Monday, May 17, 2010

Krugman Confesses He Didn't Get It

There's a refreshing moment of candor down at the bottom of Paul Krugman's Sunday New York Times entry, when he confesses he didn't see the Tea Party coming:
Right-wing extremism may be the same as it ever was, but it clearly has more adherents now than it did a couple of years ago. Why? It may have a lot to do with a troubled economy.

True, that’s not how it was supposed to work. When the economy plunged into crisis, many observers — myself included — expected a political shift to the left. After all, the crisis made nonsense of the right’s markets-know-best, regulation-is-always-bad dogma. In retrospect, however, this was na├»ve: voters tend to react with their guts, not in response to analytical arguments — and in bad times, the gut reaction of many voters is to move right.

Hoo boy. Not the way it's supposed to work? Paul, have you forgotten the Mussolini Fascists, the Nazis, the Peronistas and all the other instances where economic dislocation has curdled into political poison?

I guess the short answer is that yes, he has forgotten. Which is forgivable--hey, everybody makes mistakes. But I think there may be larger lesson here: it's a bracing reminder that even someone so supple and clever as the Krugster is so bathed in the professional Kool-Aid that he fails (or at least failed) to recognize any scenario beyond the narrow range of Benthamite maximization.

In his column, Krugman goes on to say that there's a recent paper by a couple of economists that confirms his revised vision. Fine, but there is also a library full of literature that his been making the same point for a long time. He might want to start with some of the classics of state-formation, perhaps the work of the late Charles Tilly, summarized and collected in Coercion, Capital and European States (1990). He could certainly learn from studies of modern politics like Robert Paxton''s Anatomy of Fascism (2005). There are some brilliant insights (along with a fair amount of BS) in Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War (2006)--he might want to start with Chapter 5, "The Myth of Self-Interest" ans the Science of Cooperation)"--whose title more or less explains himself. Even closer to home, he could have pulled down his copy of Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth and read (at page 9):

I believe that the rising intolerance and incivility and the erodihng gnerosity and openness that have marked important aspects of American society in the recent past have been, in significant part, a consequence of the stagnation of American middle-class living standards during much of the last quarter of the twentieth century. ... If our growth falters, however, or if we merely continue with slower growth that benefits only a minority of our citizens, the deterioration of American society will, I fear, worse once more.
Kudos for your candor, Paul, and congratulations on your new and broader vision. Hang on to what you've taken hold of, and try to make it richer, more nuanced, more meaningful. You'll do yourself a favor and you'll help economics to catch up with the rest of the world.

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