Paul Krugman Exposes the Powerful Forces Behind Rampant Intellectual Dishonesty

In his quest for the perfect metaphor for the deep intellectual dishonesty about economics that he frequently bemoans, Paul Krugman borrows a term from "South Park" in Monday's column. The word is "derp." At first, it looks like a typo when he writes, "we live in an age of derp and cheap cynicism."


"Derp," for the uninitiated, comes from the show "South Park" and for Krugman it provides a little shorthand term for an "all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong."

The deepest and most frustrating example of "derp" is ongoing fear mongering about inflation, in Krugman's view. It's perfectly okay to be wrong about something at first—everyone makes mistakes—it's the insistence on the disproven hypothesis that is so, well, derp. What's behind this intellectual dishonesty? Krugman explains:

And there’s a lot of derp out there. Inflation derp, in particular, has become more or less a required position among Republicans. Even economists with solid reputations, whose professional work should have made them skeptical of inflation hysteria, have spent years echoing the paranoia of the goldbugs. And that tells you why derp abides: it’s basically political.

It’s an article of faith on the right that any attempt by the government to fight unemployment must lead to disaster, so the faithful must keep predicting disaster no matter how often it fails to materialize.

Still, doesn’t everyone do this? No, and that’s where the cheap cynicism comes in.

True, the peddlers of politically inspired derp are quick to accuse others of the same sin. For example, right at the beginning of the Obama administration Robert Lucas, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago, accused Christina Romer, the administration’s chief economist, of intellectual fraud. Her analysis of fiscal policy, he declared, was just “a very naked rationalization for policies that were already, you know, decided on for other reasons.”

In general, anyone practicing some kind of Keynesian economics — an approach that, among other things, correctly predicted quiescent inflation and interest rates — is constantly accused of just looking for reasons to expand government.

The good news is that derp is not universal—there is good honest intellectual analysis out there. Concerned citizens just need to learn to tell the difference, and Krugman offers a handy dandy way to do that. You should be suspicious if the solution to a problem just happens to be what a faction of people was always advocating: like cutting taxes as a response to the fiscal crisis, which makes no sense unless all you want to do is cut taxes no matter what.

In an attempt at even-handedness, Krugman does mention that there is some "derpitude" on the left, and that everyone needs to guard against it. "The first line of defense, I’d argue, is to always be suspicious of people telling you what you want to hear." Still, he says, there is a heckuva lot more derp on America's right than on the left.

That's just how it is.

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