Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Small, Narrow Mind of Paul Krugman

It takes a special warp of mind to feel satisfied with a world where everyone thinks the same thing. Paul Krugman has that kind of mind.

While other academics are at least somewhat embarrassed by Jonathan Haidt’s observation that nearly all academic social psychologists are liberal, Paul Krugman is not.

On the rare occasions where I read Krugman’s column, I come away with the impression that the only world Krugman would want to belong to is one where everyone thinks like he does.

If that does not stop you from reading Krugman, nothing will.

As everyone knows, the famed professor and Nobel prize winning economist has long since bid adieu to economics. Nowadays, from atop his perch on the New York Times op-ed page, Krugman functions as the resident polemicist.

For the record, a polemicist attempts to persuade people by couching all of his opinions in a hostile and warlike tone. In fact, the Greek word, "polemikos," mean hostile and warlike.

Krugman spits out tendentious arguments with snarling contempt. Often he gets so carried away with his rage and his self-importance that he even makes up the facts. 

Where other more sane and sensible columnist pretend to respect the other side of an argument, Krugman thinks that there is only one side: his side. He never tries to hide his disrespect for those who dare to think differently.

If you want to know why some academic disciplines are infected with terminal groupthink, read a dogmatic polemicist like Paul Krugman. 

Recently, Prof. Jonathan Haidt took an unscientific poll at a convention of academic social psychologists. Out of a thousand or so attendees, there were exactly three who dared to call themselves conservative. 

I posted on it last week. Link here. For me the question was whether the assembled social psychologists were bigoted or brainwashed. 

Examining the date, Haidt observed that a profession that claims to champion free open intellectual inquiry should be willing to listen to different opinions. You cannot very well advance your thinking if everything you hear echoes your own views. If no one ever challenges your most cherished beliefs, your mind will stagnate. 

If worse comes to worse, you might become Paul Krugman.

Anyway, Krugman read the Times report of Haidt’s survey and took severe offense. He replied on his Times blog, with arguments that were especially sloppy. Link here. I suspect that Krugman is riding his impeccable credentials and has become too lazy to think things through. 

Haidt then responded to Krugman on the Times site and also on his own blog. Link here.

Anyway, Krugman’s first volley was promising. He noted that racial bigotry is not the same as ideological prejudice. In fact, there is nothing you can do about your race. In principle, you can choose your ideology. 

To which Haidt responded by conceding the point, only to add that political affiliation, for example, seems consistently to be the product of cultural or familial influence. How much would you want to wager that Paul Krugman did not grow up in a family of rock-ribbed Republicans?

Of course, if everyone in a profession has chosen the same ideology, then you wonder how we can consider them to be exercising free choice. You cannot be a free thinker if your thoughts are exactly the same as everyone else’s.

Just as your choice of a political philosophy is not entirely free, neither is your choice of a religious affiliation. Clearly, racial prejudice is not the same as religious persecution, but few of those who have been persecuted for their religious beliefs would be consoled by Krugman's glib assertion that they can choose to believe something else. 

Believing in a religion is not merely an ideological commitment. It makes you a member of a community. If you cease to believe or if you renounce your religion, you will be losing your social world.  

Even in communities where they do not execute apostates, renouncing your religion is not all that easy. In the academy, announcing heretical political views will almost certainly effect your tenure, and therefore, your membership in the community.

And, as I mentioned last week, considering that you cannot tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative, a believer or an unbeliever, by looking at him, religious groups have undertaken witch hunts and other forms of persecution to discover whether you are really a believer or are just pretending. 

But, Krugman does not read very carefully. He seems purposefully to misread Haidt, and then he sets out to attack the straw man that he himself has created. 

Krugman declares that Haidt was talking about “equal representation” and “imbalance” in the political preferences of social psychologists.

In fact, as Haidt points out in his rebuttal, and as I emphasized in my post on the topic, the problem was not imbalance, it was the fact that something like 98% of the assembled academics had the same political opinions. 

That is not a sign of inequality or imbalance. It shows, as I put it, that you cannot belong to the group unless you have the right thoughts.

Next, Krugman wants to inform us that other professions suffer a similar ideological imbalance. He asserts that military officers are more likely be Republicans.

But if you follow the link that Krugman offers to sustain his argument, you find something very strange. First, the survey he cites is about active duty military, not officers. Second, it states that while 60% of active duty troops were Republicans in 2004, 41% consider themselves Republican now.

Compare these percentages witho the 99% of social psychologists who are liberal democrats and the comparison becomes absurd. Keep in mind, this is the evidence Krugman offers to show that the political preferences of active duty military is as skewed to the right as the political preferences of academics are skewed to the left.

In truth, the political affiliations of active duty military are far closer to those of the average American than are the affiliations of academics.  

As I said, Krugman is coasting on his credentials.

Before examining the ideological leanings of college faculties, let us note that 40% of our nation self-identifies as conservative, while 20% self-identifies as liberal. 

So, if you ask yourself which group’s political affiliation is more closely attuned to that of the average American, the answer is clear and unambiguous.

Unwilling to quit while he is behind, Krugman then adds that biologists, chemists, and physicists are predominantly liberal because Republicans do not believe in climate change or evolution.

Note in passing that Krugman did not say that active duty military might be more Republican because liberals and progressives tend to be anti-war, if not openly anti-military.

Heaven knows why Krugman thinks that Republicans reject Darwin. Some do; some don‘t.

And yet, if evolution emphasizes the connection between sexual behavior and enhancing procreative success, and if it emphasizes the biological basis for many of the differences between male and female behavior, then most leftists, and surely most feminists, would reject evolution out of hand. 

If you don’t believe me, ask Larry Summers. Recall that Summers got drummed out of the Harvard presidency for daring to suggest that sexual difference had a biological component.

Before attacking Republicans as anti-science, liberals should look at what they themselves really believe.

It is also fair to say that the science of climate change has recently been strongly disputed from within the scientific community. 

Since those who held the consensus opinion about global warming have done their best to shut down the research of anyone who disagreed with them, one might conclude that political correctness and the push toward ideological conformity has even taken over the sciences.

To prove his point about biologists, chemists, and physicists, Krugman helpfully linked to a chart that showed that over 80% of scholars in literature, the arts, philosophy, theology, and psychology are liberal. Link here.

In a country where 20% of the nation is liberal, that is a rather gross disparity.

Of the sciences, biology comes in at 74%, while chemistry and physics are in the 60% range. 

Again, this demonstrates the existence of a marked liberal bias in the academy. Academics simply do not think like the rest of America.

The same chart shows us that some academic disciplines do have a fair balance of liberal and conservative opinions. They are: business, engineering, nursing, and Krugman’s discipline… economics.

Why then are some academic disciplines more infected with groupthink than others? 

I would observe that disciplines offering more career opportunities outside of the academy seem to have considerably have less groupthink. 

If you have an advanced degree in literature or philosophy, there is little you can do with it except to teach. 

If you have a doctorate in economics, you might decide to teach, but you will also have opportunities to work at banks, brokerage houses, hedge funds, the IMF, the World Bank, and the Federal Reserve.

Even if you remain within the academy, you will have ample opportunity to consult with banks, brokerages, and hedge funds. There, your opinions will not just be judged by your narrow minded, ideologically committed colleagues. They will be judged on pragmatic grounds, by how well they work in reality.

In fact, when it comes to engineering and business, it more prestigious to do than to teach. 

People whose work brings them into closer touch with reality have less of a tendency to indulge in the kind of groupthink that characterizes the soft academic disciplines. Are we really surprised?

The only surprise is that the supposedly great mind of Paul Krugman cannot see it.


Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Heh

In unanimity there is cowardice and uncritical thinking.

'nuff said.


[The blind leading the blind, and both will fall into a pit.]

Anonymous said...

P.S. I'm reminded of the 'herd mentality' I mentioned in a thread down the hall from here.

And I have to wonder if there is some correlation....

Dennis said...

It has gotten to the point that if I see a Krugman byline I ignore it. That has begun to happen with almost everything that emanates from the NY Times. I used to enjoy Doud, but she has become an old spinster who hates everyone else who isn't one. God help women who actually like men when Doud is on the case. Krugman has become to Economics what Doud has become to a healthy marriage, an anathema.
I am not sure that it is not cruelty to animals to use the NY Times as bird cage liner.

Anonymous said...

oh no.

i'm so sorry.

the science is settled.