David R. Henderson  

Why I Read Paul Krugman

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Two commenters on a post I did recently on Paul Krugman, MingoV and Seth, want to know why I read Paul Krugman as frequently as I do. Specifically, MingoV wrote:

Why do economists concern themselves with Krugman's recent writings? His writings often are blatantly biased towards the left. When they aren't blatantly biased, they're often wrong or misleading. I don't read anything he writes, which reduces the number of anger-triggering events in my life.

Seth wrote:
I am also interested in the answer to MingoV's question. It has often baffled me how much attention and respect Krugman draws.

I had thought the reason I read Krugman would be obvious but perhaps not. The main reason is that he is one of the most important economics bloggers around. I'm an economics blogger. So to post about economics, it would be strange for me not to read him.

I can answer further by considering MingoV's reasons for not reading him.

MingoV: His writings often are blatantly biased towards the left.
David R. Henderson: Sure. And so that means I shouldn't read him? A lot of people read him. I think that alone makes it important to know what he's saying.

MingoV: When they aren't blatantly biased, they're often wrong or misleading.
David R. Henderson: True, but notice that even MingoV says "often," not "always." What's striking is for MingoV to have made this comment on my post on Krugman's contradictions. Krugman often is misleading and the fact that he has a large audience makes it even more important to point that out.

MingoV: I don't read anything he writes, which reduces the number of anger-triggering events in my life.
David R. Henderson: There's something to that. But I have two responses.
First, I grew up in an era when the adults around me worried about two superpowers having thousands of missiles aimed at each other that could reap massive destruction in an hour. I didn't think about it much and, while I didn't have a carefree existence, nuclear holocaust was low on my list of worries. But if I had claimed to be a writer on nuclear war, it would have been irresponsible of me not to learn about nuclear war. I'm an economics blogger and it would be irresponsible of me not to know what Krugman says. Would I be happier not knowing? Maybe. But I wouldn't be as good an economics blogger.
Second, I think part of maturity and, frankly, one of my characteristics I like best, is to be able to read things I disagree with, even when I think they are purposely misleading, and not get triggered. Even better is not only not to get triggered but also to separate the Krugman wheat from the Krugman chaff.
I have practiced not getting triggered for a long time. When I was 15, some students who got out of control during gym class while the gym teacher was goofing off in his office, tied a climbing rope into a noose. A bunch of them lifted me up and one of them put the noose around my neck. I realized my best strategy was to remain very calm and let them see that their little prank was just that and let them reach their own conclusion about how crazy this was. They did. That's why I'm here.


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COMMENTS (23 to date)
Ted Levy writes:

The fact he is wrong, you are correcting him, and he has a large audience would seem to be a better argument for publishing your comments in his blog's comment section, no? (Not necessarily instead of, but at least in addition to.)

Unlearningecon writes:

What bothers me is the implicit suggestion that there are other blogs which are not "biased" in some direction - the possibility of the purely objective bystander. But no such people exist: the things people discuss, and which judgments they make about them, are inherently coloured by their prior political leanings. For example, econlog is quite clearly "biased" toward libertarianism (hence the focus on libertarian issues, the frequent references to libertarian theories of distributive justice etc etc). This may annoy me at times but if I were to ignore it I'd just be reading blogs whose bias I agree with. That would only serve to make me more biased, which is surely not a good thing.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ted Levy,
Possibly. But most people don’t read comments.

weareastrangemonkey writes:

Unlearning econ gets it right. If you are not reading things because they are clearly biased you are probably only reading things with the same bias as your own. Beware the "bias blind spot" or the "own bias bias" as I like to call it: Everyone is biased, except me and my friends of course.

Do you think that Krugman's fame as a blogger might owe more to the New York Times than to the quality of Krugman's economics? Would Krugman attract as much attention if he published the same blog postings on his own private, personal blog?

Could the New York Times have found many other Keynesian economists, each of whom would be eager for the exposure granted by a blog on NYTimes.com, if the New York Times had not formed this relation with Krugman?

Ted Levy writes:

First, very funny to make that response, David, in your comments.

Second, I know nothing of relative sizes, but if--to grab a number--Krugman's blog has 10 times the readership of yours, you need only impress 10% of his readership to double your impact, assuming no overlap. Even with full overlap, you need only impress 11% of his readership in that example.

And of course, making assumptions about the average Krugman reader, these are perhaps the most important people to reach, if only with a brief comment and a link to your more elaborate post here. So...a consideration.

(You'll know it's working when PK attacks you personally.)

Seth writes:

Thank you, David. I appreciate that you took the time to answer. It was much better than I expected.

To respect this website's standards, I will post why I don't pay much attention to Krugman on my own blog.

Patrick L writes:

David, stop reading columns and blogposts put out under his name, he doesn't write them.


A bunch of years back I saw an interview with him which asked him why his blog/writing had taken a more political tact (after the Iraq War / Bush election I think). He said his wife was helping him with the columns, and he said it in a way that implied she was writing or helping write them.


Paul Krugman is too important to waste 3 or 4 of hours, or more each week to write a column. Most of the famous writers you read online, who are not professional writers full time (and even some that are), use ghost writers. He can find plenty of smart people who will write his columns for very cheap. People have talked about how he'll put something in a column that is incongruent with something he said or did just before then. There are even columns he's written that aren't compatible with things he's written in textbooks, or his work in Economics.

The evidence is clear. He does not write his columns, and whoever does, is not worth your time to read. Your life is too short to be bothered with this nonsense.

Jacob A. Geller writes:

You read Paul Krugman because, yes, he's an extremely important economics blogger -- and an even more important economist. (See "Economics Professors' Favorite Economic Thinkers, Journals, and Blogs (along with Party and Policy Views)")

You also read Paul Krugman because to the extent that he's important, widely read, yet wrong, you want to correct him; and in order to correct him, you have to read him. (See "Ideological Turing Test" or "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that")

Daniel Kuehn writes:

The other reason to read Krugman, I should hope, is the prospect that MingoV, Seth, and you might be wrong about these assumptions about him - and that Krugman may be the one that is (relatively) unbiased (we all have some bias), and not misleading or wrong.

That for me is one of the biggest reasons for reading diverse opinions that I disagree with. I could be the one that is wrong.

More people need to be open and accepting of that prospect I think - particularly in the blogosphere. After all, very smart, honest people think Krugman is the right one here. That should give any reasonable person a reason to think he could in fact be right.

Curtis writes:

I don't read him anymore and I am one that would probably agree with his positions. I just can't take his attitude anymore. His polemics and personal attacks don't do anyone any good. I'm too big a fan of civil discourse to waste my time reading him. I wish more would do the same.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ted Levy,
First, very funny to make that response, David, in your comments.
Not really. I was responding to you. I knew that you would read the comments.
Second, I know nothing of relative sizes, but if--to grab a number--Krugman's blog has 10 times the readership of yours, you need only impress 10% of his readership to double your impact, assuming no overlap. Even with full overlap, you need only impress 11% of his readership in that example.
To take that number, I don’t think even 10% of his readers, even those who comment, read the comments.
And of course, making assumptions about the average Krugman reader, these are perhaps the most important people to reach, if only with a brief comment and a link to your more elaborate post here. So...a consideration.
I guarantee that the most important people he reaches don’t read the comments.

MG writes:

How can anyone honestly read Krugman on the seemingly pragmatic basis that his view/take on an issue be proven to be actually not wrong (or even right)? Almost anyone's problem with Krugman analysis is that he seldom qualifies views as hypotheses, and even more infrequently posits them in ways that are falsifiable given a limited number of realistic suppositions stated before-the-fact.

chris writes:

Three comments:
1. If an argument is fallacious, then attack the argument and 'prove' that it is wrong.
2. If someone is writing anger-triggering stuff, is the problem "the stuff" or does the reader need professional help.
3. To advance an opinion is easy. Build a model and show me why your view is the correct one (and others are wrong) and back up that model with real data.

' He said his wife was helping him with the columns, and he said it in a way that implied she was writing or helping write them.'

Sorta like publishing a textbook under the name Krugman and Wells.

One reason to read Krugman is for the same reason the CIA had spies in the USSR (and that Stalin had Harry Dexter White); to keep informed of the enemy's positions.

Another is that even the worst among us can be useful as a good bad example.

Methinks writes:

The comment I most agree with is Patrick R. Sullivan's. The one I find most amusing is Daniel Kuehn's.

Krugman is no longer an economist and he often writes very silly stuff (prepare for a war with mars! Our world is sooooo "topsy-turvy" now that fallacies are no longer fallacies! Deficits are bad only when the occupant of the White House is a Republican!). He's no good on economics, logic or comedy. The only thing he's fairly good at - if transparent - is political axe grinding. Meh.

Mark English writes:

The last paragraph of the OP intrigues me. I'm having a bit a trouble with the implicit parallel between Krugman and the out-of-control and potentially-murderous schoolboys. The latter posed a physical threat which was dealt with calmly. The threat may have proved more dangerous had it triggered an aggressive or fearful response in the victim. (On the other hand, had the potential victim been a more aggressive type, he may not have been singled out...)

Anyone should of course feel free to read (and write about) whoever they please, but, for what it's worth, I doubt the value of reading the sort of thing the Guardian publishes these days, for example, or the sort of thing Krugman (or Krugman's wife) writes.

The risk (mentioned above by somebody) of having one's own biases reinforced is minimal so long as one is self-critical and reads high quality material (of whatever political orientation).

And writing about popular, poor-quality sources, even in a critical vein, only adds to their popularity – doesn't it?

Jon Murphy writes:

I both agree and disagree.

On the one hand, you should know what others are saying.

On the other, does knowing what others are saying greatly influence your own writings? (this is a rhetorical question; not expecting an answer).

For example, for my job I am an economic forecaster. When the current CEO bought the company, he made a conscience decision to relocate to New Hampshire. The reasoning: be far away from the "noise" of New York and Washington and Boston and see the picture clearly.

Our writings, our forecasts, our publications, come from how we see the data. Our forecasts often contradict the "consensus" of the other firms, but it doesn't bother us because we are nearly always right (94.7% accuracy rating four quarters out!). In 2003, we were calling for a massive recession in 2007/2008 (ok I'm done bragging). The point here is that we ignored all the noise coming from IHS Global Insight and Moody's and all the others and made our own calls.

But, on the other hand, we are aware of what our competitors are saying.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mark English,
The last paragraph of the OP intrigues me. I'm having a bit a trouble with the implicit parallel between Krugman and the out-of-control and potentially-murderous schoolboys.
You should have trouble with such a parallel. Fortunately, I didn’t draw such a parallel, although I can now see how you, and possibly other readers, thought I was trying to.
My point was simply that in a moment when it was potentially life or death whether I was triggered, I chose to be calm. If I can do that when someone is thinking about killing me, then surely I can avoid being triggered when the stakes are much, much lower.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

It's fun and useful to pick apart common, bad arguments by your foes. It's more important to address the better arguments. Krugman articulates those as well as anyone on his side, and if you can reference that Krugman makes the argument, it helps establish the point is not some silly argument made by the fringe.

Chris writes:

I like Krugman's blog most of the time. I do not like his personal attacks, however.
I also like Econlib, John Cochrane and Mankiw. This combination gives me a solid view I think. What Krugman is very good at is: writing, back of the envelope economics that give me a very good view of his underlying economic model.

Mike M writes:

In your role as a professional economist and economics blogger, I recognize and agree with your reasons for reading Krugman. As I noted on Seth's blog, you have more to gain and less to lose from reading him than not reading him. It's beneficial to understand what "wisdom" (or lack thereof) his large number of readers are being fed. Whether what he says is true or not is not the point. Much of what he says is unmitigated foolishness. What is useful is to understand what a large number of Americans believe - even if it's wrong.

For me (not a professional economist), a few readings of the post-Nobel Krugman were enough. Election results and general readings give me a good general idea what many Americans believe. So, for me, what I stand to gain from reading Krugman does not justify the time I could spend reading something else. To borrow from one politician, the opportunity cost is just too damn high!

Craig Jones writes:

The best reason to read Krugman is also the best reason to listen to EconTalk -- cause more ideas are better than fewer.

Krugman is no MORE biased -- or incorrect -- than any other economist from the left or right. It's ALL bias.

Economics is not about science. It's about selecting evidence to produce a preferred story.

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