By Gonzalo Lira
Letter To George Washington, Regarding Paul Krugman
I wrote a letter to George Washington, the pseudonym for a well-known finance and economics blogger, with regards to a blog post he wrote on August 15.
The letter might sound a bit like score-settling—but there is a serious point to it, a point that applies to both the Left and the Right. So be patient.
Here is my letter to him in full, with a few light editorial touch-ups:
It’s been so long!
I’ve been skiing like a madman down here in Chile—but I did catch something you wrote, which I’d like to comment on, now that a blizzard has hit the slopes and I’m stuck inside with not much to do.
You wrote a post yesterday, picked up by Zero Hedge and others, pointing out that Paul Krugman is advocating war as a fiscal stimulus solution.
You pointed out that this position he holds is not only blatantly immoral, it is a position Krugman seems to have no problem openly pushing—your unspoken implication being that this is disastrous, considering how influential Krugman is in major policy circles.
With regards to K. pushing for war as the ultimate Keynesian economic solution: I hate to say “I told you so”—but in this case—
I told you so!
I pointed out the exact same thing almost a year ago: That once you strip away all the B.S., it turns out that Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, Keynesian par excellence and darling of the Wonk Left, is essentially pushing for war as the ultimate Keynesian stimulus solution.
For pointing this out, I got slimed by the Krugman Defense Industry (KDI).
My original post, pointing out that Krugman advocates war as the fiscal stimulus and solution, was called Why I Despise Krugman. I posted it on September 28, 2010.
And the response—i.e., the sliming—by the KDI was pretty severe and swift, considering that at the time, I was a lowly blogger with not much of a following:
• The sliming by Andrew Leonard at Salon: The Dumbest Attack on Krugman—Ever
• The sliming by Brad DeLong, Krugman's main flunky: Something Totally Batshit Insane Shows Up on Henry Blodget's Clusterstock
DeLong’s reference to Henry Blodget is because that’s where my piece was picked up. Fact is, DeLong seems to have lobbied Blodget to drop me from Clusterstock and Business Insider—and it worked, too, because although Henry didn’t cut me, my relationship with Joe Weisenthal, Blodget’s editor, was permanently soured because of this incident.
Weisenthal would go on to make my life fairly unpleasant insofar as Business Insider was concerned: Arbitrary edits that hurt my posts, yanking my pieces on a whim, then running pieces by other people that plagiarized my work.
Yeah, you read right: Weisenthal knowingly ran posts by other people that blatantly plagiarized my work. I mean Weisenthal did everything an editor can do to antagonize a writer without actually having the balls to drop him outright.
Naturally, I stopped writing for their outfit shortly thereafter.
What DeLong did was pretty mean, if you think about it: Lobbying to get an up-and-coming blogger to lose his spot at the table. BI and Clusterstock were running my pieces with my name in the title—a featured editorialist. Hey, that’s something: That’s the start of name-brand recognition.
But DeLong especially didn’t like me—because I nailed his precious Krugman. So I got shafted by some back-door shenanigans, which I experienced as passive-aggressive nonsense from Weisenthal.
Think of it from especially poor Weisenthal’s position: As a professional editor, he wants a job in the future. Business Insider might fold some day, but Weisenthal will still need a paycheck—after all, he wants a career, and he’s a young guy: In his estimation, he can’t stand on principle. He can’t afford to antagonize putatively well-respected, influential people like DeLong and Krugman. Hell, he might need to interview them some day—he might need to ask them for a job some day.
So from Weisenthal’s position, what’s passively-aggressively sabotaging a relationship with a new blogger, compared to antagonizing people who will influence your career?
Now, if I’m being honest—and I try to be—my first piece wasn’t without fault: Both Leonard’s piece and DeLong’s piece nailed me on something that was actually true—and a severe weakness in my original post:
I had not carefully cited any sources showing that Krugman was advocating war as a fiscal stimulus. It’s obvious that that’s Krugman’s position—but I hadn’t cited sources. Thus my piece could be attacked and dismissed as a mere rant, rather than an argument.
And so like Talmudic scholars dismissing an obviously true statement—say, that the sky is blue—because I didn’t cite any sources, they gathered up their righteousness like the robe of an ancient sage, and nailed me for it.
You know me: I’m not one to take things lying down. But I’m also not one to go off half-cocked. I did what was retrospectively the smart thing—I waited.
Fate was kind, and gave me an opportunity shortly thereafter:
David Broder, the Washington Post columnist, wrote a piece basically advocating war with Iran, as a way to politically unify the country. (Yeah, insane, I know.)
The KDI—in the shape of a DeLong rant—went to town on Broder.
Of course, DeLong’s hit piece on Broder was completely hypocritical. After all, Broder was advocating a war for political benefit, while Krugman was advocating war for economic benefit.
DeLong—rightfully—went medieval on Broder’s ass. But insofar as Krugman’s advocacy of the same “War Is The Solution” stance, DeLong was smiling and silently panting like a lapdog in the arms of a society lady stroking his teeny-tiny head.
In other words, DeLong left the door wide open for me—so I stepped through it.
I called my piece The Contradictions In The Life of A Fluffer.
And this time around, I did the smart thing: I referenced Krugman up the yin-yang.
Hell, at Dartmouth I got taught close reading and hard-core analysis when I studied philosophy—might as well use that god-forsakenly expensive education, right?
So I did: I did a close read of Krugman’s bullshit, and I made it a point of really catching every little nuance of everything Krugman has said, showing how the K-ster Monster from Princeton Junction is essentially advocating war in order to stimulate the economy.
As a side benefit, I also slimed DeLong so bad, he actually wound up changing the name of his blog for a while, as its original title—“Grasping Reality With Both Hands”—was a bit too apropos to my point that DeLong was Krugman’s fluffer. (If you don’t know what a fluffer is, read the piece.)
Yves Smith over at naked capitalism sent me a private e-mail, telling me that some people had commented to her about the fluffer piece, saying they felt actually sorry for DeLong after they read it.
I thought, “Yeay team!” (What can I say: I’m a vindictive bastard.)
The whole experience was an object lesson in the way the blogosphere works: How the best writing in the world, the most thoughtful analysis in the world, won’t necessarily get you mainstream notice—because there are gatekeepers who keep the riffraff out.
The KDI—in the shape of people like Brad DeLong in academia, and Andrew Leonard at Salon in the world of journalism—are the people who keep out the riffraff.
It also made me realize—because of Weisenthal’s passive-aggressive reaction that directly led to my exiting Business Insider—how insidious the whole Krugman Defense Industry really is: They are the self-appointed gatekeepers, the sentries you have to pass, in order to reach the mainstream, and thus have influence on the general conversation.
Because of this whole run in with the KDI, I no longer have a place in the mainstream discourse. I write my blog, get fairly big numbers, write what most people would consider thoughtful, intelligent posts—but I’m not considered “serious”. And therefore, none of my ideas or posts are discussed at levels where they might actually make a difference.
This gatekeeping by the KDI and other such cliques—mind you, on both the Left and the Right—keeps strong ideas from reaching the people with power: Ideas which might potentially help our society. And thus our society is poorer for it, because it cannot draw upon the best ideas in order to form a solution to a problem besetting us all: Only the ideas these cliques on both the Left and the Right allow to reach the table are considered—while everything else is automatically regarded as “fringe”.
For instance, I wrote a major piece of political philosophy—Why Democracies Will Always Go Bankrupt—which is essentially a valid, sound proof of something that’s been eluding economists for a couple of hundred years.
Yet nobody discusses it—in a very real sense, it doesn’t exist. Which is a shame, because it might help the discourse, and get our society closer to adopting a sane macro-economic standing.
I’ve been shut out of the mainstream. Which is fine by me on a personal level, but sad if you think about it on the level of social discourse: Tired ideas—like the KDI’s sacred Keynesianism, like the Right’s Corporatism—are repeated round and round, while fresh new ideas are locked out, and therefore never considered.
Thus new ideas cannot help the wider society—because they’re not allowed a place at the table.
And what’s worse, patently insane, blatantly immoral ideas—like Krugman’s notion about how war would fix all our economic problems, like the Right’s notion that what’s good for the banksters is good for America, when the exact opposite is closer to the truth—are allowed to grow like brain cancer on the body politic.
So I just wanted to tell you, Great Post!, as well as Watch Out! These people will come after you, if they can.
And if they can’t, they’ll ignore you as completely as if you didn’t exist. And to them, if you don’t exist, then your ideas don’t exist—and therefore aren’t worth repeating.
And thus your work will have no impact—and at the end of the day, isn’t impact what every writer wants? Don’t we want our ideas to help build a better society for us all?
As always, all the best,