The Illogic of Paul Krugman
Leftists have such a difficult time with simple logic. They make it so easy for non-experts like me to pick apart their arguments.
Whenever I can force myself to listen, for the sheer horror of it, to a few minutes of President Obama's rhetoric, my mind instantly begins setting off logic alarms ("Straw man!" "What a preposterous false analogy!" "You're begging the question!") until my head starts to spin. Obama obviously loves to think of himself as the Logician in Chief (LIC). He pretends, for example, to have a special laser beam for false choices put forward by his enemies. The irony is that he himself delivers one false choice after another almost every time his lips move.
Now Paul Krugman -- Princeton professor of economics, Nobel laureate -- has grabbed the torch of leftist illogicism with his new book End This Depression Now!. (Hmm. Anybody remember Pass this jobs bill right now!?) From beginning to end, as suggested by the book's title, Krugman pushes the grand claim (dare we say grandiose...? yes!) that the current economic slump in the U. S. and Europe could be ended quickly, as if by magic, if policymakers would just follow his directions.
But what exactly is Dr. Krugman's prescription? If you're looking for comprehensively reasoned arguments for a course of remedial action, you'll end up scratching your head. True to the prose style manual of the left, the book reads more like a list of disjointed talking points, often asserted with great rhetorical vigor.
The paucity of explicit, openly stated reasoning creates its own special challenge when attempting a critique based on logic, but if you start systematically lifting rocks, you will find one grubby fallacy after another hidden underneath. Focusing on just four of them will make the point. The first three inflict heavy damage. The fourth one is devastating to a core premise of Krugmanomics.
Notably the book contains no notes: no footnotes, no endnotes. OK, the book is aimed at a non-expert readership, but normally a nonfiction author would use notes to refer to supporting empirical evidence or to provide extended discussion or perhaps more technical information to back up the text. I guess when your Princeton professorship is further crowned with Nobel laurels, your very own unaided voice -- in, of, and by itself -- takes on a newfound, profound oracular authority.
This points to fallacy number one: reification, or treating mental constructs -- including the computer models that neo-Keynesians so adore -- as if they have necessary correspondence in material reality. Let's face it: leftists despise evidence. If it works in their heads, surely it'll work in reality; if it ends up not working, the excuse will be that, as with socialism, it wasn't really tried.
Krugman keeps insisting that history confirms the validity of his prescription for recovery, but the reader waits with bated breath for him to point to a definitive, plausible instance. Finally, at the very end in the Postscript, titled "What Do We Really Know about the Effects of Government Spending," we learn about "the [beneficial] effects of large changes in U.S. government purchases -- which is all about wars, specifically World War II and the Korean War" (bracketed adjective added).
Surely anyone with a mind to think and a grain of sense can see that this is a false analogy. An all-out-wartime economy is a vast machine of value-destruction; a peacetime economy, at least to the extent that it operates on market principles, is an engine of value-creation. We call it economic growth. To be sure, Great Depression-level unemployment per se was substantially alleviated by military service and wartime industrial activity. But did the nation prosper then? Just ask a member of the "greatest generation" about the hardship, privation, and rationing during those times.
Chapter eleven has a title that I find ironically revealing: "Austerians." Krugman obviously has a profound loathing for anything that could be called austerity, but why not call its advocates "austeritists" or "austerityites"? But notice what happens when you excise the "e" from "Austerians:" voilà!, you have "Austrians." Could this be a sneaky jab at the so-called Austrian school of economic theory, as in F. A. Hayek or L. von Mises? I can't prove that, but it sure sounds fishy. It's widely known that Krugman holds that particular contra-Keynesian economics persuasion in the loftiest contempt.
Krugman then proceeds to define "austerian" as favoring "spending cuts, tax hikes, and ... higher interest rates even in the face of mass unemployment" (emphasis added). Huh! Just which conservative or Austrian-school economists would advocate anything of the kind? Instead, such ones would be promoting government spending cuts, to be sure, but also tax cuts, market-driven interest rates, reduced regulation -- in short, less government meddling, more free enterprise.
Krugman's "austerian" label is a blatant instance of the straw man fallacy with an implicit false choice -- Krugman's government spending spree remedy -- tagging along. So, I say let's deface the "austerian" label once and for all by suffixizing it into ridiculous nonsense: austerianism. And while we're at it, we should reach for the hook and drag austerity off the stage, too. Conservative/Austrian-school economics is not about fiscal self-flagellation; it's about liberation.
The core of Krugman's prescription for economic recovery has long been that government must engage in fast and furious spending to end an economic slump, a remedy he is urging more vigorously than ever nowadays and persists in promoting in this book. However, there is a pesky logical fallacy known as the unfalsifiable hypothesis that drives a stake into the heart of this argument. To see how this works, consider the following syllogism -- let's call it the Krugmanomics syllogism:
- Government stimulus spending (S) causes economic recovery (R).
- If S is large enough and if S is fast enough, this will cause R; otherwise,
- S will not cause R.
- S has been implemented.
- R has not occurred.
- Therefore: S has not been enough and/or fast enough.
- Therefore: In order to cause R, more S must be implemented and faster than before.
- Therefore: 2-7 ad infinitum or until the Fed's faux dollar printing press self-destructs.
The famous Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli had the perfect rejoinder of contemptuous dismissal for the fallacy of unfalsifiable hypothesis. He was once asked by a colleague to review a paper by a physicist aspirant. Pauli's response: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong."
But the worst of Krugmanomics isn't even that it isn't even wrong; it is the siren-song appeal for ignorant people of easy, sweet-coated medicines that contain economic cyanide. Leftists around the globe are already downing the dose, from the U.S. to France, Greece, and even Germany. People normally prefer to spend and consume right now! rather than save, economize, and delay gratification. That's just undisciplined human nature. This is why Krugmanomics is an open invitation for the most debased among our power-mongering politicians to vortex the people into the tyranny of dependence on government rather than liberate them to self-sufficiency, achievement, and real prosperity.
Paul Jacobson is a freelance writer on political/cultural topics. He blogs at Flyoverpen.com.