Understanding Paul Krugman

Is economics a science? Do economists try to don the mantle of scientists as a way of groundlessly asserting their authority? Karl Smith thinks not, and proposes the following model of Paul Krugman as evidence:

Conservatives will no doubt have noticed that one of Krugman’s major themes is that their point of view is stupid. One might be inclined to think that this is a rude way of saying “you do not have access to the scientific knowledge that I do.”

It is not. It is a statement about what he thinks of your intelligence and ability to draw well formed conclusions.

He is not saying, I have such a deep understanding into the nature of the economy that everyone should listen to me. He is quite literally saying that the statements of conservatives convey such a shallow and imbecilic understanding of the economy that no one should consider listening to them.

He is not claiming the mantle of science, he is claiming the mantle of not being a moron.

I agree: Paul Krugman is not a moron. But then, I’m not sure his critics are either. Perhaps they’re actually smart people who are just responding to a lot of bad incentives? I’m not sure if that’s a more or less charitable view, though.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen weighs in:

Economics is most like a science when people do not care about the outcome of the argument.

Yep. That’s a little more evenhanded way of saying what I said.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

Donate Now