December 26th, 2017

Why would anyone trust Paul Krugman as a prognosticator?

Long, long ago Paul Krugman was an economist of some objectivty. Then he added a gig as opinion columnist for the NY Times (around 2000), and since then he’s written about a great deal more than economics, with a remarkable degree of rancor and partisanship.

I previously described my opinion of Krugman—and how I came to form it—in this post. It was written in 2012, but it describes a process that took place about eight years earlier, before I even became a blogger (some of the links are now dead, but they were working at the time I wrote it):

I also know that Paul Krugman is a disingenuous, self-serving egomaniac. How do I know that? Not from reading his economics posts, but from a lengthy bit of research I did in 2003, a year or so before I became a blogger, on the subject of Krugman’s explanation of and apologia for the anti-Semitism of Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia (I recall that he wrote a subsequent column on the brouhaha as well, and for some reason I can’t locate it right now)…

…I started out having no particular opinion about Krugman except that I knew he’d won a Nobel for economics, and had written some popular books on the subject that I’d heard were pretty fair and fairly good. But when I delved into the story behind Mahathir’s remarks, the more I learned the more I was stunned to discover that Krugman had misrepresented nearly everything about them except the actual quote. For example, Krugman said that Mahathir was using the remarks to shore up his domestic flank, but it turns out that Mathahir was actually retiring from politics. Krugman also failed to mention Mahathir’s lengthy history of anti-Semitism, and Krugman’s deeply entwined relationship with Mathahir and Malaysia.

There was more—much more. But the point was that, on a subject that was much more accessible to me than economics, many hours of research convinced me that Paul Krugman was a man who played fast and loose with the truth, and who would double down on his misrepresentations when accused and challenged.

If you look at Krugman’s Wiki page and go back in time to the Bush II era (which seems like ancient history to me at the moment), you’ll find that he was so hyper-partisan anti-Bush that even some liberals criticized him (much more information on that is available here on Krugman’s transformation from fairly even-handed to hyper-partisan during the Bush administration). I don’t read Krugman often any more, but from what I have read of him, his Trump aversion makes his Bush-hatred seem mild.

But that’s all just the background to what I want to say here (get to the point, neo!), which is that Krugman issued a gloomy 2017-summing-up column on Christmas Day that had the title “America Is Not Yet Lost.” It’s one of those pieces that looks back on the year that was and forward to the year that will be, and evaluates the past and projects into the future.

From the title, I thought for a moment (really, only a moment) that perhaps Krugman was going to give Trump credit for some little thing. But no, of course not; Krugman’s hope is that the Democratic victories in the special elections portend far more Democratic victories to come, and that’s not a surprising point of view for him considering his very “progressive” politics. He also thinks that America’s hope lies in the pussy hat brigade’s resistance, which seems quite a bit more fanciful to me.

Speaking of prognostications—in 2009, Krugman wrote an article for the Times magazine called “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?”, about the failure of economists to predict the 2008 financial crisis. The title of his article is somewhat ironic, looked at with the perspective of time, because Krugman himself has not been stellar in the prediction game. Among other things, he wrote: “In the years ahead Enron, not September 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.” By someone perhaps—maybe even by Paul Krugman—but most people today probably don’t even remember what the Enron scandal was.

If you want to look at more of Krugman’s prognostications-gone-bad, see this. In making predictions that don’t come true, Krugman is hardly unique; the prediction game is rife with errors. But his arrogance is worse than that of most people, coupled with his reluctance to admit the errors he has committed, even some fairly blatant ones that cry out for acknowledgement.

In other words, it’s really amazing to read his Chirstmas Day piece and recall his biggest prediction for last year post-Trump-election, one that most definitely did not come true of the stock market:

That was his prediction last year. One might have thought his slightly-hopeful year-end summing-up column this year might reference the fact that such terrible economic consequences didn’t happen (and that in fact the opposite happened) as a cause for hope. But no; crickets from Krugman about the whole thing.

This does not surprise me and should surprise no one. As I said earlier, one of the first things I learned about Krugman was how disingenuous and self-serving he was. But my question is why Krugman’s bad predictions haven’t seemed to hurt him with either the NY Times or his wide audience. You have only to read the comments to his “America Is Not Yet Lost” column to learn that most of his readers agree with him and are not troubled at all by his omissions (at least, that was true as far as I read; there are over a thousand, so I certainly didn’t read them all).

Krugman is (or used to be, anyway), an economist. Now I know that he had other economic specialties than predicting the stock market’s reaction to an election. But one would think that as a Nobel Prize-winning economist and political pundit he should have at least a trifle more ability in predicting such a thing than some random blogger or the man in the street. And one would think that this failure would invalidate his writings in the minds of a significant number of his readers. But I don’t see it happening.

Krugman is by no means unique in this disconnect. It’s actually a common thing. It’s as though pundits (and not just of the liberal variety, either) exist in another world, a fantasy one in which a clever and/or emotionally satisfying turn of phrase is the goal. If it resonates with the reader at the time—mirrors what the reader is feeling or thinking—that’s good enough. Perhaps that’s the real function of Krugman in his pundit incarnation: to reflect what his readers think and whip them up into greater heights of outrage, rather than to be correct.

In 2009 Krugman indicated that he was “trying to make this progressive moment in American history a success.” Perhaps that’s why he sees the pussy hat demonstrators as a cause for hope, and his goal is to energize them to further protests. I can’t imagine why that would matter in terms of policy. But it might matter in terms of rallying the progressive troops so that the “moment” represented by the Obama administration goes forward (he was critical of Obama for not being “progressive” enough, by the way), and making sure that the detour represented by Trump will be exceedingly brief.

30 Responses to “Why would anyone trust Paul Krugman as a prognosticator?”

  1. j e Says:

    To take any utterance from the truly egregious Krugman seriously is, ipso facto, to prove oneself incapable of rational thought or judgement; unfortunately, this includes most readers not only of the New York Times, but also of Pravda on the Potomac, once upon a time a fine newspaper.

  2. Gringo Says:

    You have only to read the comments to his “America Is Not Lost” column to learn that most of his readers agree with him and are not troubled at all by his omissions…
    I didn’t see the comments. Do you have to log in as a NYT subscriber to see them?

    Krugman is a pompous ass. For those who believe one should never pay any attention to him, this video is worth 30 seconds of your time. Krugman gets p3wned on Canadian Health Care.

  3. Griffin Says:

    Ivy league. Nobel prize.

    There is nothing the left loves more than elite universities and fancy international awards therefore nothing will diminish their love for guys like Krugman.

  4. F Says:

    What Griffin said. Right on.

  5. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “I also know that Paul Krugman is a disingenuous, self-serving egomaniac.”

    Of such are demagogues made. Though the title is passe, it nevertheless fits; Krugman lusts for the position of “High Priest”.

    We have seen his ilk before, he is of ‘the tribe of Heinrich Himmler and Lavrenty Beria’ and had he the power, would send to the torture chambers and killing fields all who oppose him and the dogma he champions.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo:

    I am not a NY Times subscriber.

    I was looking at it in Chrome and the comments were in a column to the right.

  7. Ann Says:

    Megan McArdle had a great put-down of him back in 2007, saying his NY Times columns consisted of “rhetoric I could read from any 23-year old lit major interning at a left-wing political magazine”.

  8. Stu Says:

    He is actually the perfect fit for the typical Times reader, as he feeds them red meat, confirming their most sacred beliefs. Times corporate loves him as he holds on to as much of their dwindling subscriber base as can be had. Actual facts are beside the point.

  9. Stump Says:

    A couple years back, I went on a YouTube watching binge consisting of every Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell clip I could find. After a while, I felt the need the balance these right-wing economists with a left-wing economist, so I spent about an hour watching clips of Paul Krugman.

    I was not impressed. Although he had plenty of intelligence, it was immediately apparent that he was insecure, arrogant, and extremely nasty toward anybody who disagreed with him.

    I’ve read a few of his columns since, but my feelings toward him are very similar to neoneocon’s.

  10. vanderleun Says:

    When I think of that little catcuddler Krugman I’m always reminded of this final scene in Good Morning Vietnam.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rew_Ts1d7zY

  11. TommyJay Says:

    I confess that I’ve not read more than one or two Krugman articles, though I’ve read plenty of the counter-Krugman pieces. I recall that Harvard econ prof Robert Barro once wrote a letter to the Ed. at the WSJ, a decade or two ago, that said the following:

    1) Krugman always seems to comment on marco economic issues in the NYTimes, yet his specialty is the micro economic issues of making trades. 2) Many of the economic statements he makes in the NYTimes are in direct contradiction to the statements that he has made in textbooks or peer-reviewed journal articles that he has published. There was a third point but I’ve forgotten it.

  12. Gringo Says:

    Neo
    I am not a NY Times subscriber.I was looking at it in Chrome and the comments were in a column to the right.

    I use Firefox. When I turned AdBlock off, I saw the comments.

  13. Cornflour Says:

    Paul Krugman is the Noam Chomsky of economics. In recent years, many people have come to think that Chomsky is wrong about even linguistics. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen to Krugman’s economics.

  14. chuck Says:

    There are a fair number of very intelligent people, as measured by IQ and talent, who are almost never right about anything that is going on in the world. It is a sort of personality defect that keeps their thinking wandering in the woods, bumping into trees and tripping over roots, while dumber folks manage to find their way. It is a common affliction among academics and others of an abstract persuasion.

  15. Steve57 Says:

    I’ve never could see a single reason to subscribe to the NYT. I imagine that you could walk into a freshman dorm lounge at Oberlin college any night of the week and get similar content to what you can find in the writings of Krugman, Friedman, and for that matter Ta Nehisi Coates.

  16. Gary D. G. Says:

    I’m not a NY Times reader; I stopped reading comic books when I entered junior high school: too much political propaganda.

  17. steve walsh Says:

    Prognosticators are often wrong but Krugman does seem to excel in this area. That he was awarded a Nobel Prize is irrelevant (argument from authority fallacy) to his ability to accurately predict the future – even in economics.

    I suspect his continued employment by the NYT results from his appeal to their core readers and, most importantly, paying subscribers. He says what they think or want to believe, which keeps them coming back and paying.

    I find him to be like my best friend’s little brother when I was young: whiny, annoying, and around way too often.

  18. Matt_SE Says:

    Social media has turned the nation stupid, as it exists only to confirm one’s previously-held beliefs and amplify outrage.

    Krugman isn’t posting as an expert, though he relies on his Nobel Prize for a patina of respectability. He’s posting now as a dancing monkey, there to entertain and validate his audience.

  19. Ray Says:

    Leftists are ok with lying for a good cause. Just remember want Dan Rather said. Dan Rather believes you can be an honest liar.
    “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.” Dan Rather

  20. Fractal Rabbit Says:

    Cornflour,

    “Paul Krugman is the Noam Chomsky of economics.”

    Now that right there, is the truth. I don’t think I could think of a better comparison.

    Think about the Appeal to Authority. Its already a fallacy. So, couple it with the fact that in these two cases, the Authority can’t even manage to know what they are talking about in their own field.

  21. Yankee Says:

    So he was wrong about the economy in 2017, and now it looks like he will miss the other big story of this year and the next. It’s becoming more apparent that persons in the FBI and the Justice Dept were actively working to sabotage Donald Trump, both during and after the election. That is huge news.

    But people like Paul Krugman have a mental block, where they are unable to conceive that they could be wrong, or that those on their side could do wrong.

    What I don’t understand is why people like Deputy FBI Director McCabe and others have not already been fired, and why the FBI is still withholding documents from Congress, and why the original FISA warrants have not been revealed.

  22. Dave Says:

    Trump can’t just go around firing everyone who is his enemy in the government because the last time he did with Comey, it created more trouble for him. Politics is the chess of perception and bad optic can be fatal, you might think that firing the swamp creatures is the right thing to do, only way Trump can protect himself from false accusation and sabotage from within, but his oppositions can spin it and claim that he is doing that to obstruct investigation because the investigation are getting to close to unearth all of his dirty secrets. Same thing with Sessions, even at this point it is very clear he is mole from Trump’s enemies, Trump can’t just fire him and hand his oppositions the rope to hang him, only thing Trump can do is uncover more dirty secrets of these holdovers to force them to quit.

  23. AesopFan Says:

    Dave Says:
    December 27th, 2017 at 1:28 pm
    … only thing Trump can do is uncover more dirty secrets of these holdovers to force them to quit.
    * *
    At the moment, the Left is doing a pretty good job of uncovering their own dirty secrets.
    I agree that the best thing to do is to let them keep digging (and wait for the IG report to at least see what’s in it), but will the implosion happen soon enough to be effective in restoring at least some semblance of rationality to the government?

  24. Ackler Says:

    I have long viewed Krugman as almost a textbook example of homo economicus. He was a middle aged economist and public intellectual, with several lucid, balanced and highly regarded books to his name. He then won the Nobel Prize. These are about the highest achievements and accolades an economics professor could hope to achieve in his career.

    Only in his mid-50s back then (upon wining the Nobel Prize), Krugman chose not to rest on his laurels but to pursue a very different, but far more lucrative path. He leveraged his entire reputation to become a polemical lefty hack. His commentary is catnip to the much of the NYT’s demographic. His impressive academic and intellectual background provide comfort and cover for progressives wishing to rationalize every base, id desire, every outburst, every tantrum they harbor about Trump, Republicans, Evangelicals, gun owners, pro-lifers, corporations, the police, the military, etc.

    One has to wonder whether Krugman’s personal beliefs (always left of center but prior to the mid 2000s, very measured and thoughtful), have really changed. He has adopted a very marketable persona, and markets it well indeed. At this point, few people outside of the true believing progressive bubble take Krugman seriously. But, he seems fine with that. Those inside the bubble will always come back to him for their fix, and his fame and fortune will go on happily.

  25. neo-neocon Says:

    Ackler:

    I have a theory about Krugman (a two-pronged theory) and what happened.

    I don’t think it was the Nobel, because he didn’t receive that till 2008 and he was already well into his current persona.

    But the clues are in that article I linked from the New Yorker. Here it is again unless you missed it (from 2009). In it (I’m doing this from memory now) he talks about how exciting it was when he first went on a lecture tour (I think when he was first doing some political writing) to see the audience reaction. That’s the first thing—the audience response both in person and in print encouraged him. The second thing is that he and his first wife divorced and he married his second wife in 1996. She is Robin Wells, an economist who is very much to the left (this is an interview from 2012):

    An economist who’s also a yoga instructor, she went to the University of Chicago, got her PhD at Berkley in international finance and debt crises, did a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT, where Krugman was teaching in the early 1990s. A profile of the Krugmans in The New Yorker magazine said she’s often the political oomph behind her husband’s economics. Is that true?

    Robin Wells: I think that’s true, although I think it’s less true than it used to be. I think that in the end I probably do have the more political mind. I think maybe I’ve given him material to work on for a while! He can run with that for a while before I have to fill him back up! I think it’s really hard for Democrats to understand what they’re facing, and because I grew up in the South, because of my background, I feel like I get it in a way that’s not easy for people who haven’t lived there to “get it”.

    Paul Solman: And what is the background?

    RW: I grew up in the South. My family is mixed. It’s part African-American, part American-Indian, part Scottish, part English, part Irish, you know. So, I understand sort of the radical nature and the lack of rationality that you often perceive….

    Well, when the healthcare debate came along I was more for the idea of holding out for universal coverage than he was. But I think in the end he was right because I think politically having the healthcare reform bill that we did have is flawed and is, you know, hodge-podge as it is. It sets a precedent.

    PS: The precedent of universal coverage…

    I think it’s at least partly that he was already to the left and then his wife influenced him to move further to the left and/or to be more vocal about it. I don’t have time to find the quote, but I remember also reading that she either edits all his op-ed pieces or that he reads them to her first and that she makes suggestions to strengthen the language and the message.

  26. Sam L. Says:

    Ah, Paullie “The Beard” Krugman! He writes for the NYT, which is why I trust neither.

  27. steve walsh Says:

    Dave says: ‘Trump can’t just go around firing everyone who is his enemy in the government because the last time he did with Comey, it created more trouble for him.’

    Agree completely but would add that leaving McCabe in place to be questioned by Congress more effectively neutralizes him and those that work to undermine the president.

  28. Ackler Says:

    Thank you, Neo! I had no idea about his wife or the New Yorker article. That makes a lot of sense.

  29. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    A recurring theme in the commentaries of Prof VDH is what he laments as the entrenched habit of the elite seeking out for themselves and their children the imprimatur of an education at one of the elite schools followed by a degree from an ivy league university.

    He likens it to the branding of cattle with a recognised mark that announces forever and to all that the bearer shall be henceforth treated as infallible; an anointed member of a priestly caste.

    I have met the high and the low in my professional life and been privy to their views and secrets and for the most part have come away unimpressed by those of the supposedly priestly caste.

    Here is a quite good article by Prof VDH back in March on the subject. I love his use of the phrase to describe the way the elite traditionally view their standing to speak as experts on all matters: “titles, brands and buzz.”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/445371/american-elites-donald-trump-conflict-over-shaking-establishment

  30. Let's Review 23: Winterset - American Digest Says:

    […] Why would anyone trust Paul Krugman as a prognosticator? Krugman is by no means unique in this disconnect. It’s actually a common thing. It’s as though pundits (and not just of the liberal variety, either) exist in another world, a fantasy one in which a clever and/or emotionally satisfying turn of phrase is the goal. If it resonates with the reader at the time — mirrors what the reader is feeling or thinking — that’s good enough. […]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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