Paul Krugman Has Gone Too Far This Time: Let’s Re-Train Him As a Cosmonaut

Paul Krugman Has Gone Too Far This Time: Let’s Re-Train Him As a Cosmonaut

I admit it: I have never been a big fan of Paul Krugman. I do not care for his vulgar Keynesianism or his vulgar rhetoric. His humourless sanctimoniousness, his angry ad hominem attacks, his lack of courtesy and his cavalier attitude to the facts are not to my taste.

All this said, I cannot deny that he plays a useful role in the economists’ ecosystem: everyone needs a bogeyman. His proposal in 2011 that we should solve the economic crisis by faking an alien space invasion was a hoot. But whereas sensible people had a laugh and took his proposal as the logical outcome of Keynesianism pushed ad absurdum, he really meant it. If he didn’t exist, we would have to make him up.

However, his recent slurs against the Cato Institute are a step too far even by his standards. [Disclosure: I am an adjunct scholar at Cato.]

Were there any justice in this world, he would be drummed out of town. A harsher man than me would have him tarred and feathered.

The proximate starting point in the story is a posting by David Glasner on his blog Uneasy Money on Friday, May 13. In this posting Glasner took a petulant swipe at Cato in general and against an unnamed senior Cato official (who was in fact Cato Vice President James A. Dorn) in particular. Let me quote from Glasner’s posting:

I have just posted a paper (“How ‘Natural’ Is the Government Monopoly over Money”) on SSRN. It’s a paper I wrote about 28 years ago, shortly after arriving in Washington to start working at the FTC, for a Cato Monetary Conference on Alternatives to [Government] Fiat Money.

Personal aside: The conference took place in February 1989. I was there and it was a very good conference. I also remember it because I had gotten married in Delray Beach a couple of days earlier and the conference interrupted my honeymoon. My mother gave me merry hell when I got home because I had only told her about my plans the evening before. But to continue with Glasner:

I was told that the conference papers would be published in a future edition of the Cato Journal. …

Unfortunately, my happy feelings about the experience were short-lived, being informed, not long after the conference by one of the conference organizers, that the original plans had been changed, so that my paper would not be published in the Cato Journal.

That surprise was a bit annoying, but hardly devastating, because I simply assumed that what I had been told meant that I would just have to go through the tedious process of sending the paper out to be published in some economics journal. … So when I replied … that I would work on it some more before submitting it elsewhere for publication, I was totally unprepared for the response that was forthcoming: by accepting that four-figure honorarium for writing the paper for the Cato conference, I had relinquished to the Cato Institute all rights to the paper and that I was [not, sic] free to submit it to any publication or journal, and that Cato would take legal action against me and any publication that published the paper. …

Shocked at what had just happened I felt helpless and violated ….. Nor did I seek legal advice about challenging Cato’s conduct. I could have at least tried writing an article exposing how Cato – an institution whose “mission is to originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace” — was engaged in suppressing the original research that it had sponsored with no obvious justification.

After about 10 years passed, it occurred to me that the paper … would be worth updating … Then, hoping that Cato might no longer care about the paper, I contacted the conference organizer … to inquire whether, after a lapse of 10 years, Cato still had objections to my submitting the paper for publication. The response I got was that, at least for the time being, Cato would not allow me to publish the paper, but might reconsider at some unspecified future time. At that point, I put the paper away, and forgot about it again, until I came across it recently, and decided that it was finally time to at least post it on the internet. If Cato wants to come after me for doing so, I guess they know how to find me.

Damning stuff, you might think – except that none of his claims about Cato are true.

It is important to set the record right. I quote the subsequent emails/postings at a little length below to make sure that the record is set straight once and for all.

Glasner’s posting was then picked up by Paul Krugman on Sunday May 15 in a charmless posting entitled “Orwell does Cato” in his New York Times column, “Conscience of a Liberal.” Let me quote Krugman’s original posting in full:

David Glasner has an interesting post about how the Cato Institute suppressed an old paper of his, refusing either to publish it or release it for publication elsewhere, not for a few months, but for decades. What Glasner may not know or recall is that Cato has a long-standing habit of trying to send inconvenient history down the memory hole, in ways that — I’m sorry to say — are more consequential than the suppression of his thoughts on fiat money.

You see, back in the 1990s Cato had a long-standing project titled the Project on Social Security Privatization. Then they discovered that the term polled badly, and renamed it The Project on Social Security Choice. OK. But they also tried to pretend that they had never used the term privatization, which was clearly a liberal smear — and they went so far as to edit old web pages and records of old conferences to eliminate the term “privatization”, as if it had never been used. This was, by the way, in concert with the Bush administration, which was similarly trying to bully reporters into abandoning the term (with a fair bit of success).

I still sometimes run into people suggesting that Cato is a relatively honest if misguided operation, unlike the obvious hackery of [the] Heritage [Foundation]. But it ain’t so, and never was.

The afternoon of that same day, Jim Dorn emailed Glasner to clarify what had actually happened. The core of Dorn’s email goes as follows:

If you remember, the reason your article from the 1989 conference was not included in the Fall 1989 CJ (vol. 9, no. 2) was because I had deliberately omitted several conference papers from the CJ b/c Kluwer was going to co-publish a book with the title “Alternatives to Government Fiat Money” and wanted me to differentiate it from the CJ conference issue with the same title.  So the intention was to use your paper in the book (I sent you a letter to that effect of which I have a copy).  Unfortunately, my many other duties at Cato at that time, plus my full-time teaching schedule, put the book project on the back burner.  I accept full responsibility for that delay.

I wrote to you on December 1, 1999, apologizing for the delay in the book project and explicitly stated: “If you wish to withdraw your paper from consideration and use it elsewhere, go ahead.”  I also stated in a separate email on December 1, 1999, that “if you revise your paper, at your own pace, then as soon as I receive it, I will consider it for use in the Cato Journal.  Also, I will reserve the right to use it in the book, if the CJ comes out first.”  … And in a separate reply to my offer, you wrote (Dec. 1, 1999): “Sounds reasonable.  I’ll have to dredge up a copy of the paper and look it over again, before I give you a definite yes or no.  I’ll try to do that by Monday at the latest.”  As far as I can tell from my files, you never did get back to me.

David, I’m sorry that your paper did not see the light of day; I wish I had used it immediately in the conference issue of the CJ in 1989.

I did, however, give you permission to publish elsewhere, as noted above, albeit with a significant lag.  If you had sent me your revised paper when I requested it, I would have certainly used it in the CJ.  … Indeed, if you have revised your paper and would [still] like me to consider it for use in the CJ, I would be glad to do so.”

To settle any doubts, Dorn followed this up the next day by resending Glasner the letter he had sent him on 10 May 1990, some twenty six years earlier: in that earlier letter, Dorn had apologised for a delayed response and for not having included Glasner’s paper in the conference special issue of the Cato Journal. He had then added: “to rectify any misunderstanding, I am willing to consider using any of the omitted papers and comments in a future issue of the CJ, subject, of course, to the normal review process.”

So much for Cato’s ‘suppression’ of Glasner’s paper!

To his credit, Glasner wrote back to Dorn on the evening of the Sunday, May 15 to concede that he (Glasner) had got his facts wrong. Glasner then updated his blog as follows:

My account … of the events surrounding the writing of my paper elicited the following letter from James Dorn, the unnamed organizer of the conference on Alternatives to Government Fiat Money, to whom I refer in the post. His letter makes it clear that my recollection of the events I describe was inaccurate or incomplete in several respects and that, most important, Cato did not intend to suppress my paper. … Why I did not submit it to the Cato Journal or to another journal I am unable to say, but subsequently I somehow came under the impression that I had been discouraged from doing so by Cato. Evidently, my recollection was faulty. In any event, I should not have posted my recollections of how this paper came to languish unpublished for almost three decades without communicating with James Dorn. That, at least, is one lesson to be learned, I can also take some minimal comfort in learning that my own conduct was not quite as wimpy as I had thought. On the other hand, I must apologize to Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman, who linked to this post on their blogs, for having led them to into this discussion. All in all, not a great performance on my part.

Glasner’s humility is admirable, but I cannot help thinking that it would have been more appropriate to have offered his apology to Cato and Dorn, at whom he had directed his false accusations, rather than to DeLong [2] and Krugman, who had been only too happy to have gone along with them.

In the meantime, on the Sunday, May 15, 3:15 pm to be precise, Dorn had emailed Krugman at his CUNY email address, Dorn’s email was polite, dignified and to the point:

Dear Prof. Krugman,

    I think you should take a look at the letter I just sent to David Glasner to address the statements he made about Cato in his recent blog, which you cited in your NYT’s column, “Orwell Does Cato.”  I know you were basing your remarks on David’s blog so I think it’s important to get the facts straight.


Jim Dorn


Cato Journal

Krugman did not reply.

Krugman’s other allegation against Cato – that Cato had behaved dishonestly with its project on Social Privatization – was dismissed by Jonathan Adler from Case Western Reserve University. As Adler wrote on his blog on May 19, “False accusations can travel throughout the blogosphere before the truth has even logged in.” He then continued:

I have no doubt that the Cato Institute may have adjusted its rhetoric in response to polling or focus group data. … But did Cato really try to “eliminate the term . . . as if it had never been used”? To check this claim, I went to the Cato site and ran a search for “social security privatization.” Lo and behold, I came up with hundreds of results, including work both before and after the alleged white-washing of history. So much for Cato’s alleged effort to “eliminate the term” from its website. Had Krugman bothered to run a simple website search, he would have discovered the same thing. Instead he accused Cato of “hackery.”

Perhaps coincidentally, yesterday Krugman blogged about those who have “a problem both in facing reality and in admitting mistakes.” According to Krugman, this is a “question of character.” Yes, yes, it is.

In short, Krugman’s criticism of Cato’s Social Security Privatization project had the same factual basis as his criticism of Cato’s ‘suppression’ of Glasner’s paper, i.e., none.

In the meantime, Krugman updated his posting (on May 15) and the key sentence in his update is this:

Glasner has retracted, saying he got his facts wrong. Unfortunate. It has no bearing on what I wrote, however.

There, my friends, you have it straight from the horse’s mouth:the facts have no bearing!

I can’t even attempt to satirise that.

So let me stick to the facts, unlike Mr. Krugman.

Krugman makes a bunch of calumnies against Cato, and indirectly, against Jim Dorn. These take the form of allegations of misbehaviour that were based on a set of alleged ‘facts’ that all turned out to be false. When confronted with Glasner’s retraction, Krugman’s response was not to issue a retraction, let alone to offer an apology, as common courtesy would have called for. But Krugman has no truck with such decency. On the contrary, his response was – to paraphrase – that even though he had been informed that had got his facts wrong, he still didn’t see any reason to change his position one little jot.

Try defending such a position in a seminar on logic or ethics or even in a court of law: I make a case based on a set of ‘facts’ that I claim support my case. It is then revealed that I got all my facts wrong. Never mind, I insist, I see no reason to change my position. The truth and the facts be damned.

Such unedifying behaviour demonstrates that Krugman is as logically as he is ethically challenged. I am minded to write to the Trustees of CUNY to invite them to invite him to a discussion with his University’s Ethics Committee.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Cato or with anything that its scholars have written is beside the point. It’s all about integrity, character, courteousness, truthfulness, conscience even, and a willingness to admit mistakes – all virtues that Dorn exemplifies and Krugman does not.

We should also remember that Krugman has form, lots of it. In a series of Huffington Post articles – here, here, here and here – and in a separate series of Forbes articles, Niall Ferguson and Ralph Benko respectively deliver Krugman a series of exquisite Glasgow kisses [3]. (I spell out Benko’s articles’ titles in full as the Forbeslinks are not always reliable. They are Much Bigger Than The Shutdown: Niall Ferguson’s Public Flogging Of Paul Krugman,If Paul Krugman Didn’t Exist, Republicans Would Have To Invent Him, Is Paul Krugman Leaving Princeton In Quiet Disgrace?, and The Science Fiction Behind Paul Krugman’s Economics, Parts One and Two.) These postings are well worth reading and much better than anything I could have written: they lay bare Krugman’s many errors and inconsistencies, his false prophecies and U-turns, his contempt for those he disagrees with, and how he led his deluded acolytes up and down the hill and back again like the Grand Old Duke of York. To quote Ferguson:

For too long, Paul Krugman has exploited his authority as an award-winning economist and his power as a New York Times columnist to heap opprobrium on anyone who ventures to disagree with him. Along the way, he has acquired a claque of like-minded bloggers who play a sinister game of tag with him, endorsing his attacks and adding vitriol of their own. … Krugman and his acolytes evidently relish the viciousness of their attacks, priding themselves on the crassness of their language.

[But] even if Krugman had been “right about everything,” there would still be no justification for the numerous crude and often personal attacks he has made on those who disagree with him. Words like “cockroach,” “delusional,” “derp,” “dope,” “fool,” “knave,” “mendacious idiot,” and “zombie” have no place in civilized debate. I consider myself lucky that he has called me only a “poseur,” a “whiner,” “inane” – and, last week, a “troll.”

Where I come from [Glasgow, in fact] … we do not fear bullies. We despise them. And we do so because we understand that what motivates their bullying is a deep sense of insecurity. Unfortunately for Krugtron the Invincible, his ultimate nightmare has just become a reality. By applying the methods of the historian – by quoting and contextualizing his own published words – I believe I have now made him what he richly deserves to be: a figure of fun, whose predictions (and proscriptions) no one should ever again take seriously.

And to quote Benko:

Krugman’s horns now forever will show under his dislodged faux halo. For this the world will prove a safer, and much more decent, place.

Maybe the Great Krugtron should be invited to go on a long space trip to check out how his alien friends’ invasion plans are progressing. It would be a costly undertaking, but I am sure it would be worth it.


End Notes

[1] Kevin Dowd is professor of finance and economics at Durham University. Email:

[2] Brad DeLong had also picked up on Glasner’s posting to make false allegations of his own against Cato. Adler ably dismisses those allegations in his posting. Here, however, I prefer to fry the big fish. Or to mix with Niall Ferguson’s more colourful metaphor, I prefer to fry the Nile crocodile rather than its plover.

[3] A Glasgow kiss is defined here. I reproduce the short version: ”A headbutt. Within Glasgow itself the term ‘Gorbals kiss’ is often used, referring to the most dangerous area of Glasgow. It is hypothesised that within Gorbals it is known as a Crown Street kiss; and on Crown Street it is called a Number 73 kiss; and at Number 73 it is known as Steve’s kiss. Steve, however, calls it whatever the fuck he wants to.”