Daniel Okrent, outgoing Public Editor at the Times, threw down the gauntlet to Paul Krugman in his farewell column:
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.
Had I been advising Mr. Okrent, I might have argued against an overly specific indictment, and and urged him to make the broader claim that Prof. Krugman relies on his economic reputation to present as settled economic questions that are actually in serious dispute. Some examples of Krugmania from out of the archives:
(1) "Mathematically impossible" doesn't mean what you think it means.
Very briefly, Dean Baker made a plausible point about the economic forecasts presented by the Social Security trustees - although the trustees included profitability of the corporate sector in their long term GDP forecasts, they did not explicitly forecast capital usage; consequently, it was entirely possible that the returns on capital implicitly embedded in those forecasts were much lower than the 6.5% long term equity returns that privatizers argued could be earned by stockholders.
Krugman then made a more expansive argument in his column - not only did these forecasts not embed a 6.5% return on capital assumption, it would be "mathematically impossible" to do so, since population growth over the next seventy-five years will be less than over the previous seventy-five.
Oh, dear - eventually, Brad DeLong, Dean Baker, and Paul Krugman presented a paper explaining that "mathematically impossible" meant, paraphrasing, not very likely. This is a bit of a comedown for economists who like to argue that their use of the high-priced math lends their field a rigor that other social sciences lack.
And why these three consider a slight increase in corporate after-tax profitability (due, perhaps, to several years of stagnant real wages and reduced corporate taxation) to be hopelessly unlikely is not addressed in their paper, although Paul Krugman fretted about those very things here. (Some of the arithmetic is illustrated here; more here.)
(2) What Were Once Bubbles Are Now Baselines
Krugman has fretted on many occasions about the loss of jobs under Bush. Eventually, even Brad Delong felt obliged to admit that maybe, just maybe, setting the employment baseline at the high-water mark of the tech bubble may not be appropriate.
Jon Henke returned to this theme recently when Paul Krugman discovered signs of "stagflation".
(3) Don't Cry For Me, Argentina
Paul Krugman likes to use the phrase "banana republic" and compare the US fiscal situation to Argentina. He does not like to remind people that, unlike Argentina or a typical banana republic, almost all of the US debt is denominated in our own currency. We will wave in Brad Delong again to explain the difference.
(4) Where Are The Immigrants?
On the subject of income inequality, Krugman had a NY Times magazine piece just prior to the Okrent era. Nowhere in the article does he mention immigration as a possible factor driving our income inequality statistics. He does cite as one of his sources Prof. Rosenthal, who said this in his own paper on income inequality:
Let me return to the results on the distribution of income between citizens and non-citizens. These results further suggest that the problem of inequality may be less than it is often made out to be. Those with low incomes are disproportionately unnaturalized immigrants. They are almost certainly substantially better off than in their country of origins. The slight bump up, from 1973 to 1996, in the fraction under $20,000 that I reported above, may be in part a response to immigration.
Surely immigration merited a mention by Krugman.
(5) Tin Soldiers And Nixon Coming
Krugman asserted on several occasions that we are a more polarized society now than in 1970, prompting guffaws from Dan Drezner. However, writing on income inequality back in the fall of 2002, he also cited a draft of a study by McCarty, Rosenthal and Poole showing that rising political polarization could be tied to rising income inequality.
Ooops - folks hooted at the time (well, I did), and the authors did go back to their statistics. In their draft version, they had alluded to the possibility that the Southern realignment was driving this result - a bunch of conservative Southern Democrats switched parties, and resulting voting patterns look more partisan. In their final version, they acknowledged this to be the case.
To be fair, Krugman may have been a victim of the old switcheroo, but the paper to which he linked as supporting his statement was replaced by a final draft which pulled the rug out from under him.
Now, I am not going to say that Krugman was lying for basing a statement on the draft version of unpublished research. However, I can say that the Poole result defied common sense (mine, anyway), and the authors themselves had hinted at a major problem, so I will cite this as an example of Judgment Flawed.
(5) What Is Real?
This is trivial, but it is also exactly the sort of thing to which Okrent may be referring:
To put it more bluntly: it would be quite a trick to run the biggest budget deficit in the history of the planet, and still end a presidential term with fewer jobs than when you started.
The jobs baseline question was mentioned earlier. The point I also noted - as a percent of GDP, which is the conventional yardstick, we did not recently have the largest budget deficit in the history of the planet, or even of the US. Heaven forbid if Bush had said that our economy had expanded by the largest amount ever, which is true in absolute terms, although false as a percent of GDP.
OK, put your favorite hits below.
[A LATE ADDITION: Jim Glass has his own hit list - I defy anyone anywhere to come up with something funnier than his Number 2. And while you try to top it, I'm going to steal it!
Feb 13, 2000 - A long tirade by Krugman wacking McCain for opposing a sales tax on goods sold over the internet.
Feb 20, 2000 - Nevermind. Here is the crushing correction:
In my Feb. 13 column I described the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 as a legal impediment to sales taxation. In fact it only prohibits taxes on Internet service providers.
Reading the Feb 13 column with the Feb 20 correction in mind gives "misdirected" a higher meaning. More background is here.
UPDATE: Let's get Andrew Samwick (a right-ish former
Clinton Bush II Admin economist currently at Dartmouth) into the mix. These two posts, and the responses there-to, nicely illustrate the all-too frequent nature of these Krugman discussions - you're wrong, Krugman's right, you're wrong, Krugman's right, OK, you may be right but it is a minor, nit-picking point.
And (again in the comments) the Angry Bear (a left-ish economist) makes the case for Venn diagrams and greater political diversity on America's campuses:
While I don't wish to associate with the likes of Donald Luskin, your post is likely to be cited by this crowd. It ain't my choice of folks to run with - and I'd caution anyone else to stay far, far away from their insanity.
Let's simplify that - right wing cranks criticize Kruman; you are criticizing Krugman; therefore, you may be mistaken for a right wing crank.
Well, that puts the "silly" in syllogism. But one wonders - how many lefties routinely circle the wagons if their criticism of a lefty icon might become fodder for Rush Limbaugh and that ilk? Or is it only in blogs that they self-censor? Or might it include, for example, newspaper interviews? Where is the point at which the pursuit of truth occurs without fear or favor?
Jon Henke has a few catches.
And why all the rancor? Arnold Kling addressed this a while back - people seem to respond poorly to Krugman's insinuations that people who disagree with him are corrupt, dishonest, or stupid. So did Robert Kuttner, years ago. Go figure.
Finally, Krugman explains that "retirement income" routinely means all income available to retirees. Fine. But try and square that with his classic explanation that "Medicare" routinely means "Medicare, Part A".
UNRELENTING (AND UNFORGIVEN): Jim Glass has a list, and his Number 2 makes Krugman look as if he stepped in... - well, read Krugman's Feb 13 2000 column in light of his Feb 20 2000 admission that his entire premise was flawed. Then say it with me (and him, and all the acolytes) - NEVERMIND!