Over the years people on the right (including me) have enjoyed pointing out places where Krugman contradicts himself. He often responds by noting that people can and should change their minds when the facts change. Thus the famous Card and Krueger study on the minimum wage revised our view of that policy option. Or these new facts might be theoretical innovations, such as Krugman’s very own revisionist take on liquidity traps, from 1998. These are good arguments.
But I don’t think that fully explains the contradictions. This dismissal of fiscal stimulus was penned a year after the famous 1998 liquidity trap paper:
What continues to amaze me is this: Japan’s current strategy of massive, unsustainable deficit spending in the hopes that this will somehow generate a self-sustained recovery is currently regarded as the orthodox, sensible thing to do – even though it can be justified only by exotic stories about multiple equilibria, the sort of thing you would imagine only a professor could believe. Meanwhile further steps on monetary policy – the sort of thing you would advocate if you believed in a more conventional, boring model, one in which the problem is simply a question of the savings-investment balance – are rejected as dangerously radical and unbecoming of a dignified economy.
Will somebody please explain this to me?
Krugman’s later conversion to fiscal stimulus seems partly based on the BOJ’s refusal to adopt his “promise to be irresponsible” suggestion. (Gee, I wonder why the Japanese culture would be averse to a proposal framed in that fashion?) It wasn’t until 2013 that his 1999 ideas were finally adopted in Japan, by which time he had begun assuming they would never be adopted—and hence switched to favoring fiscal stimulus. In my view the most interesting aspect of the 1999 quote is not its conflict with his current views, but that it exposes the vacuous nature of his personal insults. When Krugman says his opponents are knaves or fools, he’s often doing nothing more than suggesting that they disagree with his current view on some issue, at that particular moment in time. But perhaps not his view a decade ago, or a decade in the future. By 2026 he might well be an Austrian free banking type, or an MMTer. (More likely the latter.)
But even this doesn’t fully account for the Krugman contradictions. The hardest to explain are those where he begins by suggesting that his opponents are morons, who lack even a rudimentary knowledge of EC101, and later comes to embrace their views. It’s very difficult, no let’s face it, it’s impossible, for new information about the elasticity of labor demand, or new theoretical approaches to the zero bound, to overturn the conviction that someone doesn’t even understand basic ideas like comparative advantage. Either they do or they don’t, and it’s pretty obvious to anyone who does. Full disclosure: when Krugman was calling people ignorant in the 1990s, I generally agreed with him. If you haven’t seen him at work skewering his opponents from the right, you really ought to read Pop Internationalism.
This is what makes E. Harding’s recent exercise in Krugman contradictions so devastating. Harding compares then and now:
“Back in 1991, in what now seems like a far more innocent time, Robert Reich published an influential book titled The Work of Nations, which among other things helped land him a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. It was a good book for its time—but time has moved on. And the gap between that relatively sunny take and Reich’s latest, Saving Capitalism, is itself an indicator of the unpleasant ways America has changed.
The Work of Nations was in some ways a groundbreaking work, because it focused squarely on the issue of rising inequality—an issue some economists, myself included, were already taking seriously, but that was not yet central to political discourse. Reich’s book saw inequality largely as a technical problem, with a technocratic, win-win solution. That was then. These days, Reich offers a much darker vision, and what is in effect a call for class war—or if you like, for an uprising of workers against the quiet class war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades.”
“Intellectual arrogance, you say. Maybe so–but surely my arrogance is a puny thing compared with that of men who believe themselves able to invent a new and improved economics from a standing start, who are prepared to write books with titles like The Way the World Works or The Work of Nations without bothering to read one or two of those undergraduate textbooks first. (And don’t tell me that they do too know what is in the textbooks. The circumstantial evidence that they do not–the simple things misunderstood, the garbled statistics, the statement of both standard concepts and classic fallacies as if they were revolutionary innovations–is overwhelming.)
There’s lot’s more, read the whole thing.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Krugman still thinks that Reich is a mediocrity, lacking even a basic understanding of EC101. Once you get to be as brilliant as Krugman, there’s no going back. The fact that Krugman is now willing to praise Reich illustrates that he’s shifted from being an academic to being a partisan in policy street fight. All that matters now is winning, and to do so he’ll ally himself with anyone on the same side of the policy debate, no matter how uninformed their ideas.
PS. E. Harding really needs to take down that “Trump, Make America Great Again!” sign. You don’t want to turn off potential readers, by making them think you are a right-wing nut. In any case, I’ve never seen any definitive proof that Trump was born in America. Have you?
HT: Bob Murphy