Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good news everyone: Three reasons to appreciate Krugman, all in one NYT column

Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote this:
Am I saying that the professional consensus is always right? No. But when politicians pick and choose which experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to believe, the odds are that they will choose badly. Moreover, experience shows that there is no accountability in such matters. Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar.

All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice?
First, I believe he's absolutely right on the merits. Bad economic advice has been running the game in America and Europe for years, and its exponents have paid no price for it. With the blessing of the University of Chicago Friedmanites, the encouragement of right-wing and centrist think tanks, and the self-righteous follow-through of all the Very Important People, superstition has become nearly-indisputable truth. Despite all the evidence.

Second, the use of those quote marks around "experts" is delightfully elegant.

Finally, he didn't write All of which begs the question; he wrote All of which raises a troubling question. First, this reminds readers that Krugman knows what "begging the question" actually means, which too many intellectually lazy commentators don't. And second, it shows why eschewing "begging the question" – even if it meant what mistaken writers suppose it means – which it doesn't – makes for better writing. The usual misunderstanding of "begs the question" supposes it to mean "raises the obvious question," as if it's simply a matter of vaguely-logical sequentiality. Krugman knows that the question raised by the superstition of austerity is not some matter of this-after-that. It's a question – a point of debate – that ought to leave us troubled that it's even on the table.

Seriously. Are we able, in this age of fashionable anti-science and anti-intellectualism, to take sound advice for the common good?

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