Today Paul Krugman writes:

Thus, when mad cow disease was detected in the U.S. in 2003, the Department of Agriculture was headed by Ann M. Veneman, a former food-industry lobbyist. And the department’s response to the crisis — which amounted to consistently downplaying the threat and rejecting calls for more extensive testing — seemed driven by the industry’s agenda.

One amazing decision came in 2004, when a Kansas producer asked for permission to test its own cows, so that it could resume exports to Japan. You might have expected the Bush administration to applaud this example of self-regulation. But permission was denied, because other beef producers feared consumer demands that they follow suit.

When push comes to shove, it seems, the imperatives of crony capitalism trump professed faith in free markets.

This would show at best that the people (like Bush or Veneman) who profess belief in free markets don't have it.  It wouldn't however show that free markets are a failure at such regulation (which is what Krugman intends to show).  In fact, it seems to me, it would make the point that regulation of the free market produces problems such as the one Krugman describes.   


9 thoughts on “Henhouse”

  1. Sorry, but I just don’t see it. Look again at the very part of the quote that you highlight, with the highlights modified: 

    “When push comes to shove, it seems, the imperatives of crony capitalism trump professed faith in free markets.”

    While Krugmann is variously critical of a number of dogmas in orthodox economics, I am hard pressed to see how his statement here is anything other than what it sets out to be — a criticism of the evident hypocrisy of persons who would otherwise present themselves as free market advocates. Krugmann seems to be directly critiqueing (sp?) peoples professed attitudes vs. their actual policies and actions.

  2. Gary L. Herstein,

    While I can’t refute what you’ve said, this disagreement seems to turn on what Krugman “intends to show.”

    I would hope as an economic writer that he would intend to illuminate economic arguments and weigh in with his expertise. But he does seem to do what you say he’s up to here quite often, which is impugn the motives of those he disagrees with.

    While he may have plausible deniability because of the specific way he words things (which, in fairness to your point, is the whole question here), it seems that he should be up to giving actual analysis of economic arguments rather than engaging in moralistic activity.

  3. Right Gary.  I think Krugman can’t support the larger claim (regulation good) with the point about the specific abuses of administration cronies.  He can, of course, support his claim about the incoherence of the administration cronies with evidence of the behavior of the administration cronies.  Bad instances of regulating, however, are evidence in favor of no regulating also.  So if someone’s position is that business will and should do its own regulating, Krugman has advanced a point in their favor.  I’m not certain, now that I think more carefully about this, that he would entirely disagree with them.  I mean–the drown the government in bathtub people do not behave as one would expect.

  4. Oh please post about Peggy Noonan’s “Brave New World” piece.

    It surpasses even recent Gerson in badness, especially the McCain vs Obama comparisons. It’s hard to chop up into discrete fallacies. It seems like she’s actually knocking Obama for not having spent time as a POW.
    Is it just a series of weak analogies?

  5. Interesting.  By my lights Krugman was supporting his larger claim (effective regulation good) with an example of the kind of ineffective regulation that results when we forget a key underlying principle (fairness…though that’s my word, not his), the forgetting of which we demonstrate by allowing regulatory agencies to be staffed by people like Ann Veneman. 


  6. Hey All,

    I saw Krugman as making a broader claim about regulation.  This broader claim about regulation did not seem to be supported by the shortcomings of crony regulation.  Crony regulation might also be an argument against any regulation, especially when that crony regulation stood in the way of market regulation.  So at best he could claim that the particular people who advocate similar regulation (Veneman, Bush, et alia) hold an incoherent or self-contradictory view.  But he can’t claim that he has established the need for regulation versus no regulation at all.

  7. Hi JCasey,

    Could Krugman’s article be an imperfect realization of an argument which could be sketched (also imperfectly) as follows?

    Proposition:  hard-core opponents of regulation argue that self-regulation more reliably protects the well-being of average citizens than does government-imposed regulation.

    People unable or unwilling to evaluate that argument on its merits may rely on the authority of the people who make the argument:  intelligent experts who can evaluate the argument’s merits and who will faithfully relay their judgment.
    An example of these experts and nominal opponents of regulation actually supporting regulation when it happens to benefit them (or benefits other members of their class) undermines our faith in their judgment and/or their honesty, thus weakening one of their arguments against regulation (i.e., the argument that goes, “Trust us.”)

  8. Sorry, that didn’t format well.  For some reason, the enumeration seemed not to work (at least, I don’t see it in my browser). 

  9. Hi David–

    Yours would be a better version of Krugman’s argument I think in that it frames the objective more clearly.  The case for no regulation of the true no regulation types still stands, of course. 

    I don’t know what’s with the formatting.  I’ve never been able to get the comments right.

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