In response to my previous post on Paul Krugman I got two negative responses; they are the two negative responses I always get when I criticise Krugman.
One is from what I call the Krugtrons. These are the people who seem to hold Krugman up as a sort of infallible deity. They remind me of the libertarians who worship Ron Paul (Paulbots) or those on the left who adulate over Obama so much that they defend him on policy stances that would drive them crazy if a Republican were doing them (Obamanoids). The Krugtrons typically attack you personally, pick up on minor errors or engage in obfuscatory arguments to prove that either you’ve misunderstand the Words of the Krugman. It’s a bore but I’m used to it and I couldn’t really care less.
The other criticism is from those on the left who might actually agree that Krugman is wrong but nevertheless think that anti-austerians should have some sort of United Front against the austerity-brigade. This argument I’m far more partial toward even though I ultimately disagree with it. I disagree with it because I think that arguing against Krugman makes no difference to the politics of austerity. Indeed, no matter how many people agree or disagree with Krugman the politics of austerity will not change. Nor will Krugman himself with his columns in the New York Times change these policies (I’m not aware that Krugman has any policy influence, frankly).
No, I think that it is far more important for economists of the anti-austerity type to trash out their differences and have a real debate. I think its instructive to look to the figure of Milton Friedman in this regard as Friedman is the economist who, more than any other, changed the economic landscape from the center-left Neo-Keynesian orthodoxy of the post-war period to the center-right, neoliberal orthodoxy of the post-Bretton Woods era.
There are other parallels too. Friedman and his monetarism was, as I have written about before, the acceptable face of a far more radical program of economics; that is, the Austrian school of von Mises and von Hayek. Some might say that Krugman is the acceptable face of ideas — such as those about income distribution, private debt and fiscal policy — that have long been the bastion of the heterodox Keynesian economists.
Krugman, however, is no Milton Friedman. And I say this for a number of reasons.
First of all, Krugman is not an innovator like Friedman was. Whatever you think of the doctrines of the monetarists — and I think very lowly of them — it was a whole new paradigm. The manner in which Friedman used the weaknesses of the old Neo-Keynesian orthodoxy against itself were quite ingenious. Krugman, by comparison, is nothing more than a tinkerer. He has no new paradigm that might capture peoples’ imaginations (I would argue that the only ones that possess this are the MMT economists).
Secondly, and more importantly for the criticisms I received for my piece, Krugman does not engage with those that largely agree with his policy stances but want a far more radical rethinking of economics; that is, Post-Keynesian economists. Friedman did engage with those who largely agreed with his policies but wanted a more radical rethinking of economics and he did this through the Mont Pelerin thought collective.
Milton Friedman was then a much more skilled leader-figure. He had a whole new paradigm that he flogged both in the popular press daily and to policymakers. While at the same time he formed a United Front at home not by exclusion, but by inclusion; by engaging others in debate (and probably profiting from this himself in many ways). Where Friedman was a naturally unifying figure, Krugman is a naturally divisive figure. By not acknowledging others who broadly agree with him he sows the seeds of frustration and discontent. And, at the end of the day, the whole thing becomes about Krugman himself rather than about the development of a new set of ideas.