Paul Krugman Reveals the Real Reason that Knowledge Is Not Power

Otherwise, Congress would not ignore the consensus of scientists and economists.

Photo Credit: via youtube/Bloomberg

Paul Krugman was in feisty form in his Friday column for the New York Times. He opened by repeating a joke from Ezra Kleinwho now is editor in chief of Klein once described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as “a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.” The same could be said, Krugman says, of Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee.

You can't blame Krugman for being a tad bitter. He explains:

I’ve been looking at surveys from the Initiative on Global Markets, based at the University of Chicago. For two years, the initiative has been regularly polling a panel of leading economists, representing a wide spectrum of schools and political leanings, on questions that range from the economics of college athletes to the effectiveness of trade sanctions. It usually turns out that there is much less professional controversy about an issue than the cacophony in the news media might have led you to expect.

This was certainly true of the most recent poll, which asked whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the Obama “stimulus” — reduced unemployment. All but one of those who responded said that it did, a vote of 36 to 1. A follow-up question on whether the stimulus was worth it produced a slightly weaker but still overwhelming 25 to 2 consensus.

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether the panel is right in this case (although it is). Let me ask, instead, whether you knew that the pro-stimulus consensus among experts was this strong, or whether you even knew that such a consensus existed.

The answer is most likely, no, unless you are someone who goes very far out of your way to get honest information like that. Krugman reports that on CNBC, the host was "so astonished to hear yours truly arguing for higher spending to boost the economy that he described me as a 'unicorn,' someone he could hardly believe existed." 

Just as Republicans in Congress ignore climate scientists, they also ignore economics professionals when it comes to government spending. Economics may not be the hard science that climate science is, but still, it is reminiscent of the whole war on knowledge/war on intelligence/war on science trope.

No, the Republican ideologues prefer to put their faith (which is the right word, since they pursue their ideology with religious zeal) in discredited doctrines.

Krugman, ever fair-minded, does point out the exception to the rule:

The odd man out — literally — in that poll on stimulus was Professor Alberto Alesina of Harvard. He has claimed that cuts in government spending are actually expansionary, but relatively few economists agree, pointing to work at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere that seems to refute his claims. Nonetheless, back when European leaders were making their decisive and disastrous turn toward austerity, they brushed off warnings that slashing spending in depressed economies would deepen their depression. Instead, they listened to economists telling them what they wanted to hear. It was, as Bloomberg Businessweek put it, “Alesina’s hour.”

The professional consensus not always right, Krugman allows. It's just that politicians increasingly pick the wrong so-called experts to believe. "Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar," Krugman reminds. "All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice?"
Sadly, the answer seems to be 'no.' Not in the realm of economics. And not, most glaringly, in the realm of climate change.
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