Guest Post: Niall Ferguson Shatters Paul Krugman’s Delusions

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Submitted by F.F. Wiley via Cyniconomics blog,

We followed the latest Paul Krugman feud – this one with Niall Ferguson – until Krugman’s tag team partner and CYNICONOMICS reader Brad DeLong entered the fray.

After about a half dozen posts on Krugman and DeLong this year, we had some topic fatigue.

Yesterday, we learned that we dropped out too soon. It turns out that Ferguson followed his DeLong post with possibly the definitive piece on Krugman – a three-part series published in the Huffington Post earlier this month (h/t Tim Iacono and Ralph Benko).

On one level, Ferguson’s series reinforces what we already know. Those familiar with Krugman’s positions are well aware that his regular boasts about being “right about everything” are blatantly false. We know, for example, that he recommended creating a housing bubble in 2002, which didn’t work out so well in hindsight. We also know that he says completely different things about government debt depending on which political party is driving the deficit higher. When the GOP is responsible, he complains about “fiscal train wrecks” and the “threat to the federal government’s solvency.” When advising the Democrats to add even more debt, he claims that “we’re not facing any type of fiscal crisis.”

But Ferguson raises the scrutiny on Krugman’s work in his “HuffPo” series. He draws on meticulous documentation of Krugman’s public positions on the global financial crisis and Euro crisis. He also calls out the posse of liberal bloggers who follow Krugman’s lead by insulting and name-calling anyone who doesn’t think as they do. (See here for one of our related posts.)

Benko published a nice summary of Ferguson’s articles in Forbes.

I’ll combine the links with a handful of other Krugman-related posts we saved this year, starting with the HuffPo series:

  • In “Krugtron the Invincible, Part 1,” Ferguson notes that he didn’t make up his title – it’s actually a name Krugman calls himself (!) – and focuses especially on Krugman’s stated views on the Euro. Here’s an excerpt:

“I like to think,” Krugman wrote on August 14, “that if I had been proved … utterly wrong … I’d have had the strength of character to admit it and question my premises. But I don’t know for sure, and with some luck I’ll never find out.” Now that I have shown Krugtron the Invincible to have been utterly and repeatedly wrong about the euro, I look forward to reading his admission of error.

To be precise, I would like to see him admit that he got the biggest call of the last several years dead wrong, again and again and again…

  • In part 2, he turns to the global financial crisis and again scours the public record to show that Krugman failed to understand events as they developed, concluding that:

One might have expected a little more humility from an economist who so clearly failed to understand the nature of the biggest financial crisis of his lifetime until after it had happened. Or at least a little less egomania: “Yes,” he wrote in January, “I’ve heard about the notion that I should be Treasury Secretary. I’m flattered, but it really is a bad idea.”

  • The third part places both Krugman and Krugman’s economics in their proper context. I’ll share the first two paragraphs and recommend reading the whole piece if you haven’t already done so:

In my previous two articles, I have shown that Paul Krugman – revered by his acolytes as the Invincible Krugtron – failed to anticipate the financial crisis and wrongly predicted that the single European currency would fall victim to it. I have exploded his claim to intellectual invincibility. Very clearly, he has made at least twice as many major mistakes in his career as the mere two he has previously admitted to.

You may ask: Why have I taken the trouble to do this? I have three motives. The first is to illuminate the way the world really works, as opposed to the way Krugman and his beloved New Keynesian macroeconomic models say it works. The second is to assert the importance of humility and civility in public as well as academic discourse. And the third, frankly, is to teach him the meaning of the old Scottish regimental motto: nemo me impune lacessit (“No one attacks me with impunity”).

Like a Fourth of July fireworks show, Ferguson’s series feels like a grand finale to a succession of Krugman feuds and clashes this year. Here are just a few of the skirmishes from the past six months:

False accusations, unsuccessful forecasts and other errors

  • Krugman joined a host of other pundits in badly misrepresenting the Reinhart-Rogoff controversy in April. He continued to spread misinformation more than a month after the story broke, finally prompting a reply from Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, which set the record straight on several matters including their past policy advice and the public’s access to their data. Krugman was shown to have made false accusations and called out for childish antics.
  • Responding again to a critique of his work, Rogoff showed that Krugman’s various positions on Europe’s economy and financial markets were contradictory, while discussing flaws in Krugman’s analytical framework.
  • Robert Murphy showed that Krugman incorrectly forecast disinflation in a blog post dated February 2010. Instead of drifting toward deflation territory as predicted by Krugman, inflation soon turned around and began to trend upward.  Murphy points out that the facts make a mockery of Krugman’s claim to inflation forecasting supremacy.
  • Presumably to compensate for Krugman’s inability to admit mistakes, Tyler Cowen intervened on his behalf in June. In a post amusingly titled “Krugman and I were both wrong about the Fed and interest rates,” Cowen pointed out that the second quarter’s taper-induced bond market rout invalidated Krugman’s näive claim that bond yields were mostly impervious to QE.
  • Krugman challenged a Cowen post containing a hypothetical comment about El Salvador. But he discussed the country’s currency without realizing that Cowen chose El Salvador for his example because it doesn’t have its own currency – it uses the U.S. dollar. Note that any other blogger arguing a point on such an obviously mistaken premise would have surely faced Krugman’s snark. In the same response in which Cowen acknowledged Krugman’s correction, he demonstrates that Krugman managed to not only contradict but also parody his own prior views.

Egotism and pomposity

  • Despite sharing some of Krugman’s core views, Clive Crook objects to his contemptuous attitude.
  • Bryan Caplan disputes Krugman’s boast that he can see the other side’s argument but they can’t see his.

Just to be clear, I’m not criticizing Krugman for the number of battles he gets himself into. If he argued his case truthfully and respectfully, there would be little reason for this post. But Krugman accumulates enemies by inventing his own facts, denying obvious mistakes, displaying über-arrogance and insulting those with opposing views. Fortunately, folks such as Ferguson occasionally bring these points to light.

(For more on Krugman’s public positions, see our critiques of his book, End This Depression Now. In “It’s Time to Change Focus From Reinhart-Rogoff Witch Hunts to Krugman’s Contradictions,” we flagged the circular logic in one of Krugman’s favorite excuses for fiscal profligacy. In “Testing Krugman’s Debt Reduction Strategy and Finding It Fails,” we exposed the flaws in his claim that $5 trillion in additional government debt isn’t such a “big deal.”)