Thursday, November 04, 2010

Krugman Doesn't Care about Process

At Obama's press conference, Obama used 'I' instead of 'we' a lot. As part of a narcissistic profession his narcissism stands out, but I guess to run for President on his resume that's a given. Obama also talked about paying more attention to process, Jon Stewart's main complaint when Obama visited his comedy show last week (Comedians running the country? It would be an improvement!).

But Kruman was having none of it. In a post title 'Nobody Cares About Process', he argues that neither should they:
Nobody cares about this stuff — they care about results. Nobody really cares about earmarks; they’re just code for spending less (less on somebody else, of course, not me). Nobody cares about civility and bipartisanship, which in practice are code for Democrats giving in to Republican demands.

Lenin reduced the past and future alike to two pronouns and a question mark: "Who—whom?" No verb was necessary. It meant 'who prevails over whom?' Everything is always about power, in the past and in the future. Krugman dismisses the 'how'--institutions, incentives, and all other means to an end and focuses on what--for him, matters: who gets what, and who pays what. Krugman's dismissal of means over ends explains why he's unconcerned about deficits and taxes because those are means to his end, which is egalitarian redistribution managed by an all-powerful (but smart and good) state.

The serenity prayer highlights it is important to do what works, not merely try to do what one wants. Countless times in the past people have expropriated the rich to spread power to the more numerous poor (Russians and Kulaks, Turkey and Armenians, Jewish expropriations throughout history). This has not been a productive strategy because prosperity and liberty comes from having strong property rights, which includes letting people keep their income and property. You can't get the end 'prosperity and liberty' directly, you merely can merely create conditions where this is maximized.

Suggesting the President avoid civility and issues around 'process' is like suggesting one ignore indirect effects. It's what differentiates an economist, even a liberal economist, from a radical adolescent muckraker. I guess this highlights Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts, and so like Smeagol to Gollum, his popularity and power have turned him from a thoughtful person to a dogmatic liberal shill for more government.


Anonymous said...

Nobody cares about civility and bipartisanship, which in practice are code for Democrats giving in to Republican demands.
That's some rich projection, seeing as how calls for "bipartisanship" are loudest when the Democrats don't control Congress, and suddenly become whisper-quiet when they do.

Taylor Conant said...

Hi Eric,

You refer to Krugman as a "liberal economist."

I am curious what definition you use for the word "economist."

In my understanding, economists are individuals who study and seek the objective truth in a specific field of inquiry called economics. Because that truth is a constant and absolute entity and not one that can be divined relative to one's biases or preferences, there is no such thing as "liberal economics" or "conservative economics" and therefore it doesn't make sense to call someone a "liberal economist".

When a person mixes their biases and preferences into their study of economics, when they let the study of economics become a means to their hoped for social ends, they have lost their right to be called an "economist" and have instead transformed themselves into a hack, or worse, a politician.

I would say that what Krugman is is a politician, and one who is so clueless about his own role that he hasn't even bothered to inhabit any "public office" like most other politicians attempt to do. But an economist, he is not.

If you gave a dog a chalkboard with supply and demand curves written on it, a bowtie and a tacky sport coat and had him stand in front of it and bark, would the dog now be an economist? When Paul Krugman attempts to baffle with similar bull----, much like the incoherent barking of a dog, does he suddenly become an economist?

I think people play too fast and loose with the English language, and giving a political animal like Paul Krugman the title of economist is doing a great injustice to sensible language-use everywhere.

What are your thoughts?

przemek said...

I don't think this is entirely fair to Krugman. I don't see evidence in his text that he dismisses the importance of process in terms of the fact that it affects the outcomes. What he's saying is that voters do not care one bit about how processes translate into outcomes; no matter what the processes are, voters are happy when outcomes are good, and pissed off when outcomes are good. Which, if true, means that democracy gives politicians incentives to focus on maximizing the probability of arriving at whatever it is that most voters think is a good outcome instead of on figuring out which processes are more likely to yield good decisions.

Anonymous said...

<< What he's saying is that voters do not care one bit about how processes translate into outcomes; >>

same thing. by saying voters don't care, he dismisses the importance. either way: yet another liberal that mistakes the voter base for 'dunces'.

przemek said...

same thing. by saying voters don't care, he dismisses the importance.

So according to you saying that voters don't care about process just the outcome is the same as saying that process doesn't influence outcome. Can you explain exactly how this is the "same thing"?

Of course it's possible that Krugman believes process is not important in any way. But that's not what he's saying.

newt0311 said...

yet another liberal that mistakes the voter base for 'dunces'.

Not a mistake --- the vast majority of voters are dunces. This is the central contradiction of democracy: power is given to the body most surely incapable of handling it: the mob.

Anonymous said...

<< Can you explain exactly how this is the "same thing"? >>

because the voter base connected the dots between process and outcome.

<< the vast majority of voters are dunces >>

yes i agree, just look at them.

although i said 'voter base'... an example of the distinction is sort of like 'ask the audience' in 'who wants to be a millionaire'.... 'experts' answer right 65% of the time, but a poll of the auience is right 91% of the time.

przemek said...

because the voter base connected the dots between process and outcome.

Not relevant to my question. I'm not arguing about what's actually true but about what Krugman wrote about what's true. He implies that voters don't connect the dots.

Anonymous said...

przemek: i see your point.

Krugman made clear:

1) he does not think the President should even talk about process
2) people forget processes used
3) he 'checks out' when the subject of process comes up

it may require an inference that he lumps together process and unimportance, but i think the evidence is there. is that what we are disagreeing on?

IF he thought process was important but irrelevant, could he still say those things?
1) maybe
2) yes
3) no

przemek said...

Yes, that's exactly what we're disagreeing on.

Assuming you mean important causally but irrelevant for maximizing votes, I'd answer "maybe".

Here's what I think he thinks: Process is important causally but voters don't care because they don't even know that, because they're dunces. Obama concentrated on the process too much, allowing Republicans to win elections which is the worst thing imaginable short of Greg Mankiw winning the econ Nobel Prize. As to process, it may be important but I won't write about it because my readers won't care (they're dunces too).

Anonymous #5 said...

Weird post. If Obama agreed with your politics 100% and was actively promoting your most preferred policies, I seriously doubt you would be troubled at all by his highly disturbing and narcissistic use of the word "I" (by the way, do you have any empirical evidence to support your view that his narcissism stands out, or is this based purely on your highly objective opinion)?

And this of course is Krugman's point. Nobody really gives a crap about Obama's supposed narcissism, just as no one actually cares about politicians "reaching across the aisle" or about politicians being civil. All that is just blather disguising the fact that most voters are partisans and the remainder just swing back and forth based on how the economy is doing. It shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone.

If you want to believe that that wasn't really Krugman's point, and that Krugman is really just an intellectual midget who thinks he should be granted dictatorial powers and doesn't understand the importance of laws and institutions in a functioning society, please go right ahead. I'm sure you think this failure to understand the importance of process is a general trait possessed by most liberals.

Moreover, I'm sure that if a liberal political leader were to miraculously come along and talk about the importance of process and dialog and reasonable discourse, you would commend him for doing so. You certainly wouldn't spend your energies bullshitting about his remarkable narcissism; that's because you sir are a man of great principle, and not a small-minded partisan who only cares about the substantive positions that politicians stake out. It is process, not outcomes, that we should focus on!

zby said...

Just like przemek above I am reading this as a kind of a Machiavellian moment by Krugman, how politics is not always ethical.

Eric Falkenstein said...

Krugman had the epiphany that Republicans succeed by playing dirty, so that's how you do it: go ad hominem, don't take criticisms seriously, etc. (see Basically, he believed the liberal caricature of the stupid yet evil-genius-scheming GW Bush, and so thought the left is forced to nefarious tactics the way a good soldier is forced to kill young men. Just as no one lies as much as the indignant do, no one does more evil when they feel they are fighting people doing monstrous things.

Krugman has just lost it, his beautiful but batty wife just encourages him. He has no sense of proportion, and every fact and idea must fit into his rather crude liberal agenda.

Anonymous #5 said...

Yes, it's quite clear that Krugman is advocating that Obama break the law in order to achieve liberal goals.

Oh wait, let's actually read what he wrote. It's basically this Obama quote, in which the President attributes Democratic losses to the fact that:

“We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done."

Do you think this is why the Republicans regained the House, Eric? Do you think this is why you personally don't support the Democrats? Do you think that if the Democrats had "found a different way" to pass healthcare reform, then suddenly you would change your policy preferences and think it was a good idea? You know, because while radical Narcissistic Marxist Socialism is a bad idea, if it's passed in the right way, in a gentlemanly way, with honor and reasonableness and dignity and blah blah blah, it's something you could get behind?

Excuse me, but give me a break. Krugman makes an entirely reasonable point and this is somehow evidence that he "has just lost it" and that "he has no sense of proportion." Unreal.

Anonymous #5 said...

By the way, some empirical analysis of Obama's use of the word "I":

I took the transcript of Obama's first press conference (from 2/9/2009), and found that he used 'I' 163 times in 7,775 total words, for a rate of 2.10%. He also used 'me' 8 times and 'my' 35 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 206 in 7,775 words, or a rate of 2.65%.

For comparison, I took George W. Bush's first two solo press conferences as president (from 2/22/2001 and 3/29/2001), and found that W used 'I' 239 times in 6,681 total words, for a rate of 3.58% — a rate 72% higher than Obama's rate. President Bush also used 'me' 26 times, 'my' 31 times, and 'myself' 4 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 300 in 6,681 words, or a rate of 4.49% (59% higher than Obama).