Tag Archives: Paul Krugman


Fig. 1: a slam












Here’s an unproductive exchange between Paul Krugman and Joe Scarborough on the subject of the changes by the Census Bureau in the way it evaluates health care information.  First, here’s Scarborough on the changes:

“Listen, the White Houses on both sides do their best to cook the books,” he said. “This is a particularly clumsy effort.”

Krugman then observes:

You can argue that the Census decision to change its health-insurance questionnaire starting with the 2013 data wasn’t such a good idea — in fact, I know a number of health care experts who are dismayed,” wrote Krugman, a liberal columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist. “But it’s really quite vile to have talk-show hosts who quite literally know nothing about the field, other than that they’re against covering the uninsured, casually accusing Census of “cooking the books” to support Obamacare.” (Link in the original.)

Note the concession, in bold.  Now Joe Scarborough responds:

“Paul’s shrill attack is off target and wrong, as usual. I just hope the good professor can work through the humiliation of his debate performance against me and will soon stop being driven to post silly attacks because of his feelings of inadequacy. I’m pulling for him,”

Krugman alleged Scarborough didn’t offer any evidence for his assertion that the books are being cooked; nonetheless, he attempts to move the ball forward here by conceding that the change might not have been wise; Scarborough ignores that, and declines to offer evidence for his assertion (or address the charge) opting instead for a textbook ad hominem.  This is how you make the big money folks.

On a related matter: could the authors at Salon and Talking Points Memo stop describing such interactions as “slams” or “rips”?  It’s dumb.

Scarcity of arguments

Paul Krugman puzzles over a dazzling bit of dishonesty in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Oregon’s Medicaid program.  Here’s the basic issue:

Aaron Carroll reads the Wall Street Journal, which is outraged, outraged, at the prospect that Oregon’s Medicaid system might seek to limit spending on treatments with low effectiveness and/or patients who aren’t going to live much longer in any case. Death panels!

Carroll points us to the actual staff recommendation, which is far milder than the WSJ blast would have you believe. But as Carroll points out, the larger point is the absurdity of the Journal’s position. On one side, it’s fanatically opposed to Medicaid expansion — that is, it’s eager to make sure that millions have no health coverage at all. On the other side, it claims to be outraged at the notion of setting priorities in spending on those who do manage to qualify for Medicaid. It’s OK for people to die for lack of coverage; it’s an utter horror if taxpayers decline to pay for marginal care.

Krugman (and the Aaron Carroll, whom he is citing here) doesn’t quite put the matter this way, but it seems to me that you have a basic issue of scarcity here: in part on account of objections from conservatives, money for Medicaid is short.  So best to distribute what little there is to those who need it, not everything can be covered.  So the discussion ought perhaps to be about that.  That’s not, sadly, what the Wall Street Journal was interested in.  Their interest, rather, was in using such perennial problems as evidence that Big Government will put you to death.  That is a rather different issue.

So Krugman wonders:

So I understand what’s going on here. What I don’t understand is the mindset of the editorial writers. At some level they have to know that they’re engaged in an act of grotesque cynicism. Do they admit that to themselves? Do they rationalize it by saying that truth is a secondary consideration when you’re engaged in a crusade against the evils of big government? Have they mastered true Orwellian doublethink, managing to believe things they know aren’t true?

My vote is they are probably capable of knowing the difference, but have long ago confused success at selling an idea with the idea’s being true.  Or perhaps something else: they believe their are better arguments out there, and though the one they offer may be a stinker, you argue with the arguments you have, not the ones you’d like to have.  Someone, after all, will come along an iron man them out of this one.

Classic Krugman

Check out this video on Bloomberg.

The story goes something like this.  In the remark shown on the screen, Paul Krugman cautioned that he is not calling someone a name (via a Monty Python reference lost on the speaker), but rather questioning the evidence for his view.  The stunningly clueless commentator remarks that this is “classic Krugman” for “going after a person,” which is greeted with all sorts of agreement from the assembled panel brainless commentators.  She then refers to Niall Ferguson, who in his turn says Paul Krugman uses ad hominem arguments because he must have been abused as a child.  That, of course, is an actual ad hominem; Krugman’s is not.  You just cannot be this dumb.

He is the numerator and the denominator

Since it is now the height of fascism to call someone who lies a liar, I question whether I should refer to Paul Krugman, who calls the Romney campaign dishonest for saying it has evidence when it doesn't.  But I will anyway, because you'll see.  First, here's Krugman:

So when the campaign says that these three studies support its claims about jobs, it is, to use the technical term, lying — just as it is when it says that six independent studies support its claims about taxes (they don’t).

What do Mr. Romney’s economic advisers actually believe? As best as I can tell, they’re placing their faith in the confidence fairy, in the belief that their candidate’s victory would inspire an employment boom without the need for any real change in policy. In fact, in his infamous Boca Raton “47 percent” remarks, Mr. Romney himself asserted that he would give a big boost to the economy simply by being elected, “without actually doing anything.” And what about the overwhelming evidence that our weak economy isn’t about confidence, it’s about the hangover from a terrible financial crisis? Never mind.

To summarize, then, the true Romney plan is to create an economic boom through the sheer power of Mr. Romney’s personal awesomeness. But the campaign doesn’t dare say that, for fear that voters would (rightly) consider it ridiculous. So what we’re getting instead is an attempt to brazen it out with nakedly false claims. There’s no jobs plan; just a plan for a snow job on the American people.

Remember, Krugman sort of supports Obama.  Here is otherwise apparently smart (and therefore? unbelievably rich) guy Mark Cuban, who is a Romney supporter, on Romney's lack of specifics:

Which is the exact detail of the Romney Tax Plan that makes all the numbers add up. Governor Romney is the detail. He will take all the unsolved variables in the algorithm that is our desire to reduce the budget deficit , increase economic growth and thereby increase employment and negotiate them into the outcome that will solve this country's financial problem.

Which is exactly what Krugman said.  If you read the rest of the Cuban piece, it's a list of things he thinks Romney can or wants to do, not, as you might expect from a very large word problem, numbers and equations–or better, reference to actual specifics of Romney's plan. 

Iron manning, again

The iron man works like the straw man.  You take an argument (or an arguer), distort his argument, pick an urepresentative feature of his argument, or you invent an argument the person does not make all in order to make the argument the person makes appear to be stronger than it is.  This has the related effect of making the critics look unfair, unhinged, or shrill.  More importantly, it may serve to cover over the real vices of someone's position. 

Oftentimes strengthening an argument serves both practical and epistemic ends.  We're better off if everyone is better at arguing and if we're considering better arguments.  However, in the case of ironmanning, strengthening arguments may make us worse off, because we don't consider for example what is actually being proposed by someone, or the worst-case-scenario effects of someone's view. 

I posted an example of this yesterday from Krugman.  Here is another example from Krugman. 

But the “centrists” who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties — even if these reasonable people don’t actually exist. And this leaves them unable either to admit how moderate Mr. Obama is or to acknowledge the more or less universal extremism of his opponents on the right.

Enter Mr. Ryan, an ordinary G.O.P. extremist, but a mild-mannered one. The “centrists” needed to pretend that there are reasonable Republicans, so they nominated him for the role, crediting him with virtues he has never shown any sign of possessing. Indeed, back in 2010 Mr. Ryan, who has never once produced a credible deficit-reduction plan, received an award for fiscal responsibility from a committee representing several prominent centrist organizations.  

Let's consider it a factual matter as to whether the presentation of Ryan's views is accurate.  It likely is, IMO, but that's not the point of this post anyway.

There would be much to gain by the intellectual exercise of pretending there are Republican moderates.  But let us say they do not exist.  Pretending that they do, or recasting very extreme views in moderate tones, is very harmful to our public discourse. 

The straw man unjustifiably excludes reasonable views from consideration by pretending they're unreasonable, the iron man unjustifiably includes unreasonable ones by pretending they're reasonable.

Paul Krugman on Iron Manning

If only he know the word for this behavior, his post would be snappier.  But here is Paul Krugman talking about the phenomenon of Iron Manning.  The case at hand is the iron manning of Paul Ryan's budget plan.  You can follow the links in the cited passage.  I'll point out right away, for the skeptics, that there is an empirical element to this charge–iron manning that is.  I think People have accused (rightly) Paul Ryan of being a dishonest tool, so minus one to Krugman on that.  Anyway, Krugman writes (via Balloon Juice):

In my next life I want to be a conservative policy scammer. Think of how much nicer it would be. Instead of constantly being accused of having evil motives, I’d be presumed to have noble intentions no matter how much the actual content of my policy proposals was at odds with such claims. Instead of being accused of saying bad things I never said, I’d be given credit for supporting good things I’ve never supported. Life would be great!

OK, I’m whining. But the continuing defense of Paul Ryan is a remarkable phenomenon. He’s still being treated by many pundits as a man deeply concerned about deficits, when the fact is that his policy proposals are all about redistributing income upward, and make no serious effort to curb debt. He’s even given credit for advocating higher taxes on the rich when he has more or less specifically rejected the things for which he’s given credit.

So Ryan has been iron-manned.  That's the reverse of being straw manned.  There might be an empirical case that this happens more often to people like Ryan than people like Krugman, but someone else can argue that.  I think there is little question, however, that it is the case with Ryan. 

Now consider the iron manners:

What’s going on here? The defenders of Ryan come, I’d argue, in two types.

One type is the pseudo-reasonable apparatchik. There are a fair number of pundits who make a big show of debating the issues, stroking their chins, and then — invariably — find a way to support whatever the GOP line may be. There’s no mystery in their support for Ryan.

The other type is more interesting: the professional centrist. These are people whose whole pose is one of standing between the extremes of both parties, and calling for a bipartisan solution. The problem they face is how to maintain this pose when the reality is that a quite moderate Democratic party — one that is content to leave tax rates on the rich far below those that prevailed for most of the past 70 years, that has embraced a Republican health care plan — faces a radical-reactionary GOP.

What these people need is reasonable Republicans. And if such creatures don’t exist, they have to invent them. Hence the elevation of Ryan — who is, in fact, a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style — to icon of fiscal responsibility and honest argument, despite the reality that his proposals are both fiscally irresponsible and quite dishonest.

How much longer can this last? I guess we’ll eventually find out.

So this is a classic case of iron manning: take a crappy argument, suggest it's a good one by distortion [of some variety], suggest (by implication) that its critics are extremists or shrill (Krugman).

There’s an argument for that

Maybe someone can do a spoof of that Apple "there's an app for that" commercial replacing "argument" for "app."  Here are two possibilities. 

First, Newt Gingrich–the stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like–argues that Child Labor Laws ought to be repealed.  Seriously, this was practically what I had assigned to my Phil 210 course this year as a troll assignment: they had to argue that children ought to work–or ought not to be prohibited (with child labor laws, etc.) from working–in coal mines.  His argument

This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.

"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

Interesting choice of words. The second is a variation on the argument that pizza is a vegetable.  Pepper spray is "a food product, essentially", one squirt and you're South of the Border.  Where would one find this?  Why Fox News of course.  Video here.

O'Reilly: "First of all, pepper spray, that just burns your eyes, right?"

Kelly: "Right, I mean it's like a derivative of actual pepper.  It's a food product, essentially.  But a lot of experts are looking at that and saying is that the real deal or has it been diluted because–"

O'Reilly: "They should have more of a reaction than that."

Kelly: "That's really besides the point, it was obviously something that was abrasive and intrusive.  Several went to the hospital."

Tastes like burning (someone–can't remember where–beat me to that one). 

Anyway, here's one more from the archives.  Do you do something that contradicts your stated principles?  Well, Ayn Rand has an argument for that.  It's not wrong for you, because you object to it.  Do you disagree with all forms of public welfare but collect it?  It's not wrong if and only if you think such things are wrong.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

And so on.  Much more in our archives. 

My views are underappreciated by those who disagree with my views

There is a natural tendency to iron man one's own arguments; that's why self-assessment is not an accurate measure of a position's cogency. It also often turns out that such self-ironmanning comes along with underestimating the strength of positions opposed to one's own. For, perhaps if one's arguments aren't so strong, the alternatives a super weak. Key to this strategy is keeping oneself from exposure to the alternatives. Ergo, Fox News. The arguments, whatever their merits, for the alternatives to whatever it is that Fox supports don't get heard there (at least now that Alan Colmes is gone). The other strategy is constantly to complain about how one's arguments don't get treated fairly. Thus, "liberal media." Thus again, Fox News. The diehard Fox News person knows in advance of the critique, so can't be swayed by it.

On this same theme, here is Paul Ryan via Paul Krugman:

“Just last week, the president told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, ‘dirtier air, dirtier water and less people with health insurance,’ ” Mr. Ryan said at a gathering at The Heritage Foundation on Oct. 26. “Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?”

He makes some good points.  But here is Paul Ryan himself:

Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now:

Petty and trivial? Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care? Chronic avoidance of tough decisions? The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate. A preference for scoring cheap political points instead of consensus-building? This is the same President who is currently campaigning against a do-nothing Congress, when in fact, the House of Representatives has passed over a dozen bills to help get the economy moving and deal with the debt, only to see the President’s party kill those bills in the do-nothing Senate.

"TL:DR: The President has harsh words for our positions on the problem of health insurance and the environment, but what about the problem of red herring?  (or why isn't he worklng on the economy?) " Ryan does not in fact challenge the accuracy of the accuracy of the statement about the environment and he barely addresses the health insurance question (other than to repeat that tax cuts will solve the problem). That has not proven to be a solution, except to those whose brains have been occupied by Wall Street.

The funny thing, I think, about the tendency to make one's case entirely in the form of a complaint that one doesn't get to make one's case–which is effectively what Ryan does here–is that one never makes one's case.  Whatever its merits, the Democrats did something about the health insurance problem, somethinng like what Mitt Romney advocated as governor of Massachussets.

The natural response here of course will be that pointing this out is itself unfair, etc.  I don't believe that tax cuts will solve all problems because I'm opposed to it and I underestimate the strength of the arguments for it.  I do this probably because I am petty. 

That’s what he said

It's the tenth anniversary of the atrocity of September 11 (I like this way of describing it).  Nothing to add, except that Paul Krugman's sentiment seems (partially) right to me:

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

Sure, they're just pundits.  Here is Krugman's colleague Thomas Friedman (again, sorry to those who had mercifully forgotten these lines) on the relation between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq:

I think it [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie.

We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna let it grow?

Well Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That's the real truth.

Suck.On.This.  Indeed.  Now we are all sucking on it.

Collectivism wins again!

Some may remember George Will's meditations on the train (via Krugman's blog–I know, pay wall):

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

We discussed this here.  Well, today a bit of an update.  There appears to be another reason to take the train.  It's gets you from point A to point B.  Here's Krugman yesterday:

So I think that it is my civic duty to report that yesterday, as I got off Amtrak 161 from Trenton to Washington — having spent 2 1/2 hours being made more amenable to collectivism, not to mention finishing another chapter for 3rd edition — I saw George Will leaving the business class car. (I usually prefer the coach quiet car.)

This is not the first time I've heard of George Will taking the train.  I wonder if he spent a comfortable two and a half hours meditating on his practical inconsistency.