David Brooks and Paul Krugman Need to Take It Outside

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Enough is enough: It's time to settle the passive aggressive fight between New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and David Brooks once and for all. 

This morning, Times readers were greeted with another rebuttal from Brooks to Krugman masquerading as a column about "structuralists" vs. "cyclicalists." Brooks never mentions Krugman by name but when he talks about Keynesian "cyclicalists" who believe in more government borrowing and more government spending, we all know who he's talking about: Paul Krugman. 

Just one day earlier, Krugman's column promoted the idea of short-term spending and borrowing in a celebration of the ascent of Francois Hollande, France's new socialist president. As if we needed the reminder (we've got an Internet addiction, we concede), the Facebook module beside Brooks's column even points readers to Krugman's piece. 

This vexing game of winking intellectual fisticuffs needs to stop. 

Last month, Krugman pulled the same thing, bashing critics of President Obama's economic speech directly following a Brooks criticism of, you guessed it, President Obama's economic speech. That episode followed a similar fight between the two last April when Brooks criticized Obama for not reaching across the aisle and Krugman responded by saying the "civility police" are whining that Obama is acting too partisan. In a later Brooks column, he criticized the kind of people with the "luxury of being freely obnoxious" and who reside in the "realm of Upper Blowhardia." Then-New Republic scribe Jonathan Chait said the column "reflect[s] what I strongly suspect is Brooks' view of Krugman."

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The annoying thing about all of this, of course, is that there's something artificial about engaging with your opponent in writing and never directly addressing him or her. The readers are left watching two opponents fire shotgun shells into the air instead of directly at each other. When asked about the Brooks-Krugman Cold War last month, Brooks told the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone "I really can't comment on a colleague's column. Tough enough to keep up with my own." Too bad.

We're also missing out on a potentially entertaining, high-stakes battle of wits. Think Jennifer Rubin's Twitter wars with her colleagues times ten. Slate's Matthew Yglesias probably put it best in a tweet this morning. "Couldn't the New York Times sell tickets to a Brooks-Krugman debate and make tons of money?" That's what we call a revenue driver! Give the readers what they want, Andrew Rosenthal.
Update: This Cold War refuses to turn hot. In an e-mail, Brooks denies that his column was inspired by Krugman:

I'd say the number of people emphasizing cyclical need to boost demand and hostility toward austerity is very large.  Dozens of economists and commentators

Similarly there are dozens on my side so I don't regard it as a one on one disagreement.  

It's certainly plausible. Still, we find it increasingly unlikely that lightning keeps striking in the same place over and over again. Krugman has yet to respond to our query. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.