Krugman's Grand Corporate Fake Science Conspiracy
At least when it comes to economics, Paul Krugman can claim a sufficient knowledge base and expertise to justify taking his statements seriously. However, Krugman's recent bloviating on intelligent design and global warming, as usual, leaves much to be desired. In fact, the only justifiable consensus I can determine that might be found as a result of Krugman's article is the one that forms around the thesis that Krugman talks out of his...well...caboose. Enough preamble--on to the Fisking!
I'd like to nominate Irving Kristol, the neoconservative former editor of The Public Interest, as the father of "intelligent design." No, he didn't play any role in developing the doctrine. But he is the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement - a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right.
As I have often argued on this blog, one of the consistent failings by Darwinists and criticis of Intelligent Design is this constant resortment to ad hominem attack. If ID is so easily dismissed on substantive grounds, why the consistent effort to find the 'real' motivation behind its proponents? But wait a second. Is it intelligent design that Krugman is criticising here? Nope. Krugman thinks intelligent design is bunk, and is trying to associate it (and its presumed unscientific character)...with economics arguments he doesn't like. ID isn't science, it uses strategy X, strategy X was developed to support supply side, hence supply side is no more scientific than intelligent design. Whatever you think of ID or supply side, this is a particularly henious effort at equivocation and fallicious debate.
Back in 1978 Mr. Kristol urged corporations to make "philanthropic contributions to scholars and institutions who are likely to advocate preservation of a strong private sector." That was delicately worded, but the clear implication was that corporations that didn't like the results of academic research, however valid, should support people willing to say something more to their liking.
Not only is this implication not 'clear'...it doesn't exist at all. While I have been unable to find the full text of this quote online (indeed, the only references to it I've found are to Krugman's article), you don't need the text to see that Krugman is full of it. ***Anyone who could provide context to the comments would be appreciated.*** Anyway, the clear implication of Kristol's statement is most certainly not to suggest that corporations should fund studies that say what corporations want to hear *without respect to validity*. In fact, Kristol doesn't say ANYTHING OF THE KIND. I find it extremely hard to believe that Irving Kristol does not believe that the benefits of a strong private sector are empirically grounded. But that's what Krugman would have us believe. In fact, if you read the article that Kristol wrote and that Krugman quotes below, you find this statement:
"We at The Public Interest, having known poverty at first hand–the authors of the War on Poverty were mainly upper-middle-class types–and witnessing the ways poverty was overcome in reality, by gradual economic growth with the concomitant growth of economic opportunity, were utterly contemptuous of this idea. And our attitude had surprising echoes in unexpected places. The reason was that most of us were social scientists, and as Pat Moynihan put it, the best use of social science is to refute false social science."
It is even more difficult to believe that Krugman is not aware of that. He quotes Kristol from this article. Kristol is hardly calling for corporations to give money to "scholars and institutions" to make stuff up. In fact, he is making the opposite argument. That contributions should go to scholars doing research which he clearly believes is not only valid, but as a rebuttal to *invalid* 'research.' Note, you don't have to *agree* with Kristol to recognize that this is what he is arguing! The clear implication of Kristol's comment is that he thinks there is a dearth of monetary support for research on markets supporting a private sector and that he thinks this research is worthy of funding BECAUSE IT IS VALID...NOT DESPITE IT. He makes no claim that this research should be fraudulent or is fraudulent. Krugman simply makes up this nonsense about Kristol calling for fake research and calls it a 'clear implication.' Poppycock.
Mr. Kristol led by example, using The Public Interest to promote supply-side economics, a doctrine whose central claim - that tax cuts have such miraculous positive effects on the economy that they pay for themselves - has never been backed by evidence. He would later concede, or perhaps boast, that he had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit."
"Political effectiveness was the priority," he wrote in 1995, "not the accounting deficiencies of government."
First, Krugman's description of supply-side economics is a strawman. It doesn't call for some 'miraculous' positive economic effect and it most certainly never posits the claim that *any* tax cut is 'paid for' in the sense that it necessarily nets more or at least as much in increasted tax revenues as a higher tax regime. Even a rudimentary understanding of the Laffer Curve (something Krugman should have) shows that some tax cuts *may* result in lower tax inlays...depending on where the current tax regime is located on the curve in terms of the relative burden of taxes on the economy. For example, the most obvious example is if you cut taxes to a zero percent rate. Do supply-siders argue that this miraculously produces more money for the government (i.e. gets paid for)? No, of course not. That would be silly...just as silly as Krugman's caricature.
An excellent article on what supply-side economics is really about can be found here. Supply-siders argued that cutting the highest tax rates in the 1980's would yield greater inlays because those tax rates were a burden on productivity. It was hardly the result of some 'miracle.' Note, this isn't merely a strawman in the sense that Krugman is caricaturing the supply-side argument...it is a strawman in the context of Krugman's argument. Remember the analogy to ID. Krugman argues that ID is a made up scientific facade for a political strategy. That is what Krugman is arguing that supply-side is! Something invented in the 70's by disreputable folks bought and paid for by corporations at the behest of Irving Kristol. As you can see, the economic principles that are the foundation of 'supply-side economics' have been around for hundreds of years. While supply-side was popularized among American economists in the 1970's, the notion that it is some giant political conspiracy to hide the obvious and supreme consensus on the nature of tax cuts evident in the data is...well...insane.
Second, this is a blatant misrepresentation of what Irving Kristol wrote in the Public Interest. You can read Kristol's full article here. Let's examine the relevant paragraph:
Secondly, it follows that our natural impulse was melioristic. From the outset, I was mindful of the injunction of my first editor at Commentary, Elliot Cohen, that you can't beat a horse with no horse. Even while being critical of the Great Society, The Public Interest was always interested in proposing alternate reforms, alternate legislation, that would achieve the desired aims more securely, and without the downside effects. This was something that did not much interest traditional conservatism, with its emphatic "anti-statist" focus. The difference also had something to do with the fact that traditional conservatives had many distinguished economists in their ranks, and economics is above all the science of limits, a great nay-saying enterprise. Among the core social scientists around The Public Interest there were no economists. (They came later, as we "matured.") This explains my own rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems. The task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority, so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.
As you can see, Kristol isn't talking about supply-side economics, and he most certainly is not admitting that supply-side economics doesn't work. He is talking about neoconservatism and its program. In fact, he is talking about the difference between his own project and that of the tratditional conservatives (who were opposed to the growth of government -- period). Kristol's neoconservative movement was going to be concerned with alternative policy proposals on a variety of social and economic issues...and those proposals were not, as had been the traditional conservative position, simply 'no, no, no' and 'less, less, less.' Overspending by government was not a focus for Kristol. Traditional conservatives viewd the deficit as a growth in the power of the state and hence should be a primary focus for the conservative movement. Kristol disagreed that this should be the focus. Not only isn't Kristol talking about the results of supply-side oriented economic policies, he isn't talking about *economics* (i.e. a field of academic inquiry / theories on supply and demand) at all!
Contrast this argument with what Krugman tries to paint it as. Krugman tries to suggest that Kristol is admitting that neoconservatives were trying to sell the public a bill of goods in supply-side economics. This couldn't be further from the truth. Krugman selectively quotes Kristol in order to make it *appear* that Irving is admitting that supply-side economics (according to Krugman, that tax cuts are always paid for) was a big lie...i.e. just a political strategy...when Kristol isn't talking about supply-side economics AT ALL. He is clearly contrasting two political movements...not talking about economic theories of the market and their relative empirical merits. Supply-siders argued that tax cuts could result in an increase in tax inlays because they would spur productivity. Kristol is talking about the difference between a conservative political program concerned with limiting government growth and preventing budget deficits vs. a neoconservative political program focused on producing beneficial social policy. Two entirely different debates. I am usually hestitant to accuse an author of blatant dishonesty...but really, how could Krugman have read what Kristol wrote and somehow thought he was admitting supply-side economics was a cover for his neoconservative political strategy? Kristol doesn't even mention supply-side economics IN THE ENTIRE ESSAY. His only comment about economists is to note that he wasn't one and that his movement wasn't inspired by economic thinkers. Sheesh.
Corporations followed his lead, pouring a steady stream of money into think tanks that created a sort of parallel intellectual universe, a world of "scholars" whose careers are based on toeing an ideological line, rather than on doing research that stands up to scrutiny by their peers.
I'm not even going to dignify this with a substantive rebuttal. Krugman's attempt to slander every scholar who has ever worked at a non-university institution (that was in some part privately funded) with academic fraud is so ridiculous it is a waste of time to refute it. And his apparent notion that researchers at university institutions, who must apply for research grants and who are often funded by the same kind of philanthropic institutions that Kristol was talking about, are pure as the driven snow when it comes to 'toeing an ideological line' is laughable. But you won't catch me making the faux pas that Krugman does in his sweeping and ridiculous generalization. Quite alot of excellent research goes on at publicly-funded institutions. Indeed, quite a bit of research supporting supply-side economic theory has gone on at publicly-funded institutions. That Krugman seems to be unaware of this is...well...disturbing. That he is so cavalier in leveling a charge of massive academic fraud on an entire class of scholars is even more so. There is no more serious charge in academia than falsifying research. It should never be made lightly...and always with specifics and backed up by solid evidence. Krugman provides none of the above.
Krugamn then moves on to global warming...
"The most spectacular example is the campaign to discredit research on global warming. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, many people have the impression that the issue is still unresolved. This impression reflects the assiduous work of conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't. And behind it all lies lavish financing from the energy industry, especially ExxonMobil."
Again, this isn't really worthy of an intelligent response, given Krugman's apparant abject ignorance regarding the status of research contradicting the 'global warming' proponents... but let's have a go. First off, this "overwhelming scientific consensus" that Krugman blathers about exists only in the minds of the enviornmentalists trying to short-circuit the policy debate regarding global warming. Dr. Richard Lindzin of MIT (gee, did you know that MIT was in the pocket of ExxonMobil? Neither did I.) puts the kabosh to this notion here and here. Oh wait, Lindzin's article appears in a CATO publication...so there ya go. No need to listen to what the credentialed and published expert has to say. No need to rebutt his arguments or points. Just look into the degrees of seperation from the expert to some corporation...and there ya go. Krugman is done. But what about you few who think that the facts, evidence, and substance should be determintive...not some ad hominem attack related to funding? Well, the recent effort by a historian to suggest that a scientific consensus exists on global warming has been debunked here. And as far as toeing the ideological line and letting politics dominate scientific decisions, the global warming debate provides an excellent illustration...though not one that is very helpful at all to Krugman's thesis.
Back to Krugman's article...
There are several reasons why fake research is so effective. One is that nonscientists sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between research and advocacy - if it's got numbers and charts in it, doesn't that make it science?
This is all very interesting. Of course, you might notice something that we're missing so far. Krugman has yet to provide ONE SPECIFIC EXAMPLE of 'fake research' conducted by these sell-out scholars. Not one. We've got broad indictments of alternative positions on economics (supply-side), the enviornment (global warming), and evolution (ID)...but Krugman doesn't cite one author or one article or one peice of research to support his argument. NOT ONE. You would think if they were all doing it, this would be an exceedingly easy thing to do.
Finally, the self-policing nature of science - scientific truth is determined by peer review, not public opinion - can be exploited by skilled purveyors of cultural resentment. Do virtually all biologists agree that Darwin was right? Well, that just shows that they're elitists who think they're smarter than the rest of us.
I must say, having read alot of the scholarly research and theoretical arguments on global warming and intelligent design, I'm perplexed that I somehow missed the 'evolution is wrong because its proponents are too smart' argument. And Krugman misstates the purpose of peer review. It doesn't 'determine' scientific truth. That is done through rigorous tests of the data combined with replications, verifications, and applications by numerous scholars over a significant period of time. Even then, that 'truth' is always contingent. The problems with and failures of the peer-review process are legion. It is a competent guardian at the gate, but to claim it 'determines scientific truth' is to overstate its role by an order of magnitude.
Which brings us, finally, to intelligent design. Some of America's most powerful politicians have a deep hatred for Darwinism. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, blamed the theory of evolution for the Columbine school shootings. But sheer political power hasn't been enough to get creationism into the school curriculum. The theory of evolution has overwhelming scientific support, and the country isn't ready - yet - to teach religious doctrine in public schools.
Tom Delay said that we could expect more Columbine-like occurrences if we continued to teach kids that they are nothing more than glorified apes. While I would agree that Krugman has proven that Tom Delay has said a particularly dumb thing, I don't see at all what this has to do with fraudulent academic research or intelligent design. All it seems to be is an attempt to besmirch intelligent design advocates by implicitly aligning them with an idiotic comment.
The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.
Whether or not intelligent design proves to be a successfull challenge to evolutionary theory is an interesting question. But given Krugman's woeful ignorance of the arguments of ID, global warming, and supply-side economics, not to mention the various scholars that have addressed these issues, Paul Krugman does not provide an interesting answer. He provides quite a bit of inaccurate and hyperbolic ad hominem attack through the use of dishonest quotations and ridiculous sweeping generalizations. That may be interesting...but it isn't an answer. And certainly not one that should be taken very seriously.