May 11th, 2013

Clive Crook on Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong

Crook has taken their measure:

Brad DeLong has commented on my beef with Paul Krugman. I’m reluctant to engage, to be honest, because his post exemplifies the intemperance I’m addressing. Once an admirer, I gave up on his commentary a long time ago. You get a sense of the problem from his post about me. He illustrates it with a picture of a clown. He also wants me fired. “Bloomberg has some house-cleaning to do,” he says — charming, and from a tenured academic, to boot.

DeLong’s fine under the supervision of a competent adult, as here (an excellent paper, which I praised at the time). But as an unattended blogger he regresses to intellectual adolescence, light on thinking and exhaustingly heavy on peevish belligerence. Not just uncivil, he actually disapproves of civility — today, as you see, I’m trying to meet him halfway.

The substance of DeLong’s complaint about my column and post appears to be that they lack supporting documentation. I asserted (thinking it self-evident) that many Republicans are thoughtful and public-spirited. DeLong is incredulous and finds it revealing that I failed to give examples. I also accused Krugman of letting partisan politics taint his analysis and said he cared as much about undoing the Bush tax cuts as about expanding and extending the fiscal stimulus. At this, DeLong is aghast. He demands to see my evidence.

Will this do? From Krugman’s column, Let’s Not Make a Deal, in December 2010.

Back in 2001, former President George W. Bush pulled a fast one. He wanted to enact an irresponsible tax cut, largely for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But there were Senate rules in place designed to prevent that kind of irresponsibility. So Mr. Bush evaded the rules by making the tax cut temporary, with the whole thing scheduled to expire on the last day of 2010.

The plan, of course, was to come back later and make the thing permanent, never mind the impact on the deficit. But that never happened. And so here we are, with 2010 almost over and nothing resolved.

Democrats have tried to push a compromise: let tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but extend tax cuts for the middle class. Republicans, however, are having none of it. They have been filibustering Democratic attempts to separate tax cuts that mainly benefit a tiny group of wealthy Americans from those that mainly help the middle class. It’s all or nothing, they say: all the Bush tax cuts must be extended. What should Democrats do?

The answer is that they should just say no. If GOP intransigence means that taxes rise at the end of this month, so be it.

Krugman proposed raising taxes on all Americans while the recovery was still very weak. He recognized this as a fiscal tightening that would put people out of work. He advocated it because the alternative of retaining the Bush tax cuts would have handed the Republicans a victory, and because — get this — he was worried about the long-term deficit implications. There you have it: Krugman the apolitical Keynesian.

I suppose that it would be churlish of me not to note that DeLong has (uncharacteristically) said some nice things about me recently. I wish that I could return the favor, but for the moment, anyway, I can’t.

May 4th, 2013

When Public Officials Behave Badly

This is appalling:

Harvard professor and famous historian Niall Ferguson reportedly made some bizarre and offensive remarks about economist John Maynard Keynes at an investment conference yesterday.

According to financial writer Tom Kostigen, the editor at large of Private Wealth and Financial Advisor magazines, Ferguson made two startling suggestions about Keynes at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California:

  • Keynes’ economic philosophy, Ferguson reportedly suggested, was the result of Keynes not caring about future generations.
  • Keynes didn’t care about future generations, Ferguson reportedly suggested, because Keynes was gay and did not have children.

To his credit, Ferguson has now apologized. Good for him, but why make the comments in the first place? It is incumbent on those who criticize the application of Keynesianism—and I include myself in that group—to make sure that we understand what Keynesian arguments are, lest responsible criticisms get drowned out by the backlash against irresponsible criticisms. And as a general matter, it helps not to cite Keynes’s sexual orientation when criticizing his economic philosophy. There is no tie whatsoever between the two, and frankly, even before he sought to make the connection, Ferguson should have wondered whether the presence of heterosexual Keynesians might undermine his argument.

But as I write, at least Ferguson has apologized. Dick Harpootlian, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have the good grace or intelligence to follow Ferguson’s example:

Conservatives are outraged after a Democrat in South Carolina allegedly insulted Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s Indian heritage at a party gathering in Columbia on Friday.

The state’s Democratic Party Chairman, Dick Harpootlian, is believed to have said the party will take on the Conservative in the next gubernatorial race and send ‘Nikki Haley back to wherever the hell she came from.’

Gov. Haley was born in the U.S. but her parents are from India.

Yahoo political reporter Chris Moody tweeted on Friday that Mr Harpootlian made the comment, in support of Democrat challenger Vince Sheheen, who has declared he will run for governor.

There were no details on the venue or context for the comment but Harpootlian is at the helm the 2013 Dem Weekend in Columbia, South Carolina.

One can easily imagine what the popular media reaction would be if a Republican state party chair made similar comments. Note that Harpootlian was an early and fervent supporter of Barack Obama in 2008, and bundled nearly $400,000 for Barack Obama’s re-election. The responsible thing for any enterprising journalist to do is to ask the president whether he stands by Harpootlian’s disgusting comments, or whether he is willing to condemn them. Thus far, of course, we have heard crickets from the administration, from the media in general, and naturally, from the port side of the blogosphere.

January 13th, 2013

"No Death Star for You!"

I am tremendously disappointed. The White House has announced that the federal government will not build a Death Star.

I certainly want to give props to Paul Shawcross for the informative, humorous and fun-loving way in which he wrote his response, but from a Keynesian standpoint, the arguments he makes are surely inadequate. Shawcross cites the massive price tag associated with building a Death Star, but according to Keynesian principles, we ought to worry much less about the deficit these days, and more about throwing piles of money into job-creating enterprises. Building a Death Star, as I explained in my post discussing the petition, should build oodles of jobs according to Keynesian theory, and Keynesians ought to be outraged that this administration is failing to take the principles spelled out in the General Theory of Employment to the next level. Indeed, I daresay that Keynesians ought to find the administration’s lack of faith in their principles disturbing.

Shawcross appears to be repelled by the idea of building a massive space station that is capable of blowing up planets, but of course, there is no reason why the Death Star should be tasked to blow up planets. Recall Paul Krugman’s comment that we ought to organize our public works plans as though we are supposed to respond to a fake alien invasion. Emphasis on the word “fake.” There can be no bigger, better or more comprehensive response to a fake alien invasion than to build a Death Star and since (one hopes) there are no actual aliens on their way to attack us, there is no need whatsoever to equip the Death Star with the ability to destroy planets.

Shawcross also states that the Obama administration does not want to build a Death Star “with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.” I applaud this sentiment, but of course, we don’t have to do any such thing. From a design perspective, the Death Star can be improved upon, and blithely assuming otherwise just will not do. Besides, in addition to all of the jobs that can be created by building a Death Star in the first place, we can create even more by employing more scientists and engineers to come up with a design that removes the flaw Shawcross refers to, and which I referred to in my original post regarding this issue.

(I suppose it would be nitpicky for me to reply to Shawcross’s observation that “the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” by noting—as many, many, many others have—that a parsec is a unit of distance, not a unit of time. I know that George Lucas got this wrong too, but we expect better from the Obama administration. After all, we pay their salaries with our tax money.)

In any event, now that the administration has come out against the construction of a Death Star, I propose that we get private enterprise involved to construct it. I look forward to the day when we can point with pride to the creation of the Death Star, and then tell the Obama administration that they didn’t build that; someone else made that happen.

Incidentally, I am partial to this Death Star above all others. But then, I am no Keynesian.

December 16th, 2012

Democracy in Action

The White House has stated that it will respond to any and all online petitions that garner at least 25,000 signatures.

One such petition has not only met, but exceeded the threshold: A petition to have the United States build a Death Star.

I know that you think that this is crazy, but none other than Paul Krugman has advocated the following more than once in order to give a boost to the economy:

PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: This is hard to get people to do, much better, obviously, to build bridges and roads and healthcare clinics and schools. But my proposed, I actually have a serious proposal which is that we have to get a bunch of scientists to tell us that we’re facing a threatened alien invasion, and in order to be prepared for that alien invasion we have to do things like build high-speed rail. And the, once we’ve recovered, we can say, “Look, there were no aliens.”

But look, I mean, whatever it takes because right now we need somebody to spend, and that somebody has to be the U.S. government.

Now, here’s the thing: If we were to actually face an alien invasion, I highly doubt that the biggest agenda item on our to-do list would be to build high-speed rail. In fact, I daresay that a bigger and more pressing agenda item would be to build a Death Star. Not only could we equip ourselves to annihilate enemy spaceships once they have come close to Earth, we could get the Death Star to travel at light speed to enemy planets and obliterate them, no matter how peaceful those planets may turn out to be, and no matter how few weapons they might have.

So I do hope that the Obama administration will—like a bunch of good Keynesians—follow Krugman’s lead and announce that in anticipation of an alien threat, they will build a Death Star, if only to create jobs and stimulate the economy. I just hope that the Obamaesque Death Star won’t come with a thermal exhaust port that is at least two meters wide. I hear that if you practice gunning down womp rats in your T-16 back in Beggar’s Canyon, firing a couple of torpedoes that will destroy the exhaust port and the Death Star with it will be no problem whatsoever.

I mean, I would hate for the Obamaesque Death Star to become some kind of latter-day Solyndra. Wouldn’t you?


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