Posts tagged Paul Krugman

Essay on Ideological Thinking Revisited

Ideological Thinking Revisited

Tibor R. Machan

Following the December 15th Republican “debate,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote once again about the evils of ideological thinking.

Krugman began piece by criticizing Mitt Romney for his repeated vacillations about which public policies he supports, which he opposes, a problem Romney has been plagued by most of his political life. But Krugman didn’t do what follows form this, namely, praise Romney for being a pragmatist, for his agility and flexibility. No, he decried the former Massachusetts’s Governor’s various views. And then he moved on to a more familiar target, one he has been shooting at every chance he gets. This is Representative Ron Paul’s integrity and consistency. Calling it ideological thinking, Krugman considers this a far great failing than anything he could find with Romney.

As Krugman summarizes all this, “In a way, that makes sense. Romney isn’t trusted because he’s seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career – a charge that sticks because it’s true. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won’t find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he’s saying now. Unfortunately, Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness.”

Ignore, please, for the moment that Krugman is every bit as ideological as would be anyone who tries to make sense of political economy, just one field of study that tries to learn generalities from the past so as to prepare for the future. The way this is done is by the identification of certain principles and then implementing them with the expectation that bad results will be avoided and good ones fostered. There really is no practical field, such as farming, medicine, engineering, child raising, and so forth, that can carry forth without this approach. Call it theoretical or ideological thought, no one who even dabbles in them can avoid them.

Ron Paul’s theoretical guidance comes from a certain school of free market economics, laid out by the likes of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. (Other free market schools are those of Milton Friedman–the Chicago School–and those of James Buchanan–the Virginia School.) Massive volumes lay out these positions, in more or less technical ways, as they do the positions of Paul Krugman and his idol, John Maynard Keynes. It is routine in the social sciences for up and coming scholars and researchers to hitch their wagon to some earlier leader in their field. Just check out sociology or anthropology–they all follow this pattern. Krugman is no exception–he has hitched his wagon to Keynes and follows Keynes’ pragmatic, erratic economic thought. It happens to accommodate his hostility to principles. It doesn’t demand any integrity in one’s thinking; only expediency counts.

Because we are talking here about how political economy should be approached, or if you will macroeconomic theory, the impact of unprincipled thinking is quite remote. It is difficult to tell which results of such a mishmash political-economic thinking come from which ideas–as I have argued before, it is like getting food poisoning or, alternatively, health benefits from a smorgasbord meal which contains many diverse ingredients. But if you consider some areas of concern that are more immediately relevant to one’s life, the unprincipled approach shows its damage right away.

For example, it is generally understood that people with certain medical maladies should stick to a certain diet–think of diabetics. In engineering, medicine, nutrition, farming and the rest the practitioners learn their general principles and implement them in the course of their practice. Or consider morality; it is pretty much the case that lying and cheating ought to be avoided. Eve more drastically, deploying coercion in sexual relations is not just immoral but outright criminal. Everyone must, therefore, practice consensual sex so that rape, for example, is never acceptable. That is the principle of the thing, no exception.

Yet by Krugman’s lights to prohibit rape in all cases, as a matter of one’s ideology, is a serious flaw in one’s character, just as sticking to free market economic analysis is supposed to be in Ron Paul’s thought. As Krugman says, “Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness,” but the only case he offers to illustrate the alleged wrongness is that Paul and his allies have warned about inflation for years and yet we are not seeing inflation break out all over. (Of course, there are those, rather more subtle economists, who see it break out in numerous hidden way–like postponing the destruction of the value of money for a while, kicking the can down the road to confront the mess later, e.g., by our grand children.) In other words, inflation can be prevented in various clever ways but not without eventual dire consequences. So here, too, Krugman is off.

What Paul insists on is consistency in one’s economic theorizing, something that every bona fide science insists upon. Pseudo-sciences like astrology and tarot reading don’t, with the result that they accomplish nothing useful at all. Most of Krugman’s ad hoc economics is like that–fancy footwork without any useful wisdom in its wake.

The ideology that Krugman follows despite denying it–just as many pragmatists deny that they firmly stick to some ideas–is the economic philosophy of coercion, of the state’s regimenting economic agents at nearly every turn. At no time will coercion as such be frowned upon by Krugman–it would be ideological to do so, in his view.

But the issue isn’t whether ideology is admissible but which ideology is sound, which bogus.

Column on Welfare Statism and Compassion

Welfare Statism and Compassion

Tibor R. Machan*

There are many debates in political theory, most of them focused on what kind of legal system is just. It is an ancient topic, of course, and the various positions do not change all that much, merely get slightly revised by their new generation of champions.

Yet, whatever one’s political convictions, there is widespread enough agreement about what is a political versus an ethical position. The welfare state is a political idea, whereas, say, altruism or utilitarianism is an ethical one. Of course, which is the correct ethical position, which ought to guide human conduct, is also widely debated and has been from time immemorial.

Anyone aware of this elementary point of the history of ideas knows, also, that it is a central feature of any ethical position that when it is practiced by people, they need to practice it voluntarily. No moral credit accrues to someone who does what ethics requires because he or she is coerced to do so. Every parent knows that a child begins to mature ethically when good behavior is exhibited as a matter of free choice, not out of fear of physical punishment. This is regardless of what school of ethics is expected. Whichever ethics is correct, it only earns moral merit if it is done from choice, never because it is done from fear.

Another elementary point is that while support for a given political position can gain one moral credit, that too must be voluntary. If you place a gun to someone’s head and march the individual down to the polling place and he or she votes for a candidate or measure because you have forced it on him or her to do so, that is not credit worthy either. Whichever is the correct political position, it too must be a matter of free choice for one to gain credit for championing it.

So once this is appreciated, let’s suppose that it is morally creditworthy for people to act compassionately, to offer their help to those who need it. Once again one could gain credit only if one acted so because that is what one wants to do. And that’s so with other virtues as well. One is morally praiseworthy only if one practices the virtues because one wants to. Accordingly the flack received by Representative Ron Paul from some of his critics because he does not believe government should engage in welfare policies must be seen in a certain light. It isn’t a sign of Dr. Paul’s lack of compassion to reject government’s role here, not at all. That’s because compassion, too, must come from a free choice, not because government takes one’s resources as hands these to the needy.

So when in his New York Times column on September 16th Paul Krugman chided the likes of Ron Paul (as have some other democrats or liberals) for their lack of compassion in their refusal to back government administered funding of health care, etc., he was quite confused. Just consider: a few days ago the news showed about a dozen people pitching in to lift an automobile so a motorcyclist who was pinned under it could be pulled out and saved. We may assume that these people pitched in voluntarily, not because someone made them do so. But Professor Krugman and his fellow critics of Rep. Paul would have had to consider it far more compassionate had these people reached for their guns at the scene of the accident and forced others to pull out the motorcyclist from under the car. That is the crux of the difference between Professor Krugman’s conception of compassion and Rep Ron Paul’s.

Those who champion government programs to provide support to anyone, the poor, farmers, artists, or others are not in fact being compassionate. They are bullies aiming to make others act in ways that would be compassionate if individuals did it of their own free will. But they are not being compassionate, not by a long shot.

*Machan is the author of Generosity, Virtue of Civil Society (1998).

Column on The Story of Entitlement Addiction

The Story of Entitlement Addiction

Tibor R. Machan

Welfare states rely on a complacent population, like spoiled children on spineless parents. So when finally the jig is up, no more vital fluids to leach, it is impossible to change course without serious pain. What the Republicans are asking for now is that the Democrats and their constituents agree to simple withdrawal and not scream from the pain of it all. With the public philosophy of the Democrats this is hopeless since they have been preaching that all you need to pay for it all is to rip off the rich, to rob them of their wealth and redistribute it throughout the land. But no amount of confiscation from the rich is going to fulfill the expectations of the millions of people who have become hooked on entitlements.

Of course, for a good while this entitlement mania could be satisfied because its comeuppance could be kicked down the path for the next generation to deal with. Social security, medicare, subsidies of all sorts, unemployment compensation, funding of wildly speculative and minimally productive scientific adventures, price supports for farmers, military adventures, nearly limitless support for state colleges and universities, foreign aid, and so on and so forth–all this piled up and now the chicken are coming home to roost. And politicians and their bureaucrats didn’t prepare the population for it, so it just crashed upon the country even though many marginalized smart and decent people who knew better kept warning us. One good example was F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, not to mention several of Ludwig von Mises’s long and short books. And then there was Ayn Rand’s monumental novel of 1957, Atlas Shrugged, that pretty much foretold what we are now witnessing and must tell about to our children and grandchildren who will be the most severely hit by it all. All these warnings were waved aside by the entitlement pushers, the ones who wanted to be elected and to run the managerial state. They misunderstood or more likely refused to see how it goes when one postpones coming to terms with Draconian profligacy.

Even today the statists among us are blaming everything on freedom, on the admittedly present but certainly not decisive corruptions that occur in the welfare state’s market place–which lack the proper institutional restrains of a genuine free market. All one needs to do is follow the writings of Paul Krugman, the most avid and visible contemporary apologist for the welfare state–the more his chicken come home, the more he advocates stricter controls of people’s economic conduct. Yes, control, control and more control is the statist’s answer to everything, as if statists had a clue how to manage things without running them to the ground like virtually all statists systems (that do not benefit from cheap oil or other vital resources) do eventually.

Truth is we are in for a rough ride and few people will weather it well. And our leaders–would be rulers, in fact–don’t want to admit it since they always want to reserve the right to restart the welfare state so they can continue to pretend to serve the public. But as I recently discovered Charles de Gaulle to have said, “In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” We all will be asked for sacrifices and to accept that those in charge of the public treasury are blameless; they were merely responding to their constituents and hadn’t a chance to inform them of the facts of economic life, the plainest of them being that one just cannot get blood out of a turnip.

One bit of silver lining: all this isn’t new; states throughout human history have gone bankrupt and somehow climbed out but mainly because they did not hesitate to subdue and plunder neighboring countries, to kill and maim their populations without mercy just to stay the course. But in our time, at least in the West, that option is no longer welcome a great deal; it is generally frowned upon to start a war to rip off largely peaceful countries. Instead, rulers resort to financial chicanery which ultimately amount to trying to square circles around the globe. All in the name of serving the people!

Still, lessons might be learned and the very slow and oft-interrupted road to liberation may continue.

Column on Krugman, Academic Freedom and Phony Whining

Krugman, Academic Freedom & Phony Whining

Tibor R. Machan

In his column of March 28, 2011, Paul Krugman whines a good deal about how Republicans in Wisconsin are targeting scholars who may not like their opposition to public service union profligacy. No doubt, in these battles all sides can go overboard but let’s just face it, the Left has been dominant in higher education for decades on end, which is why, perhaps, I am not a professor at Princeton University while Dr. Krugman is, and why my columns and blogs are mostly marginalized and his appear on the pages of The New York Times. (But enough of sour grapes!)

First, opposing public service unions does not amount to opposing organized labor, certainly not of the kind that would take place in a free market where competition affords the opportunity to seek out firms not hit by union action. Public union members work for monopolies and there is no option but to do business with them all. That’s a major difference and cause of most of the problems faced in Wisconsin and elsewhere vis-a-vis public employees.

Another point to keep in mind is that Wisconsin’s and other states’ universities are tax funded and citizens who have to foot their cost cannot walk away and go elsewhere to buy their higher education from an alternative institution, not unless they are willing to be charged twice. Furthermore, college professors, like college students, enjoy academic freedom, not the full protection of the rights secured via the Fist Amendment to the US Constitution. University policy, in part dictated by public officials at the state level, trumps academic freedom (which is mainly a tradition or custom, not a legal guarantee). Politicians, who take themselves to be in charge of–or, euphemistically put, “responsible for”–higher education policy, have the legal authority to butt in anytime they can convince themselves that it is a matter of the public interest to do so. And that task is a very easy one for politicians and bureaucrats, don’t kind yourself. So when Wisconsin’s politicians scrutinize public university employees, including professors, in the public interest, there is no legal argument that can be made against this. They are ultimately in charge, something they would not be if they dealt with private educational institutions (which, more like churches, largely enjoy constitutional protection from such meddlers).

None of this should come as a surprise to Paul Krugman, an old hand in the education industry. (His professed shock with Wisconsin’s politicians is just about as authentic as was the shock of the police captain at the end of the movie Casablanca with the illegal gambling that had been going at Ricks!) Once you are near the centers of power, such as state and federal capitols, you will use whatever legal or near legal means you can deploy to hang on to your clout and to gain more and more of it. Your opponents will, of course, always holler “foul” as you make your moves but this is certainly just a ruse. No one should be fooled that Republicans and Democrats or any other mainstream political bunch do not try every trick in the book to undermine those on the other side.

Dr. Krugman himself is simply playing the game–charge your opponents with ill will and corruption even while you are guilty of these as well. Maybe he thinks no one can figure this out, him being such a well positioned public intellectual. Fact is, however, that Krugman is simply trying to keep and gain power for his team. It has nothing to do with overarching principles, not, especially, when you recall, also, that Dr, Krugman is a fierce defender of pragmatism and opposes all ideologies, including the ideology of remaining true to the principles of proper public conduct. Only amateurs would be bother with that!

We live in a dog-eat-dog political arena and very few people have the backbone to remain above the fray. By now anyone who reads his stuff should know that Dr. Krugman isn’t one of them.

Column on Are Public Unions Unjust?

Are Public Unions Unjust?

Tibor R. Machan

Bona fide Labor unions work within a free market system where firms compete for customers who are normally able to switch from sellers of wares and services if they want to. Public works are noncompetitive, however. Workers who belong to public unions conduct their labor negotiations without their employers facing any competitors. The USPS, for example, has a monopoly over first class mail delivery; teachers at public schools are working for monopolistic employers–students must attend school and the funds are confiscated through taxation and not obtained through voluntary exchange. So, as the saying goes, public workers have the taxpayers over a barrel–there are no alternatives and in most cases one cannot refuse to deal with these workers.

So public workers unions are not genuine free market agents. As such they are able to have their terms met by the taxpaying public basically at the point of a gun. The public must deal with these workers otherwise they face legal sanctions. There is nowhere else to go apart from moving out of the state to another where the same situation obtains, where once again public unions possess monopoly powers and costumers have nowhere else they can turn to get a different deal or to avoid dealing altogether.

In a genuine free market place unionization would involve organizing workers in a firm that competes with others for costumers and with which costumers are free not to enter into trade. So the unions would not be able to engage in extortionist practices, making demands that must by law be met. If one’s child attends a public–or, as some prefer calling them, government–school, and teachers decide they want a higher salary or other benefits, the option of leaving the school doesn’t exist because one will be taxed to pay for it anyway. The same basic setup exists when it comes to any public work and unions. So for these folks to unionize is quite unjust.

Indeed, the rationale behind public works is not the same as behind private works. In the latter all the parties are involved so as to get the best deal they can find and bargaining occurs to bring this about. Public works, however, are supposed to amount to public service, something done not for profit but as a commitment to the public good or interest. Anyone who views public work as if it were the same as private work is suffering from a misconception or perpetrating a hoax.

Accordingly, all the people who work for governments, which are all supported through confiscatory payments–that is, taxation–are strictly speaking ineligible for unionization.

Public work in contrast to private business is something legally required and paid for involuntarily. So unlike going to the grocery store, of which there can be several in one’s neighborhood and which one can actually avoid if one decides to do with little food and household supplies, in the case of public services citizens are not free to deal with others or walk away from the providers.

Clearly, then, the original idea of labor organization into unions does not fit the public service situation. Unfortunately, this is rarely kept in mind. Thus when in Wisconsin or anywhere else for that matter public service employees are insisting on retaining the benefits they have obtained through bargaining with the government they were getting a very special deal. Public policy imposed their services on the citizenry and now the citizenry is no longer able to come up with the loot previously extracted from them via what comes to extortionist means. Yet, because much of the population–egged on by people who would very likely just as soon impose public services on everyone in every line of work (just check out Paul Kurgman’s column in The New York Times last Monday [2/21/11])–has sympathy for the usual laborer or worker when these are often dealing with powerful firms in a free market, the unions are getting a free pass in their current conflict with their employers.

This situation needs to be seriously reexamined. It may indeed imply that the entire idea of public service, let alone public service unionization, is misguided.