious, because I seem to have missed all that, and having read a few papers in the literature of the my fields of interest, I thought I could recognize vicious, irresponsible ad hominem reasoning.
    Incidentally, I'm confused by your use of "mainstream"; does "mainstream" work out as "people I like and trust", or as "accurate and correct"? A beautiful hypothesis killed by an ugly fact should be allowed to die, no matter how elegant the model. Perhaps economics is intended to be only of purpose in the abstract, but if it is to be used (however unwillingly) to guide policy, I would hope that the theoretical underpinnings' accuracy and 'real-world' effectiveness (stuff like correctness of predictions, cause-and-effect connections that match what we see in Nature, that sort of thing) would be valued over genteel, tea-and-biscuits chit-chat at the Club. Or, conversely, religiously-based "it's true because it must be true" table-pounding argumentation.
    No offense intended, of course.

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  32. I'm just wondering why the complexity of the math has to be what matters here. PK made a big prediction re: US interest rates a couple of years ago, using a very basic model. Others - nerdier types? - predicted the opposite. So far, PK is right. Surely that counts for something intellectually?

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  33. Actually I think neoclassical economics - the dominant paradigm in economics - is a PR-job for the right.

    RBC and EMH, for example, are both incorrect but provide intellectual cover for truly atrocious (non-)policy.

    http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue55/Hudson255.pdf

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  34. You're absolutely correct about Krugman. He hurls nothing but crass, inflammatory political rhetoric.

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  35. great read. especially the comments. oh man, it is really entertaining to get high and and delve into the arguments of you intellects. i will bookmark this site and return tomorrow. i hope you guys will be duking it out in the comments of a fresh blog post.

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  36. What happened between 1996 and 2009? Simple: The economy blew up and virtually nobody in the economics field predicted it. Krugman took stock and decided to admit that he had been in error. He got over his academic hubris and realized that guys like Reich and Kuttner might have been on to something back in 1996.

    I'm a nerd myself, but fortunately, I write computer code, so I have immediate feedback when my models don't reflect reality. Economists should be so lucky.

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  37. First, I must disclose that my background is in Philosophy of social science, not strictly economics. As Williamson recomended, I read both articles of Krugman. What I found was a man who appreciated mathematical-based work in his 1996 article. Then, I found a man who was humbling himself and the rest of his colleagues by the recognition that his mathematics-based Economics was not complete and sometimes unhelpful in Macroeconomics as evidenced by the current crisis. I fail to see a contradiction in these ideas. A recognition of the incompleteness of one's work [of the nerds] is not an embrace of the literati. It should be seen as challenge to the nerds to come up with a more complete work that also could explain and hold up in the face great crisis as the one we are in.

    The discussion of Krugman's political evolution and George W. analogy was irrelevant and disrupting from sticking to the Economic discussions. Williamson'stement,

    "Read the 2012 Krugman, and we see a snarly dishonest guy intent on destruction ... a man with a lazy intellect, and little patience for the details of policymaking. Simple stories are best. No need for nuance. The world consists of evil people and good people who are easy to tell apart. It's George W again. Never mind what my mother would say. This just makes me feel ill"

    is an unneccesary personal attack and even inaccurate because Krugman is precisely asking for nuances out of his colleagues that seem to him seduced by the beauty of equations from seeing certain flaws in their work. In other words, he is saying that it is not always elegant beauty vs. ugly and complex. The elegant beauty has sometimes flaws and the others are sometimes helpful. I think it is also beneath someone who holds Williamson's position to attack a man of Krugman's intellectual and scholarly calliber at a personal level.

    You (Economists) need to get over yourselves. Try to remember that your work is not just about you. In fact, when your older theories fail or are wrong, we need you to take your personalities out of the eqauation, and get back to work to come up with a better explanation and solution to our problems.

    I know NASA engineers and Scientists would not have bickered when they messed up. Your work is too important to be a squabble of petty arguments.

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