I am working on a few longer analyses for the blog. In the meantime, I thought I would briefly mention something that struck me as remarkably similar to the fights over tobacco harm reduction. Paul Krugman (in his columns, his blog which is linked from this page, and presumably in his television appearances etc.) has been arguing for months with those he calls “Serious People” who are convinced that we need government austerity right now, rather than further stimulus. You can read him for the details. What I wanted to note is how he seems to be arguing against people who call up ephemeral hypothetical fears that are flatly contradicted by the evidence, while he returns to the evidence over and over, and those reporting on it treat it as a balanced argument or even favor his opponents because they are in positions of greater power.
From a recent Krugman blog entry:
Quoting from a someone criticizing him, Krugman writes: Moreover, the Demand Siders [i.e., those who like Krugman call for more stimulus to increase demand] write as if everybody who disagrees with them is immoral or a moron. But, in fact, many prize-festooned economists do not support another stimulus. Most European leaders and central bankers think it’s time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it — as do many economists at the international economic institutions. Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?
Krugman replies: Yes, I am. It’s called looking at the evidence. I’ve looked hard at the arguments the Pain Caucus [reference to their demands for painful austerity] is making, the evidence that supposedly supports their case — and there’s no there there.
Sounds really familiar. My knowledge of macroeconomics, never particularly strong, is rusty, but I would like to think I can tell the difference between a solid argument and a complete lack of argument. Krugman repeatedly addresses the flaws in his opponents’ reasoning. They seem to do nothing more than appeal to fears he has already debunked and to authority.
Really really familiar.
He concludes that entry:
And you just have to wonder how it’s possible to have lived through the last ten years and still imagine that because a lot of Serious People believe something, you should believe it too. Iraq? Housing bubble? Inflation? …. The moral I’ve taken from recent years isn’t Be Humble — it’s Question Authority. And you should too.