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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Opinions on Krugman's latest column differ. One side has a point.

Krugman wrote among other things

...what I currently find most ominous is the spread of a destructive idea: the view that now, less than a year into a weak recovery from the worst slump since World War II, is the time for policy makers to stop helping the jobless and start inflicting pain.

Last week conservative members of the House, invoking the new deficit fears, scaled back a bill extending aid to the long-term unemployed — and the Senate left town without acting on even the inadequate measures that remained.

Lambert says that Krugman should have named the people who created the conventional wisdom that the suffering of the unemployed is OK or builds character or something. Quite so. Lambert does not go on to name names. Rather he names the people who caused the financial crisis. That is entirely off topic. The question which Krugman allegedly evaded is who exactly decided that further stimulus would not be a good idea. Lambert says that if Krugman's column really asserts that this decision is the responsibility of Congress, then he it is "analytically impoverished". Huh ?!?!? Congress happens to have the constitutional authority to decide if there is further stimulus. It is neither impoverished analysis nor obfuscation of responsibility to say that those who have the power have the responsibility.

Somehow, Lambert decided that the question "Who is to blame for the fact that more isn't being done to reduce unemployment ?" is the question "who is to blame for unemployment increasing in the first place ?" Talk about "analytically impoverished." And what does Lambert propose be done to fight unemployment ? Show the country "a few CEOs in orange jumpsuits doing the perp walk." I don't know if it is obfuscation or analytic poverty to say that what we should do now is to have done something long ago back when it might have prevented the current crisis. Whatever it is, I hope Lambert doesn't convince liberal lions like Krugman to act as they would in Lambert's "different better world."

I won't even mention the attack at Health Care Reform which, according to Lambert, is the cause of people being without insurance, since everyone had insurance before HCR passed. At that point he has totally lost contact with this same worse world and escaped into paranoid fantasy.

Now will I quibble that Lambert describes the list (as marked by him) "the O.E.C.D.","conservative members of the House", and "the Senate" by writing "House conservatives and the OECD -- the only agents he names in his column." What's the Senate, Chopped liver ?

I think it is clear what happened. Halfway through the column, Lambert noticed that Krugman had not made clear exactly who he was condemning. So Lambert began marking the column up noting the fact that Krugman wasn't assigning blame. The Krugman assigned blame. Reckless bank CEOs are not responsible for the fact that the Senate (or as Lambert calls it [silence here]) didn't do anything to fight unemployment before leaving town.

Lambert has decided that noting that there is such a thing as a "conventional wisdom" is obfuscatory, because no single person is responsible for the conventional wisdom. This is nonsense. The world is large. There are many people in it. Sometimes it is impossible to decide who is to blame and often it is impossible to name all the names in a 700 word column. It is just not true that the only reason blame isn't clearly asigned is deliberate obfuscation. Some things aren't clear and simple so there is no need for obfuscation.

Oddly Brad DeLong links to Lambert.

I also assume that with all his links to Krugman, Brad were eager to prove he is not an acolyte by linking to some valid criticism of Krugman. I understand perfectly. I wouldn't want people to think of me as an acolyte of Krugman (who does have a very high opinion of himself too). I too search for valid criticism of Krugman. If I find any, I'll link to it.

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