Paul Krugman has no respect for citizens’ time, no understanding of excellence, and no respect for efficiency. I’m not sure he’s a real economist, even though he plays one in AER, Princeton senior common rooms, etc. In today’s column, he suggests that amateurs and unqualified people do their own thinking about candidates’ records and actions. His lead is to present FDR as a rich guy who said he wanted to help the poor, contrasting the confusion this generates with the clarity with which Edwards (for example) can be nailed as a hypocrite for the same ideas.
What Krugman doesn’t understand is that identity politics (for example) is much simpler and quicker than the old-fashioned kind, and a lot easier to get right. Rich people vote for rich candidates, poor ones for poor, Jews vote for Israel supporters, and like that. Does the earned income tax credit reduce employment? I’ll probably get this wrong, but I sure know who’s white and who’s a lot richer than I am. I used to wonder when students would say things like “Well, being a conservative, I favor [this or that policy].” It seemed to me this completely reversed the correct direction of the arrow of cause, but now I understand how much hard work it saves and how much error is avoided.
And that’s not all. Once upon a time, people made their own music in their living rooms with friends, or went out in the park to throw a ball around. The music they made required a lot of practicing and was still never really good; no-one I knew could play any ball game as well as even a middle-rank NFL player. Now, thank God, we have a few certified specialist experts making wonderful music for our iPods, and playing superb ball for us all to watch, and we can do it alone, which saves no end of taking care of other people’s feelings. How could anyone want the art, or sports, of a great nation to be mostly made ineptly, by anyone and everyone, taking a lot of time that could be spent on the job? Surely it’s better for all of us to leave this kind of thing to the few stars who are better than we could ever be. Kids used to have to make their own stuff with blocks, and pretend a rag doll was crying, laughing, talking, etc., but now every kid can have brightly colored, really complicated electronic toys that each do one amazing thing as soon as the batteries are put in, toys that are made by real professional designers and engineers instead of clueless six-year-olds. How are kids supposed to know when a doll should cry? With today’s toys, they don’t have to.
In politics, opinions and judgments made by amateurs, looking with untrained eyes at actual phenomena, are as bad as the home-made piano-playing we used to suffer. Why would we do this when we have famous and (usually) attractive people to do that for us? A few paid professional conservatives and liberals can give their tribes really good opinions, cunningly packaged in quick witty hits with super production values. It’s just truculent and wilful to want to read a book, or watch a debate, when real pros have already done that so much better than we can, and are happy to give us really excellent opinions and judgments. Why would anyone want to hear views about the surge, or Social Security, from some friend who’s not at all famous, badly lit, unrehearsed, with home-made makeup – or none! – and with some random office or restaurant background and dirty dishes on the table?
Paul doesn’t get it; the last century of progress is wasted on him. But that’s no reason he should be allowed to confuse the rest of us.