Paul Krugman Says “No” To Responses To Critics. I Explain The Consequences

Would I Please Respond?

I get a lot of comments along the lines of “Would you please respond to the criticism of your work in ______?”

Um, no. Do you have any idea how many articles there are out there attacking me? I literally don’t have the time to respond to them all, or even to differentiate between the usual sliming and actually interesting critiques.

Just saying.


You know, it might not hurt to have some grad student compile the top five criticisms and respond to them. (You would certainly have plenty of volunteers.)

Most of the time, I disagree with the preferences implicit in your goals, not your analysis. These differences aren’t arguments over some form of absolute truth but disputes founded in preferences, demographics, social order, culture, class and in race warfare.

Your egalitarianism is mathematically accurate in application. But your failure to incorporate into your rhetoric that these differences are meaningful to people, and these differences bear material costs to those who you impose your egalitarianism upon — including costs to monetary, cultural, status, and political capital.

Each of these costs affects their consequential opportunity costs. Taking people’s money is one thing. Taking their culture, their political power, and their social status is another. Taking it and funding things they absolutely disagree with vehemently is something else (foreign wars, or immigration). Imposing a permanent social cost structure upon a people who have a very uncertain view of the future, or one that is far more pessimistic than you do is not a matter of scientific argument. It’s one of fantastic and deceptive narrative.

Unless you address these issues, both you and your critics will continue to wrestle with scientific but inapplicable, and possibly deceptive arguments on your end, and sentimental and inarticulate arguments on the conservative end. Both of you are struggling for power, the power to implement your ideas. Power is not obtained by honest debate. It is obtained by pragmatism. And whether you understand it or not, you’re talking past them just as much as they past you.

But if you do address these issues, you will bring into the open the basic problem: the USA is a domestic as well as international empire with significant tensions both internally and externally. The loss of our ability to issue debt is simply ending our ability to mask these differences with consumer credit. And the underlying duress is emerging with the economic circumstances. Under duress people revert to tribalism. They do so because it is smart for them to do so.

Conservatism has led to stability for centuries. It doesn’t have to be right. It just has to increase the cost of change enough that the most stable, least dangerous model evolves. Pick on the neocons for seizing their opportunity for Roman glory. That’s rational. They failed. Pick on conservatives for fighting socialism and communism, and rejecting redistribution of status, cultural dominance, and political power, and you’re simply wrong.

Conservatism is a sentiment. That does not mean the sentiment is founded on irrational principles. It means the principles are either un-articulated, unable to be articulated, or people are unwilling to articulate them. And at least since Burke, if not since the English civil war, conservative sentiments have been very helpful for Anglo civilization. Perhaps even the cause of it.

Perhaps the honest answer is to lead by addressing the real issue. Not circumventing it. It is rhetorically and politically convenient for both sides to avoid the real issues. But if we discussed the real issue there might be room for compromise.

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