It is safe to say that Paul Krugman is much smarter than I am, and that he understands more economics than I do. He generates a great deal of incisive analysis about the economy, and has often had a gift for stabbing straight through to the one underlying piece of data that gives lie to an otherwise plausible economic theory.
I want to get that out of the way, because otherwise my readers (left and right) might assume that this post is a "libertarian economics blogger makes fun of liberal economist's poor reasoning skills" special, and that's not at all why I'm writing it. Paul Krugman is a brilliant and interesting analyst. He also, like everyone else, can be wrong.
There's an interesting phenomenon that often happens when I blog something critical of Paul Krugman: some of his bigger fans turn up in my comments to argue that I am not worthy to talk, because Paul Krugman is a brilliant insightful analyst who has forgotten more economics than I will ever learn--all undoubtedly true. Over and over, they say, Paul Krugman gets it right when other commentators get it wrong. And as proof of this rare perpicacity, they offer the fact that . . . Paul Krugman called the housing bubble in May 2005.
There is rich irony in the belief that Paul Krugman must be right, and I must be wrong, because he had the foresight to call the housing bubble. That's because I saw it in 2002. As you can see, I blogged quite a bit about it before Paul Krugman wrote his first column on the topic. Neither of us, as far as I can tell, understood what that meant for the financial system. But both of us saw it coming, me a little sooner.
This is not that surprising, actually. Lots of people saw it coming. You hear people asking a lot where the financial journalists were--how they could have missed the housing bubble--and the answer is that they didn't! The Economist was writing about it even before I did, thanks to Pam Woodall, the brilliant economics editor who really may have been the first commentator to identify the global phenomenon. Housing bubble stories and op-eds regularly appeared in newspapers like, well, The New York Times. But most people weren't reading the financial press (or this blog) in 2005, and so when they discover that Paul Krugman was writing about the housing bubble way back then, it seems like amazing foresight.
Meanwhile, today I stumbled across another example of Paul Krugman's "foresight", via David Henderson. Chris Alden, a co-founder of Red Herring, blogs about an article Krugman wrote for them back in the 1990s:
He went on to make some specific predictions, all of which were either mostly or completely wrong:
"Productivity will drop sharply this year."
Nope - didn't happen. In fact productivity continued to improve, as this chart shows:
"Inflation will be back. ...In 1999 inflation will probably be more than 3 percent; with only moderate bad luck--say, a drop in the dollar--it could easily top 4 percent."
"Within two or three years, the current mood of American triumphalism--our belief that we have pulled economically and technologically ahead of the rest of the world--will evaporate."
Nope -- that didn't happen, either. Though September 11th, which happened more than three years after this article, and the Lehman Brother's collapse, which happened more than 10 years after this article was written, have certainly reduced American triumphalism. Here is where I think Krugman may have been the most right, albeit it way too early.
"The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in 'Metcalfe's law'--which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants--becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other!
By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet's impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine's."
"As the rate of technological change in computing slows, the number of jobs for IT specialists will decelerate, then actually turn down; ten years from now, the phrase information economy will sound silly."
"Sometime in the next 20 years, maybe sooner, there will be another '70s-style raw-material crunch: a disruption of oil supplies, a sharp run-up in agricultural prices, or both."
Meh. While have seen oil prices spike (although they have yet to reach the annual peak we saw in 1980), this was not due to a crunch or disruption or running out of oil) but rather growth in demand.
I'm inclined to be more charitable than Alden on a couple of these, but there's no question that Krugman got some things really, really wrong.
But it doesn't follow that Krugman is an idiot who should get no respect--any more than calling the housing bubble made him an infallible genius. Krugman remains a giant intellect who is well worth reading on virtually any economic topic. He is also capable of being badly wrong about things.
You often hear people complain that pundits or analysts aren't punished for getting things wrong. But this is why they aren't: everyone gets things wrong. The question "How can you expect us to listen to Pundit Y when he got everything wrong, and our guy called things correctly" only reveals that the person asking it has managed to forget all the blunders "our guy" made.
What pundits give you is not a perfect map of the future--the only people who succeed in that are characters in historical novels written by an author who already knows what happened. What's important is their thought process--do they point you to arguments you hadn't considered? Do they find data you ought to know about? Do they force you to challenge your own decisions?
Paul Krugman succeeds on that score, even if his crystal ball is a little cloudy.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
It’s not easy fitting 1.2 million annual visitors onto an island of 330,000 residents.
Iceland may be beautiful, but it’s dangerously close to full. This is the message currently filtering out from the North Atlantic island as it struggles to absorb unprecedented numbers of visitors. Last year, the nation hosted 1.26 million tourists, a staggering number for a chilly island whose population barely scrapes past 330,000 citizens.
Those numbers are powered partly by a “Game of Thrones Effect” that has seen fans of the TV series flock to its shooting locations. The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which has since become a tourist attraction, also helped to push up its profile as a vacation spot—perversely so, given that the eruption initially led to 107,000 flights across Europe being canceled. Given the rocky waters the country has been sailing through since the 2008 financial crisis, the revenue brought in by this spike in tourism is no doubt welcome. But the sheer volume of visitors to what was until recent decades a remote part of the world is still causing major stress. So how can Iceland keep welcoming people while making sure it isn’t trampled underfoot?
LBJ led crucial legislation in 1965, changing the demographics of the U.S. But it offers a difficult model for future presidents to follow.
Nearly every new American president of the modern era has viewed the nation’s immigration policies as deeply flawed. Yet few of these modern executives have been willing to make immigration reform—one of the most dangerous issues in American politics—central to their agenda. Even fewer have had a measure of success doing so. Even the most dramatic and successful of all—Lyndon Johnson’s landmark 1965 reform—came with high political costs and uneven results. Yet, Johnson’s battle for reform underscores the way immigration policy can be a potent political tool and offers a model for future presidents.
Today, as in the past, efforts to significantly revise U.S. immigration laws and policies have divided even the most unified party coalitions. Campaigns for sweeping reform in this arena have regularly followed a tortured path of false starts, prolonged negotiation, and frustrating stalemate. And when non-incremental reforms have passed, rival goals and interests have complicated enactment. The result has been legislation that is typically unpopular among ordinary citizens and stakeholder groups alike, and which often places new and sometimes competing policy demands on the government. These dynamics—intraparty conflicts, elusive problem definition, difficult compromises, and unpopular outcomes—have typically frustrated most American presidents.
When new countries rise to power, the transition can end badly, often in war. Harvard’s Graham Allison has argued in The Atlantic that “judging by the historical record, war is more likely than not” between the United States, the world’s current reigning superpower, and China, a rising military and economic force. There is considerable debate on this point, but American pundits and presidential candidates often talk as if China were already an American adversary; Donald Trump has warned, for example, that China will “take us down.” Yet few in the United States seem worried about Asia’s other rising giant, India.
To the contrary, there’s a temptation to support India, a like-minded democracy, as a counterweight against the growing power of authoritarian China. But if American leaders feel confident India can accumulate power without becoming an antagonist, can they find a way to make the same true for China?
Whatever banking’s post-recession connotations may be, the historian William Goetzmann argues that monetary innovations have always played a critical role in developing civilization.
The title of the financial historian William Goetzmann’s new book is hard to argue with: Money Changes Everything.
In his book, Goetzmann, a professor of finance and the director of the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management, has documented how financial innovations—from the invention of money to capital markets—have always played a critical role in developing every culture around the world. In the fallout from the Great Recession, it’s been commonplace to vilify those working in the financial-services industry. But Goetzmann argues that finance is a worthwhile endeavor, beyond just earning a ton of money: Its innovations have made the growth of human civilization possible.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
In recent years, the idea that educators should be teaching kids qualities like grit and self-control has caught on. Successful strategies, though, are hard to come by.
In 2013, for the first time, a majority of public-school students in this country—51 percent, to be precise—fell below the federal government’s low-income cutoff, meaning they were eligible for a free or subsidized school lunch. It was a powerful symbolic moment—an inescapable reminder that the challenge of teaching low-income children has become the central issue in American education.
The truth, as many American teachers know firsthand, is that low-income children can be harder to educate than children from more-comfortable backgrounds. Educators often struggle to motivate them, to calm them down, to connect with them. This doesn’t mean they’re impossible to teach, of course; plenty of kids who grow up in poverty are thriving in the classroom. But two decades of national attention have done little or nothing to close the achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers.
The commons outside of Cortina D’Ampezzo are governed by a medieval property-rights system that has almost completely disappeared from the rest of Europe.
When tourists arrive at Cortina d’Ampezzo, “medieval” is probably not the first word that comes to their minds. This wealthy town 80 miles north of Venice, a posh destination in the Italian Alps, regularly hosts Alpine Skiing World Cup races and is a popular vacation choice both for wealthy foreigners and Italian celebrities. When looking for a place to set Vacanze di Natale (“Christmas Holidays”), a classic Italian movie franchise that satirizes the eccentricities of the rich, the writers picked Cortina.
Yet, the town still manages a portion of its land with a system that dates back to the 11th century. The system is one of collective property, overseen by heads of family—making it one of the last places in Europe where most women are formally barred from inheriting and controlling land.
Beginning in July of this year, most everywhere we look, there will be a giant number on our food. The change will affect hundreds of thousands of edible products, and, so, hundreds of millions of people. It will affect the way we think about food for decades. (This update is the first in more than 20 years—so long ago that the FDA earnestly describes its current label design as “iconic.”)
Current nutrition labels, legally required on all packaged foods, are to be be replaced with the explicit purpose of improving people’s health. As Michelle Obama said at the unveiling of the new labels on Friday, “Very soon, you will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids.”
A continuation of Valve’s acclaimed sci-fi series has been promised for 10 years, but seems no closer to fruition.
Ten years ago today, the video-game company Valve announced that Half-Life 2: Episode Three, the newest and much-anticipated chapter in its acclaimed sci-fi shooter series, would be out by the end of 2007. This was hardly surprising news: Valve had already released one episodic sequel to its smash hit Half-Life 2, and the second was due out soon. Still, news of Episode Three as “the last in a trilogy” was exciting to fans. Ten years later, they’re still waiting—and the new edition of Half-Life has gone from a eagerly awaited work to gaming history’s most famous piece of “vaporware”—a product announced to the public that the developer has no plans of actually making or releasing.
Since that announcement, Valve has released a dozen games, including the acclaimed Portal and Portal 2 and multiplayer smash hits like Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. But Half-Life 2 sequels ended with Episode Two, and over the years, Valve’s party line on a new installment went from a firm commitment to vague promises to tight-lipped refusals to say anything at all. The longer things go on, the more impossible everyone’s expectations become—if a new Half-Life were ever released, the hype would be unimaginably hard to match, and yet Valve’s initial promise hasonly added to the franchise’s mystique.