Saturday, January 15, 2011

There are two types of people in the world... 

..people who think exactly like Paul Krugman and people who think the exact opposite of Paul Krugman's thoughts. This is what he claims in A Tale of Two Moralities, yesterday's very sad and revealing editorial. Or perhaps he is working on a logic textbook to follow up his economics text, and he mistakenly submitted his elementary example of 'False Dichotomy' instead of his column for the Times:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There’s no middle ground between these views.
Apparently, nobody thinks that a smaller state helps the little guy, or that medical and health benefits for all is more than a safety net, or that government could be simultaneously more limited and more effective, or even subscribes to the empirically well-supported notion that a state that promises too much risks massive failure in its most basic promises. Furthermore, Krugman knows this because of his intimate knowledge of the intentions and thought processes of "the other side" (reminding us of Arnold Kling's 'Type M' argument). Krugman's "fundamental disagreement about the role of government" is a light switch with no dimmer - entitlements for all or full-on social darwinism.

Of course, in the process of polarizing a continuum of thought about the proper and effective scope of government, Krugman can also create a strawman:

In a way, politics as a whole now resembles the longstanding politics of abortion — a subject that puts fundamental values at odds, in which each side believes that the other side is morally in the wrong. Almost 38 years have passed since Roe v. Wade, and this dispute is no closer to resolution.
Funny, almost everyone I know can see both sides of the abortion debate, and I live in Krugman's hometown. There are certainly those who are moral absolutists about it. Still, they have a normative belief that a human life begins in the womb. That's a bit different than having an opinion about which government policies will lead to the greater good. But then again Krugman doesn't believe that anyone who disagrees with him wants to enhance the greater good. They just want to kill babies..er...or old people..er..or puppies! Damn puppy killers.

Yet we have, for the most part, managed to agree on certain ground rules in the abortion controversy: it’s acceptable to express your opinion and to criticize the other side, but it’s not acceptable either to engage in violence or to encourage others to do so.

What we need now is an extension of those ground rules to the wider national debate.

Right now, each side in that debate passionately believes that the other side is wrong. And it’s all right for them to say that. What’s not acceptable is the kind of violence and eliminationist rhetoric encouraging violence that has become all too common these past two years.
Krugman returns to his favorite themes here -"eliminationist rhetoric", a form of political speech that he can recognize but not clearly define, and the thoroughly debunked notion that such speech has something to do with actual domestic violence. Of course, he's discovered "eliminationist rhetoric" in his wide-ranging primary research on the other side of the ideological tracks but he is, apparently, unread in other field research classics by distinguished rhetoric anthropologists.

So this is a very sad and narrow-minded piece of rationalization in the end, too pathetic to enrage. Krugman has revealed his own emotions-driven thought process in the mirror image he creates of "the other side". We know that very few get up in the morning thinking "I'm going to be a selfish bastard today", yet he looks at his reflection and sees millions of them. As the shrinks say, "very interesting".

UPDATE: of course, these sorts of arguments can quickly lead to cognitive dissonance.

Have the inhabitants of Bizarro World finally broken through to Earth? Krugman offers, with no apparent sense of irony, a columnproclaiming the virtues of the modern welfare state and a Times magazine article explaining the collapse of the modern welfare state. It's two Krugmans in one!


By Blogger steve, at Sun Jan 16, 12:09:00 AM:

Of course there is a middle ground between these views. It is all a matter of degree. There can be too much tax and there can be too little tax.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Jan 16, 12:16:00 AM:

Isn't Mr.Krugman an economist?

Why is his social commentary of greater importance than any blogger that posts on this site?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 16, 04:21:00 AM:

In what universe can there be too little tax? The concept is absurd.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Sun Jan 16, 04:48:00 AM:

There can be too little tax. Democracy depends on the need for the government to ask the citizens for money.

Where the state gets all it needs from a resource such as oil, and has no need to levy any taxes, it has no need to grant any freedoms.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 16, 06:04:00 AM:

Democracy depends on the need for the government to ask the citizens for money.

Only if the citizens can realistically say no. I'd say that's not true in the US.

Where the state gets all it needs from a resource such as oil, and has no need to levy any taxes, it has no need to grant any freedoms

That's just bizarre. Are you thinking of Saudi Arabia? They grant no freedoms because Islam says they shouldn't. It has nothing to do with oil.  

By Anonymous sirius, at Sun Jan 16, 07:24:00 AM:

What if the state got all it needs from a resource such as wind or solar power? Wouldn't that be the Utopian dream?  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Sun Jan 16, 08:10:00 AM:

Krugman's keyboard is flapping, again. He really should see to that.

The man is existing on the handouts of a jobs welfare program for hack journalists. Why does anyone take anything his keyboard randomly emits seriously? Lots of bandwidth being wasted on his...stuff.

Eric Hines  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Sun Jan 16, 10:48:00 AM:

Krugman writes for power, prestige, and privilege ... he enjoys the celebrity he seeks from those whose admiration he covets. He's trying to be provocative.

But where he's off is that I think most conservatives want to tax broadly and fairly to care for the needy in the USA. But what do people need is the question at hand. Poverty is now about $22,000/year for a family of four, I anticipate this not including a lot of uncounted income-in-kind. That's a lot in it's way. But even beyond that, as we learned in the 60s through the 90s, many poor people take welfare and buy heroin with it (or some variation on that theme, even if it's just taking welfare and lying on the couch). Thus, welfare is not what they need; some kind of structured and mildly coercive mechanism for re-acquiring autonomy is what they need. It's a hard thing to do for govenrment, but I think it's the key to really realizing the dream of the USA.  

By Blogger Stephen, at Sun Jan 16, 11:33:00 AM:

Krugman seems to be articulating two different views of freedom--equal outcome versus equal opportunity. He thinks everyone should have the same basics regardless of their effort. The fact that this was tried in communist countries and led to poverty for everyone except the elite does not seem to deter him. Remind me again why he got a Nobel prize in economics?  

By Blogger jgreene, at Sun Jan 16, 06:48:00 PM:

The more I listen to the ravings of the left-wing, progressives the more I think that there is something emotionally wrong with them. They are simply unable to see two sides of an "argument" when both parties to the argument are sincere in their "point of view".

Krugman and his leftist ilk in the MSM are indeed a mirror image of TOTALITARIAN thought, but they never look in the mirror. Perhaps they KNOW that their MEANS justifies their ENDS. Why argue a point, when you can DESTROY the person.

They continually accuse Conservatives of EXACTLY what they are guilty of - vituperative hatred. Unfortunately for them, the New Media can IMMEDIATELY access the FACTS and present them to a floundering "journolister".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 16, 07:32:00 PM:

"Thus, . . . some kind of structured and mildly coercive mechanism for re-acquiring autonomy is what they need."

Such a thing exists: hunger.

If only there were not so many barriers to providing employment to those currently without many employment-related skills.  

By Blogger Swen, at Sun Jan 16, 08:27:00 PM:

I wake up every morning vowing to be a selfish bastard, in a Lincolnesque sort of way:

Abraham Lincoln, in a conversation with another passenger in a horse-drawn coach, argued that all altruism is an illusion. After Lincoln argued that selfishness prompts all good deeds, he noticed a sow making a terrible noise. Her piglets had gotten into a pond and were in danger of drowning. Lincoln called the coach to a halt, jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs to safety. Upon his return, his companion remarked, "Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?" "Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have no peace of mind all day had I gone and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs."

So you see, if I do something that appears to be altruistic, I'm actually doing it to suit my own vanity, not out of goodwill. Should such silly sentiments as sympathy or goodwill intrude on my consciousness I lie down until the feeling passes. I've a feeling Krugman thinks the same way....  

By Blogger Tucanae Services, at Sun Jan 16, 08:32:00 PM:

"What if the state got all it needs from a resource such as wind or solar power? Wouldn't that be the Utopian dream?"

By E Hines

A dream is exactly what it is. Govt is at the core a labor intensive enterprise and is not driven by energy sources. Even if the govt got all its energy from solar it would still have to tax to pay for the wages of the govt workers on its staff.  

By Blogger Swen, at Sun Jan 16, 08:44:00 PM:

Oops, linky. Is altruism an illusion?

By Blogger tom swift, at Sun Jan 16, 08:45:00 PM:

Krugman's arguments rely on a feeble sort of intellectual sleight-of-hand. He has no point to make here except the one he's been pushing all week - free speech is bad and must be limited. To do this he must deny the obvious - that words and actions are distinct things. Hence the postulate of "eliminationist rhetoric." Somehow, in the alternate Krugman universe, this is equivalent to action, and not just a subset of speech; it therefore qualifies for Krugmanesque regulation.

Krugman also has obvious problems with anything but a black-and-white universe (now sometimes called Manichean, though I don't think that does justice to genuine religious Manichaeism). Hence, the real world is invisible to him. American politics takes place around the center; those who see things only in black and white can't even see the real battleground.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jan 16, 09:35:00 PM:

Swen, I've heard that since college - essentially, if I can find the least selfish motive in something I or another does, that's the whole show. Thus altruism does not exist.

Rubbish. Motives are always mixed. Identifying a scrap of selfishness does not invalidate the altruism. We are all aware of times when our motives are clearly more selfish. Therefore, there are times when they are less selfish.

As to Krugman and others who use this Class M type of argument, I am undecided whether it is a rhetorical ploy with an interest in discrediting the opposition, or a belief maintained as a psychological crutch to reassure oneself that one's tribe is the righteous one.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 16, 10:04:00 PM:

Krugman's great problem is that is lacks any sort of organizing force to his mind, he is a fanatic in search of a faith. He lashes out. He doesn't have the courage or the mind to advocate for something really comprehensive in scope, only agitate along the margins. In this he isn't unusual, especially among the publicity hounds of punditry, just uglier and dumber than others. Maguire loves having him out there as a convenient punching bag, since he readily provides blog posting topics. Today it's MH Dreck's turn (and a good one it is!). Thanks for posting this fine piece.  

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