Erik Larson

Jan 12, 2009

He's Krugmaaan, The One Trick Ponyyy!

Paul Krugman , Nobel Prize winner, Princeton economics professor, and New York Times luminary has a theme for writing columns lately in the NYT, and I would hope that most people with a reasonable IQ can ascertain it by now: make Obama’s fiscal stimulus package larger . Yes, that’s it. And today he re-iterated his reiterations by adding this “meat” on the thematic bone: drop the tax cuts, increase benefits for the unemployed, and ramp up the Keynesian “infastructure” projects. More , more , more . Otherwise, he warns, we might not get the benefit from the fiscal stimulus (just like FDR, he assures us, who didn’t go far enough with the New Deal).

To my lights, Paul Krugman has the flavor of a guy who wants to see his academic work tested in the field of battle. He’s an ideologue. And what Krugman wants, ideologically, is to see a really, really big Keynsian project make all the difference . He wants to be exonerated for being (more and more it seems) entrenched in his academic position, a position which it’s fair to say is decidedly unlike the recent pragmatism shown by President-elect Obama. Krugman wants to see pure theory played out in practice. And the Credit Crisis is his BIG CHANCE. Well, he might after all be right. But I have to confess that I’ve been systematically unconvinced by his slew of same-sounding columns in the Times. It might behoove Mr. Krugman, even with that Nobel Prize, to dig a little deeper to help us understand why, exactly, spending trillions right now is exactly what we need to do. Convince us. I mean, don’t assert it, give us reasons. Why, for instance, should we jettison Mr. Obama’s proposal to cut taxes on small businesses and instead pump massive amounts of tax payer money into selected government projects? Why, for instance, should we crank out tax payer dollars for causes like “enhanced unemployment benefits” with the aim of getting the economy moving again? How does this happen?

To be sure, Mr. Krugman’s assertions thus far all sound grand, from a “social justice” point of view. No argument here. But — talking about stimulating the actual economy — I’m a little less clear how the types of spending packages promulgated by Krugman translate into getting the Business Engine started again in America. Confusing, perhaps, since stimulating the economy is precisely what he claims to be discussing. Maybe Mr. Krugman’s next column will reveal all. (On second thought, don’t count on it. But do count on another column making exactly the same point.)

At any rate I won’t stop reading Mr. Krugman, no way. It’s a great deal: editorial after editorial with the same message, and hardly a detailed argument in any of them (suggests a little argumentum ad verecundiam perhaps ), along with a full-stop endorsement of any and all government spending projects. Well, he makes me a True Believer, in a sceptical non-believing sort of way. The Nobel Prize must be worth something.