Monday, March 18, 2013

Marches of the Non Sequitur

I really was ready to shout, "Hallalujah!" when I saw the title of Paul Krugman's latest column on the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. When I met Krugman in 2004 at the Southern Economic Association meetings in New Orleans, we were discussing Iraq and I told him that I was afraid we would live the results of that war for the rest of our lives, and he agreed. I hated the war then and always will hate what the U.S. Government has done there.

Had he left things at that, I would have written a post filled with hosannas for Krugman's good judgment. Alack and alas, The Great One was using Iraq as a warmup for claiming that since the war was bad and the media did a terrible job in dealing with it, then any media criticism of the current federal budget deficit also is bad. Don't you get it? Media wrong then; therefore, media wrong now.

This is what the ancients once called the non sequitur (Latin for "it does not follow") in which the conclusion is not supported by the premises. If Washington was "wrong" on Iraq, then Washington certainly must be "wrong" on anything regarding the federal budget. Everyone knows that!

Even beyond Krugman's logical fallacy, there is another problem with his argument: Washington hardly is a place where "austerity" is being practiced, much less preached. The Republicans hardly were "austere" during their days of controlling all branches of the federal government and when people talk of "draconian budget cuts," they really are referring to alleged "cuts" in the INCREASE of spending. In other words, any slowdown in the rate of increase in spending is termed "austerity" by people who should know better.

Then there are statements like the following in which Krugman wants to claim that the mainstream media is on the side of "austerity": as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. It has been especially striking how often questionable assertions are reported as fact. How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?

To be honest, I cannot recall reading anything recently in the mainstream press recently that referenced a "debt crisis." However, I would add that the U.S. Government is not paying its debts via any methods other than financial trickery, something that cannot continue forever without serious consequences. The U.S. Government pays its debts either by borrowing more money or essentially printing the payments, neither of which is sustainable.

No, we are not in a current "debt crisis," as one might define the term. Not even the Austrians are making that claim. The Austrians do say, however, that the real financial damage that the government and the Federal Reserve System has been doing is not going to have a happy ending. Krugman and his True Believers may believe that printed money essentially is real wealth (and that ultimately is what they are claiming), but the laws of economics have a way of making themselves known, and there will come a time when Ben Bernanke has no more rabbits to pull out of his hat.


Anonymous said...

Could you tell us more about your experience meeting Professor Krugman?

William L. Anderson said...

He was speaking at a session of the Southern Economic Association meetings and I asked him during the Q&A if he supported the 70 percent tax rates that existed before 1981. His reply was: "Those rates were insane." He is more malleable on that today, from what I can see.

We chatted afterward and I told him that I really was interested in his answer on that subject, and he said he didn't mind the question. I also said I disagreed with him on his views of medical care, just having had stents put in to deal with blocked arteries. (I would have another such operation just a month later.)

My point was that I would have had to wait for a long time had I been in Canada, since they would have considered my 90 percent blockage of three arteries "not life-threatening" and that would have meant a wait of six months or longer.

We also chatted about Iraq and I told him I was in absolute agreement with him regarding his views of that war. And neither of us have budged from that.

I believe the Iraq war was utterly immoral and I only wish that Americans could understand just the violence the armed forces did to those people. What is instructive to me, however, is that the government looks at the rest of us the way it saw Iraqis: just a bunch of collateral damage ready to happen. The government holds nearly everyone in utter contempt, and that includes the government of Barack Obama. My guess is that Krugman does not see Obama in the same way, or at least I never have seen him say anything publicly negative about the violence the Obama administration has unleashed against innocent people.

Dennis said...

It's no coincidence that the anti-war left has been remarkably silent since Obama took office. Big wars require big government, and if forced to choose, many liberals will side with big government over non-intervention. They also love the "nation-building" aspect of the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They see it as the moral duty of the American taxpayer to fix the myriad of serious problems that face these nations in areas like infrastructure, health care and education. So we wind up with an open-ended, undefined commitment to these countries that will probably only end with the bankruptcy of the United States.

Mike said...

I looked up “Paul Krugman” in the dictionary and all it said was “See Logical Fallacy.”

So I looked up “Logical Fallacy” in the same dictionary and all it said was “See Paul Krugman”

Zachriel said...

William L. Anderson: This is what the ancients once called the non sequitur (Latin for "it does not follow") in which the conclusion is not supported by the premises.

It's not a non sequitur. He points to areas where he things there are similarities between the supposed consensus before the Iraq War, adn the supposed consensus on the deficit. You could argue that he is wrong on the similarity—perhaps there really is a consensus on the deficit, or the dynamic is fundamentally different.

Waving your hand and ignoring the points of similarity he discussed is not a valid argument.

Zachriel said...

William L. Anderson: If Washington was "wrong" on Iraq, then Washington certainly must be "wrong" on anything regarding the federal budget.

That's not Krugman's argument. His argument is that there was an "illusion of consensus" on the Iraq War, and that there is a similar "illusion of consensus" on the deficit. In both cases, he claims, contrary voices are being marginalized, and therefore, debate is being cut short.

Publius said...

I agree with Zachriel. I don't think he means "media wrong on Iraq, therefore media wrong on deficit." He means we shouldn't have blindly trusted the media on Iraq, and that with that enormous example of the media being wholeheartedly wrong, people should question the media's judgement on the deficit as well. I for one don't think the media does a particularly inteligent job of reporting on the debt and deficit. It's not going to get people killed, but they're still not very good.

Steve said...

A quick google of the following—
"debt crisis" "washington post"
"debt crisis" "new york times"
"debt crisis" "cnn"
"debt crisis" "fox"
"debt crisis" "romney"—
reveals a pretty good drumbeat of debt crisis rhetoric. There are some subtleties though: Boehner claims it is "looming" rather than "imminent." And while the political wing sometimes argues the point by comparison to Europe, outlets like CNN gladly sharpen the point with the phrase "debt crisis." (Google "cnn" "romney" "debt crisis" for a clear example of this.) In comparing the media's fear-mongering to that of ten years ago, Krugman seems substantially correct.
On the bright side, a Fox poll reveals that "Americans believe debt crisis is 'immediate threat.'" Glad you've managed to keep your head about you, while others are losing theirs!

As for Dennis' comment "the anti-war left [being] remarkably silent since Obama took office": really? Did you miss the whole 'Occupy' thing, which was staffed in part by the anti-war left? While there's a lot to criticize in the Occupy movement, plenty of voices within it see the forces invading Iraq AS a movement of global capital. (Lest anyone accuse me of a non-sequitur, a key connecting-term here is "privatization.")

Anyhoo: before my troll hat becomes a permanent part of my head, let me say thanks for your blog & its spur to thought....

JJ CHimpihan said...


Krugman is a charlatan of the highest order

Elmer Gantry come to life as economist-snake oil salesman

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro's dream date , morally bankrupting the economy and economics


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