Is Krugman an Oracle?

by Brien Jackson

I think Justin Fox is making an awfully big leap here:

Whether it’s worth an “expensive subsidy of a few entities” to do this is of course debatable, and it’s entirely possible that Hempton and I are guilty of wishful thinking about Treasury’s intentions. But it’s also possible that Krugman is guilty of whatever the opposite of wishful thinking is. And I guess that what set me off about tc125231’s comment, and caused me to ramble on and on here, is the omniscience it seems to attribute to Krugman. It’s not just tc125231: Krugman’s critique of the Geithner plan got huge amounts of uncritical play in the media today. He’s getting to be one of those people whose every statement is treated as oracular. Which I tend to take as a dangerous sign.

Krugman is a great economist and a great writer (the latter is in evidence more in his blog and his pre-NYT writings than in his column). He’s also a guy with tons of opinions, some of which are backed up by economic theory and many of which aren’t. He has some “emotional biases,” as do we all.  And every so often, he’s going to be dead wrong.

I certainly think there’s far too much deference in some quarters to Krugman’s writing vis-a-vis the financial crisis. Indeed, I think a lot of it amounts to a basic appeal to authority fallacy to continue to cite “Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman” when talking about his financial opinions, simply because his (much deserved) Nobel had nothing to do with finance. Which isn’t to say that Krugman isn’t smarter than most people, myself included, but he’s certainly not infalliable, and if you’re really looking for the opinion of accomplished experts in the field of finance, you’re not going to find a much higher authority in this country than…Tim Geithner or Ben Bernanke.

Of course, I think a lot of the deference you see to Krugman in some circles (see Sirota, David), is simply a function of the fact that Krugman is agreeing with them. I doubt very much that you’ll see the same sort of citation should Krugman disagree with them, and I certainly doubt you’d see much of a shift in opinion based on what Krugman says (that Krugman supported the bailout certainly didn’t change the OpenLefters opinion any). So I think Fox is being a bit hyperbolic here.

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