Ten Miles Square


May 09, 2013 11:20 AM Clive Crook Doesn’t Understand Paul Krugman or Liberals Generally

By Ryan Cooper

There has been something of a flame war going between Clive Crook and Paul Krugman of late over fiscal stimulus, economics, and the tone of Krugman’s writing. It’s a bit silly, but it raises some interesting points I’d like to extract. Let me replay some of the history, for reasons that will become clear.

After the first round, Crook took exception to Krugman’s intemperate tone, and made the quite specific claim that Krugman was using the 2009 stimulus for partisan ends:

Along with small-government extremists on the Republican side, Krugman and his admirers were at the forefront in casting discussion of the stimulus in left vs. right terms. For many Democrats, the top priority in the fiscal-policy discussion was not, in fact, to make the stimulus bigger but to reverse the Bush high-income tax cuts and to make sure that the composition of the stimulus, whatever its size, as far as possible favored higher spending over lower taxes.

Brad DeLong pointed out that this is, in fact, not the case, citing chapter and verse. He finds no Krugman posts in 2009 arguing that the high-income Bush tax cuts should be reversed. Where is your evidence? asks DeLong.

Today, Crook is back, and his response is a textbook example of moving the goalposts. He conveniently forgets the stimulus debate, around which all his previous claims were centered, and digs up a Krugman column from December 2010, almost two years later. It’s about the budget debate at the time, and Krugman argues that since Republicans were holding the Bush tax cuts for the middle class hostage for the ones for the rich, Democrats should refuse to negotiate. Indeed, this is a pretty partisan column which downplays the effect of tax-side austerity. But it is essentially a point about negotiation strategy—faced with an extremist and absolutist Republican party, Krugman argues, the Democrats would do well to demonstrate their willingness to play hardball.

In any case, this is small bore stuff. What is unquestionably clear is that Crook’s earlier claim that “Krugman and his admirers were at the forefront in casting discussion of the stimulus in left vs. right terms” is completely bogus, and he clearly knows it.

But more fundamentally, Crook’s entire framework of how partisan liberals viewed the stimulus debate—and politics generally—is wrongheaded. Back in January 2009, there were a Democratic president and huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Liberals didn’t give a crap about “left vs. right,” they wanted to use those victories to consolidate some big policy wins. And as lefty economists realized, by far the most important thing to do from the perspective of Democratic self-interest (not to mention the American people) was to fix the freaking economy. Mass unemployment is absolute poison for elected officials (just ask Herbert Hoover), which is why Krugman was howling himself hoarse trying to get a bigger stimulus. He worried, correctly, that a Clive Crookish effort to get bipartisan support wouldn’t work, and you’d only get one bite at the apple:

This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

Is Krugman a outspoken advocate who lays on the snark a bit thick sometimes? Sure. But unlike centrists, he doesn’t regard politics like a game of shuffleboard. He takes his convictions seriously, and would never consider something so boneheaded as holding up economic recovery to stick things to the rich.

UPDATE: I originally used the word “ideologue” instead of “advocate” in the final graf. I changed it because it has negative connotations that I didn’t mean to imply. Krugman has strong beliefs, but he’s not the Spanish Inquisition.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • boatboy_srq on May 10, 2013 1:25 PM:

    Krugman... would never consider something so boneheaded as holding up economic recovery to stick things to the rich.

    Unlike the GOTea, who actually are holding up economic recovery (nay, threaten to dump the entire US of A back into the recession pit) just to stick things to the poor.

  • UVP on May 10, 2013 3:08 PM:

    Clive Crook doesn't understand himself much either.

    His most recent piece addressing Brad de Long's response to him contains the following:

    DeLongÔŅĹs fine under the supervision of a competent adult, as here (an excellent paper, which I praised at the time). But as an unattended blogger he regresses to intellectual adolescence, light on thinking and exhaustingly heavy on peevish belligerence."

    Got that? These are the sober, weighty, not at all ad hominem arguments of Clive Crook, who in the very next sentence calls de Long "uncivil".

    I've seen this fairly often, actually. John Cochrane, one of the Chicago economists regularly engages in the most astonishing, sneering, dismissive name-calling sort of attacks on Krugman while the whole point of what he's writing is that Krugman supposedly isn't polite enough.

    The lack of self-awareness, not to mention just the sheer, blind, arrogance, is quite something to see.

  • mcarson on May 10, 2013 6:23 PM:

    Krugman has strong beliefs, but he's not the Spanish Inquisition.

    One of the best sentences ever written. Congrats.

  • MFFA on May 10, 2013 7:14 PM:

    "I've seen this fairly often, actually. John Cochrane, one of the Chicago economists regularly engages in the most astonishing, sneering, dismissive name-calling sort of attacks on Krugman while the whole point of what he's writing is that Krugman supposedly isn't polite enough."

    That is an astonishing distorsion of reality. John Cochrane is one of the only polite bloggers out there. Oh and by the way, the last blog entry where he mentions Krugman was on the 19th of February, hardly consistent with the idea of him "regularly" writing about Krugman (let alone name-calling him which I could not find any example of)

  • Lance on May 11, 2013 8:05 AM:

    Krugman has strong beliefs, but heís not the Spanish Inquisition.

    At least, no one EXPECTS him to be the Spanish inquisition...

  • gdb on May 11, 2013 3:52 PM:

    Actually, Krugman, DeLong and other Keynesian economists consistently err in NOT making a major concept/point: By the 21st century,Economics is an emerging science with testable data--- as was astronomy by the 17th century (e.g. Galileo in 1600-1614) preceded by Copernicus in the 16th century (comparable to Keynes in the 20th century). This is NOT a debate between untestable/unprovable ideologies or religions. Keynesian theories account for much available data for macro-economies in liquidity traps. Hooverian/austerian theories do not. It's the equivalent of Ptolemaic vs Copernican (geocentic vs heliocentric) theories and equations to fit planetary movement data in 1612.

  • gdb on May 11, 2013 4:00 PM:

    "Krugman has strong beliefs, but he's not the Spanish Inquisition."

    If Economics is a science, this and similar statements are, at best, inane. How do you classify, or react to, the following??

    Galileo had strong beliefs, but he was't the Spanish Inquisition.

    Its "climate science" as another emerging science... not climate ideology.

  • Mitch on May 13, 2013 10:18 AM:

    Why do you say this column "downplays the effect of tax-side austerity"? Krugman gets limited space to write a column, and he quite clearly makes the point that what he is advocating is the lesser of two evils.

  • Horvendile on May 13, 2013 10:49 AM:

    I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!

  • Bloix on May 13, 2013 10:56 AM:

    The polite John Cochrane:

    "I happen to dislike inflation. Krugman and DeLong are all for it. They must have been smoking better weed in the 1970s."

    "[i}tís sad... If a scientist, [Krugman] might be a global-warming skeptic, an AIDS-HIV disbeliever, a stalwart that maybe continents donít move after all, or that smoking isnít that bad for you really..."

    "I propose that Krugman himself doesnít really believe the Keynesian logic for that stimulus."

    "Krugman wants to be the Rush Limbaugh of the Left."

  • Cardinal Jimenez on May 13, 2013 1:50 PM:

    No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; two chief weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency! Er, among our chief weapons are: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and near fanatical devotion to the Pope! Um, I'll come in again...

  • M. Krebs on May 13, 2013 2:59 PM:

    Um, the Dems did not have a "huge majority" in the Senate in January 2009.

  • james rytting on May 13, 2013 5:09 PM:

    Clive missed Krugman's whole point about politicizing the study of economics, and so have you. Krugman advocated taking a stance that, following his preferred model, would decrease economic activity. He made no attempt to disguise this, let alone deny it or bugger the facts or skew his theory. Some Keynesian solutions are even worse than burying dough and paying people to dig it up, because of the political consequences; in this case, augmenting the power and wealth of social-political classes opposed to fighting unemployment and redistribution. Helicopter drops of cash on the rich would have been one of them.

  • Hyperbole Diffuser on May 13, 2013 9:29 PM:

    No one expects the Krugman Inquisition

  • Curran on May 15, 2013 6:01 PM:

    James, do you have an example of such policies, or Krugman's advocacy thereof? From where I'm sitting, it looks to me like Krugman's desperately been doing a crude crunching of the numbers, seeing the obvious that, in the short term, massively increased government spending won't crowd out private spending (there's lots of money sitting on the sidelines doing nothing for lack of demand for it, which government bonds would provide), and would significantly increase national GDP for the next few years and likely permanently (all those long-term unemployed--poof, are utilized economic resources again, rather than people who'll never again work because their skills have decayed and their resumes have holes). He uses a model (IS-LM, mostly), and his predictions the last six years have been largely correct (with the exception of sticky wages and underestimating (as most others did) the rate of economic contraction between late 2008 and June 2009.

    Whence comes the claim that he took a stance that would decrease economic activity...? What are you referring to? Why would an economist do that and make no attempt to disguise it? Even the austerians don't believe their preferred policies would lead to economic pain (they appeared to have some evidence when these policies started, though those two working papers are now gone...still they have the broad outlines of neoclassical economic tradition as intellectual infrastructure to cling to as support for their policies--even if that support gets thinner all the time, and their willfulness in ignoring the data and switching courses becomes disturbing. Still, they're largely wrong on the argument, not disingenuous about it.
    Again, what are you talking about? The tough bargaining stance Krugman advocated as an alternative to giving in to the GOP's radical demands in December 2010? The point's been made above that he made clear it was not the policy he preferred, and merely thought there were long and short term political (not policy) incentives to bargain hard. And of course...that was one post, making a point about not rolling over for the hard right...and otherwise, he's been the loudest, most abrasive and influential (though that's a low bar, since his side has no influence over policy) proponent of expansionary fiscal measures there is for three and a half years... So what, then?