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Krugman's intelligence has a limit

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October 31, 2010 – Comments (7)

Shortly upon receiving his Nobel Prize, Andre Geim made the following entry in his blog titled "Conscience of a Physicist": "A heated body can only lose its heat through conduction or convection". At which point a fifth-grader named Joe Schmuck complained that they are giving away Nobel prizes to illiterate pretenders who don't even know about radiation. 

OK, I made it up. The intelligence of all Nobel laureats in Physics and Chemistry is above suspicion. There is no chance any one of them could ever make such a stupid error. Such things only happen to Nobel laureats in Economics.

Let's look at the writings of our friend Krugman:

"The background to the world economic crisis is that we went through an extended period of rising debt. Now, one person’s liability is another person’s asset, so rising debt made the world as a whole neither richer nor poorer. It did, however, leave the borrowers increasingly leveraged. And then came the Minsky moment; suddenly, investors were no longer willing to roll over, let alone increase, the debts of highly leveraged players. So these players are being forced to pay down debt. The process of paying down debt, however, must obey two rules:

1. Those who pay down debt must do so by spending less than their income.

2. For the world as a whole, spending equals income.

It follows that

3. Those who are not being forced to pay down debt must spend more than their income.

...

So since the world economy can’t raise the bridge, it is lowering the water: without sufficient spending from those who can, the only way to make the accounting identities hold is for incomes to decline — specifically, the incomes of those not constrained by debt must decline so as to create a sufficiently large gap between their (unchanged) spending and their incomes to offset the forced saving of debtors. "

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/30/accounting-identities/ 

So Krugman sees just one way for the leveraged borrowers to pay down their debt: by spending less. (Corollary: to offset it, savers who wouldn't take on debt to spend more must be robbed through inflation). But could there be some other way which Krugman has missed? Let us help the Nobel laureate. Such a way exists. It is called transfer of assets from the borrowers to the lenders. These loans were collaterized for a reason. By relinquishing ownership of the collateral, borrowers can pay most of their debt without reducing their spending. This can be accomplished through foreclosures, liquidation of leveraged accounts, repossession of cars, or orderly sales of stocks, bonds, 401K plans and houses on the open market. Nota Bene: this is how capitalism was supposed to work in the first place, and a Nobel prize-winning economist should know this.

So how come Krugman appears to be so illiterate? Lack of cognitive skills? No, Krugman is not Baby Bush - it's not a two-digit IQ that is the problem. I have a simpler explanation. I think that, contrary to his claim, Krugman does treat economics as a morality play, and his brand of morality does not allow for the world in which irresponsible debtors can lose their assets. He feels that assets should fetch the maximum possible price and be transferred at that price to the most irresponsible bidder and that bidder should own the assets forever regardless of the price he paid. And therefore in his understanding, good economics should be like this: "Daddy, they just raised the price of alcohol. Does that mean you will now be drinking less? -No, it means you and your brothers will be eating less". Or, more to the point: "Hey, Stupid, you overpaid for that investment, you could only afford to pay half as much. Does it mean you will now sell it? -No, Mr. Responsible, it means you will now pay the other half". 

With moral convictions that strong, Krugman is very limited in his consideration of possible options. 

7 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On October 31, 2010 at 10:34 AM, whereaminow (29.10) wrote:

With moral convictions that strong, Krugman is very limited in his consideration of possible options. 

It's very insightful that you notice this.  Every economist either brings moral views to his study or his study of economics will lead to shaping his moral views.  The two cannot be separated.

The problem for Krugman is that he claims his economics is based on science (pseudo) and therefore is completely seperate from his morality.  This is pretty standard for mainstream econ.  They claim an objectivity that does not exist and they ridicule anyone who is truthful in claiming that their views are shaped by their sense of morality.

Economics and morality cannot be separated. 

A similar analogy would be the problem of the historian who claims objectivity in a field where objectivity cannot possibly exist.  This is why I have so much respect for Zinn, despite analytical differences - at least he was truthful and put his subjectivity on display from the beginning.  Krugman is no Zinn.

David in Qatar

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#2) On October 31, 2010 at 11:11 AM, BroadwayDan (97.43) wrote:

David - I have to push back on your statement, "... he claims his economics is based on science (pseudo) and therefore is completely separate from his morality"

The guy's column is called, The Conscience of a Liberal. 

That said, I greatly appreciate the intelligent arguments you guys make to refute Krugman's theories as way too many people who lean left simply believe virtually everything he says without critical thinking. There's even a God-awful song of longing by some guy on Youtube, expressing how desperately the world needs Krugman to run monetary policy. 

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#3) On October 31, 2010 at 11:16 AM, BillyTG (29.48) wrote:

Now, one person’s liability is another person’s asset, so rising debt made the world as a whole neither richer nor poorer.

 

This line bothers me, and maybe it goes right to morality. 

Krugam says"one person's liability" and "one person's asset."

But what we have is, say, 80-90 person's liabilities becoming "one person's assets."  It results in very concentrated wealth and power in that one person.  In my opinion, that makes the world poorer. 

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#4) On October 31, 2010 at 11:25 AM, starbucks4ever (98.28) wrote:

#3,

On the issue of assets and liabilities, Krugman is again dead wrong. One person's liability and another person's assets also create more paper wealth for other persons with assets. Which, in turn, creates more real poverty for persons without assets. Which group is more numerous, and which gain or loss is stronger - paper or real-life - is all subject to initial conditions and very debatable. So it's never as simple as Krugman pretends.   

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#5) On October 31, 2010 at 11:31 AM, whereaminow (29.10) wrote:

HollywoodDan,

There's no doubt that Krugman openly claims a moral higher ground on his blog, but I think if you asked him, he would say that his economic model (Keynesian) is above/sepearate from any of his moral inclinations.  So he talks out of both sides of his mouth, so no matter which way I criticize him he can weasel out of it ;)

way too many people who lean left simply believe virtually everything he says without critical thinking

That phony Left/Right paradigm gets all of us wrapped up in some way :( 

David in Qatar

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#6) On November 01, 2010 at 4:44 PM, rfaramir (29.42) wrote:

"He feels that assets should fetch the maximum possible price and be transferred at that price to the most irresponsible bidder and that bidder should own the assets forever regardless of the price he paid."

This feeling (or assumption) is the same mindset that got us the housing bubble (enabled by the Fed): no one could imagine housing assets falling. This feeling is simply counter to reality. The prices of assets rise and fall according to supply and demand.

Krugman's "morality" is crass immorality, in that it violates private property rights.

But, then again, this immorality is implied for every Keynesian. Keynes wanted to debase the currency to cause massive government intervention which would bring about a socialist regime ruled by (his) elites. The debasement is immoral, the government intervention is immoral, socialism is immoral, and rule by elites is immoral (unless it happened voluntarily in some unlikely event).

There is nothing to be gleaned from Krugman's writings other than perhaps some insight into how evil rationalizes its actions.

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#7) On January 23, 2011 at 9:35 PM, wakkanakka (< 20) wrote:

I  don't think you understand the post, man.  if you are able to service your debt, then you will choose to do so rather than exchange collateral.  you will not, however, be able to spend more, which is the point 'ol krugers is making. 

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