Saturday, October 30, 2010


It’s a little too easy to say that we are what we eat, but it is certainly true to say that we all need to watch what we eat.

The same applies to the mind. It is too easy to say that we are what we read, but we should not read just anything.

Ask yourself this: are you as judicious in choosing what to read as you are in choosing what to eat?

We try to avoid junk food, and we should also avoid junk books.

What you eat, coupled with how you exercise and what hygiene you practice, contributes mightily to your body’s health. As steward of that body, you should to treat it with respect.

We think we know what junk food is. Are we as confident that we know what junk books are? Surely, it is better to read than not to read. Besides, one person’s junk is another person’s page turner. In his day Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction.

And then, what about junk thought? I am not speaking about the intellectual productions of people who do not have Ph.D.'s. I am really thinking of thoughts that do not nourish your mind, largely because the people who propose them do not respect your mind.

Some people offer up ideas and invite you to partake of them. Some try to educate you, to help you to learn new facts or new ways to analyze facts. Others present their point of view and try to persuade you of its value.

Such people are not selling junk thought.

Those who do try to impose their view on you. They do not try to persuade; they browbeat you. They threaten and terrorize you, and attack you if you do not think as they want you to.

Many purveyors of junk thought are supremely intelligent. They will induce you to absorb their wares, to believe what they want you to believe, because they convince you that their junk thought is the only thing that stands between you and mental starvation.

If you’re starving, anything tastes good. But if you are starving and you do not absorb food in moderation, you will do your body some serious damage.

Among today’s leading purveyors of junk thought we find the overly credentialed Paul Krugman: Princeton professor, Nobel laureate, and New York Times columnist.

Given his pretense that his junk thought is really the product of scientific deliberation and rational thought, I usually ignore columns by Paul Krugman.

His columns stand out for being rude and disrespectful, even shrill, a strange mix of frenetic and splenetic. They consistently reveal a boundless arrogance that never admits to error. Krugman takes it for granted that anyone who disagrees with him is flat out wrong, if not dangerous.

In and of itself, the tone of Krugman’s columns tells you that they do not present rational thought. The cold light of reason dims when placed next to his overheated rhetoric. His arrogance is such that he lacks the humility that a true scientist would bring to his labors.

Reading Krugman is like listening to a fingernail scratching a blackboard. I find no redeeming mental virtue in the experience.

My own predilections notwithstanding, Krugman is highly influential. In matters economical he seems to be one of Pres. Obama’s philosopher-kings, someone who gives us a glimpse into the kind of thinking that defines the Obama presidency.

Krugman supports Obama, yet he, like Jon Stewart, does not believe that the president has gone far enough.

If you’ve tried something and it’s failed, the Krugmanian approach is to try it once more, to double down on failure.

This morning I was reading through some columns on the Times website when I noted that Krugman’s column: “Divided We Fail” had been emailed more than any other. Link here.

Krugman is worried about divisiveness. That is as rich an irony as I could imagine. No columnist today is more divisive, more contentious, than he.

Facing an electorate that seems primed to repudiate the Obama presidency and just about everything Krugman believes in, Krugman is preparing for the aftermath.

As he tells you to be very afraid, of Republicans, he is whetting his appetite over the prospect of having an opponent, someone to beat up on, someone to attack and blame for everything that goes wrong in the country.

Like a good dialectician, someone who sees the world as a mythic conflict between two irreconcilable extremes, Krugman is trying to construct a narrative where the forces of good will be clashing with the forces of evil.

Given that he is telling a story, Krugman does not need to get his facts right.

First, he pretends that Obama will want to work hand-in-hand with Republicans, the better to solve the nation’s problems, while Republicans will refuse to work with Obama.

On what does he base his contention? Krugman states the following: “In a recent interview with National Journal, he [Obama] sounded a conciliatory note, saying that Democrats need to have an 'appropriate sense of humility,' and that he would 'spend more time building consensus'."

The nation is about to render a verdict on Obama’s governance, repudiating it for failing to be conciliatory, for failing to respect the will of the American people, for governing from the left and not the center, for never reaching across the aisle to bring Republicans into the process... and Krugman ignores the evidence in favor of a sound bite.

How divisive has Obama been? Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen offer the evidence in this op-ed piece. Link here.

Keep in mind, this most demagogic of presidents went on Univision last week to explain to Hispanic voters that Republicans were “the enemy” and that they needed to be punished.

And this conciliatory president held his first one-on-one meeting with the Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, on August 5, 2010.

All the evidence suggests that Obama knows as much about humility as Paul Krugman does.

For those who want to drink up what Krugman is offering, to think that Republicans are the new irreconcilables, Krugman quotes Mitch McConnell to the effect that he wants to ensure that Barack Obama is a one-term president.

But, isn’t that part of the job description of an opposition leader? Wasn’t McConnell just saying that that even with a Republican Congress very little would get done as long as Barack Obama was president?

Were Paul Krugman and the Democratic Congressional leadership were spending the Bush years trying to help George Bush to be a successful president?

From the pen of Krugman all of that is predictable, and therefore, boring. What is more interesting is that Krugman is laying down a predicate,the better to profit from what he sees as a coming financial collapse or crisis.

If anything goes wrong after November 3 Krugman will be part of the intellectual vanguard blaming it all on the Republicans. If anything goes right Krugman will shower the Obama administration with all of the credit.

Neither Krugman nor Obama will feel humbled in defeat. They will not seek to conciliate, but will want to continue to divide the nation.

Krugman may well be right to say that we are facing some very bad economic times. After all, as Amity Shlaes has shown, the Obama administration has been enacting policies that risk turning the recession into a depression. Link here.

As of now we know that: the stimulus has failed; the economy is not in a normal recovery; the Federal Reserve feels that it must mitigate the effects of Krugmanian spending by printing money; the dollar has been descending precipitously; unemployment is probably not going to improve; millions of the unemployed are going to fall off of the unemployment insurance rolls; the housing market has not really stabilized.

We could go on. If Krugman sees what many other economists, both Republican and Democrat, see, then we are facing hard times indeed.

But Krugman does not want Republicans and Democrats to get together to solve the nation’s problems. Nor does Barack Obama. Both are joined in their effort to create a narrative that demonizes the opposition. They want people to be afraid, to be very afraid, of Republicans. That way, they will be able to use the crisis to their political advantage.


Anonymous said...

About five years ago, a Los Angeles area paper carried a Krugman column to the effect that California taxpayers were undertaxed.

Citing figures from the California Budget Project, a liberal think tank, Krugman claimed that while California government spending had increased at double-digit annual rates since about 1990, adjusted for inflation, California state spending was flat.

In Krugman's view, California's periodic budget crises were caused by the public's unwillingness to tax itself appropriately.

This looked fishy, so I read the report Krugman cited. The report's preamble clearly stated that all California spending figures were adjusted for inflation. The report made it clear that California was spending money faster than taxpayers could earn it.

Krugman completely misstated their findings and used them to support a false premise. He probably believed that few would read the CBP report, and those who might expose his errors would have no media platform.

I politely wrote Krugman, sent him a link to that report and pointed out his error. He wrote back to say that if he had to answer e-mails like mine, he would have no time to do anything else.

As far as I know, Krugman never corrected his error. Neither did the Los Angeles paper that carried his column.

My take-away from reading his works and my exchange with him is Paul Krugman is a man who won't let facts get in the way of his opinions. He's not a man to be trusted.

Mike in Los Angeles

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Mike, for showing us another example of Krugman's lack of integrity.

Because, after all is said and done, the lack of integrity is a far larger problem than the fact that you or I disagree with him.

Someone who makes up his own facts and who will not correct them when his error is pointed out to him is someone who has no real use for dialogue or for free expression.

Dennis said...

I stopped paying any attention to Krugman as soon as he was at war with his own previous economic writings.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Would that there were more people who did the same.