Unethical Quote of the Week: Economist Paul Krugman

“…The prostitute thing is embarrassing and painful to think about, but not a disqualification for public office. David Vitter is still in the Senate, and in internal LA Republican politics is apparently squashing the very pious Bobby Jindal like a bug…I know that opinions differ about just how effective Spitzer’s confrontations were. But at least he tried — which is more than you can say about almost anyone else in our political life. Basically, the malefactors of great leverage were bailed out and went right back to being bad guys again, and everyone in public life pretended that nothing had happened. That, I think, is why there’s a surprising reservoir of support for Spitzer; people remember him as someone who showed at least some of the righteous outrage that has been so wrongly absent from our national discourse. It’s a useful reminder, and it’s why I regard his entry into the race, win or lose, as a good thing.”

— Inexplicably revered progressive economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, discussing the re-entry of Eliot Spitzer into New York state politics on his blog. Spitzer, despite having to resign from office as governor because he was caught partaking in the services of a prostitution ring—the same kind of enterprise he aggressively prosecuted as state attorney general, is now running for comptroller.

Explain, please: How can anyone rely on the judgment of someone whose ethical reasoning is this miserable?

Explain, please: How can anyone rely on the judgment of someone whose ethical reasoning is this miserable?

I do not understand how anyone can read or take seriously Krugman’s opinions on budget management and national affairs—he thinks that the national debt is no big deal at the moment, a position that is essential to Obama-enabling—when the favorite economist of progressives and Democrats can write something as indicting as the quote above. The post is appallingly irrational, irresponsible and unethical: it suggests that the author’s judgment is miserable, that his ethics are negligible, that his biases rule his intellect….and that, apparently with justification, he is confident that the Park Avenue liberals who quote him at dinner parties won’t lose an ounce of respect for or abandon an inch of reliance regarding a champion who believes such rot.

Paul Krugman, Nobel-winning economist*, really thinks that being guilty of a serious felony in the same state one is serving as governor (governors are bound to  uphold laws, not break them) isn’t “a disqualification for public office.” Obviously he is technically correct, since nothing says that Spitzer can’t run, but that’s not what all Krugman is  saying.  He is saying that it shouldn’t be a disqualification in Spitzer’s case, an indefensible position. While governor, Spitzer repeatedly engaged the services of organized crime, and went to elaborate lengths to cover-up his activity. He did this, knowing that his conduct violated his oath of office, that its discovery would harm his family, his party, his state and its government, that it would give comfort to other criminals and wrongdoers, and that it was a betrayal of those who voted for him. This means he is, by definition, untrustworthy, and untrustworthy people should not hold high elected office because they have, by their conduct, disqualified themselves, whether or not there may be sufficient fools, like Krugman, who are ready to vote for them. Forgive me for the impertinence of saying “Duh!” to an honored practitioner of a science that I found bewildering in college and more so now, but being untrustworthy is a disqualification for positions demanding the public trust.

Krugman offers, as an argument, the most juvenile of justifications: Sen. David Vitter, Republican Senator from Louisiana, is still in the Senate despite having his name turn up on a prostitute’s client list, and the same state’s governor, who is not a liar and a hypocrite like Vitter and Spitzer, is faring worse in that state than Vitter is. That’s it. That’s the kind of logic that makes one an authority to cite when a Democrat wants to defend bloated deficits. Isn’t this embarrassing? It should be.  In one sentence, Krugman has nicked at least seven intellectually dishonest rationalizations, and apparently thinks that’s powerful advocacy:

  • Everybody does it,” so it’s OK.  Actually, he cites a particularly stupid version of the Golden Rationalization, which is “David Vitter does it.”
  • The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse
  • The Biblical rationalization,Judge not, lest ye not be judged
  • “Nobody’s Perfect!”… especially Republicans, so Democrats should geta  pass on using prostitution rings.
  • The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy, as if we should assume that Spitzer only showed contempt for this particular law, and otherwise believes that the law is sacrosanct.
  • “The Favorite Child” Excuse, as is, “Hey! You let HIM get away with it! My boy should get away with it too!”
  • “It’s a bad law/stupid rule.” This is the implicit and often express defense of Spitzer defenders, like political philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote “Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.” Ah. So state governors should be able to get away with breaking any law that they want, as long as they can claim, or that a malpracticing political philosopher thinks, that the law is a bad one.

Then, against all odds, Krugman’s brief for Spitzer becomes even less ethical and even more cretinous. The public needs, he says, for Eliot Spitzer to supply  the “righteous outrage that has been so wrongly absent from our national discourse”!  Correct me if I’m wrong, Paul, but would this be the same Eliot Spitzer who had previously displayed very public “righteous outrage” against prostitution rings, which he prosecuted vigorously in his quest for power, and then partook of their pleasures as soon as the power he achieved by prosecuting them afforded him opportunities to do so? That Eliot Spitzer?

Righteous indignation from a flaming hypocrite does no good at all. To the contrary, it erodes public faith in the political system and applies Mega-Grow to cynicism. “At least he tried?” Really? Really? I need some clarification here from Krugman: does he just think his readers are dumb and ignorant, or is he himself really this addled? Tried? Spitzer didn’t try very hard to keep his voracious sexual appetites from undermining his moral authority and that of his office. A  puppet named Yoda could efficiently explain to Krugman the virtue of trying when you fail this spectacularly in a public duty.

Else where in the article, Krugman discloses, “I happen to know and like Spitzer personally; also, at least some of the talks I’ve given at the 92nd Street Y were sponsored by the Spitzer family. So you can discount what I’m about to say appropriately.” This is telling. It tells us that Krugman is cannot or will not overcome his own biases in making a judgment that he feels is worthy of publishing to the world. That certainly explains a lot of his other position, and why he, like Eliot Spitzer, should never be trusted.

* I originally wrote “Pulitzer” here, and hereby apologize to that committee.


Pointer: The Blaze

Source: NY Times, Wikipedia

Graphic: United Liberty

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

30 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Economist Paul Krugman

  1. Shouldn’t that read Nobel winning economist? Or have the Scandinavians so devalued the Prizes with their recent choices that the honor is disregarded? (He may have a Pulitzer,too, I am not sure.)

  2. “I do not understand how anyone can read or take seriously Krugman’s opinions on budget management and national affairs…” Why? Just because Krugman shows poor ethical judgement in this case does not mean that his economic judgement is similarly poor. To provide an analogy, I still believe that the theory of relativity provides generally accurate predictions about the universe even though Einstein had affairs.

    • Huh? If this is not only an example of his method of reasoning, but one that he is sufficiently satisfied with to publish, it is absolutely reasonable ti question his analytical skills. Is there any discipline more polluted by bias than economics, for example?

      • Well, your own ethical observations are routinely polluted by your personal biases, so that might be a discipline worth investigating. For a start.

        • Cheap shot. If you have a specific example, as I have given in Krugman’s case, state it. The general assertion is obnoxious and lazy. We all battle biases, but I work hard to identify them and purge them from my analysis, and Yoda would approve of my success rate. Give an example or get lost.

          • I don’t think that you are generally overly biased, but I did not like this statement: “Is there any discipline more polluted by bias than economics, for example?” Some of your readers are economists. What are you trying to say about them?

      • Economic reasoning and ethical reasoning are different beasts. One can be good at one and bad at the other.

        I don’t think that economics is more biased than other disciplines (although this could be a biased opinion). Economists are human, so they are biased like everyone else. Fortunately, economics as a discipline demands conclusions based on rigorous theoretical and empirical underpinnings. If an economist were to write a paper confirming or supporting their biases without providing good evidence and theory to back up their position, they would quickly find their work challenged by others.

          • Which is a good thing. That is how knowledge advances. The interplay of ideas between different people with different biases should lead to a less biased discipline overall.

            In economics, as in every scholarly discipline, it is important that people not attack a conclusion on the basis that the person who is making the conclusion is biased but on the basis that the conclusion is flawed because the author’s bias has caused them to misinterpret the data. How, exactly, have Krugman’s biases caused him to make incorrect economic conclusions?

            • I would have no idea. But but the post in question suggests to me that he’s an irrational fool. Given the choice, Id trust the economic theories of someone who isn’t an irrational fool, and apparently proud of it. Let’s say an economist is a Holocaust denier and believes in the Easter Bunny. That Nobel isn’t enough, in light of the other evidence that something loose is jangling around up there.

              • John Forbes Nash believed that people who wear red ties were part of a conspiracy out to get him. I still find game theory to be a brilliant, useful theory.

                Also, how is Krugman an “irrational fool”? He committed a pretty common ethical fallacy (he wants to give Spitzer the “Kings Pass”). Is everyone who commits an ethical fallacy an “irrational fool”?

                • No, everyone who believes that a governor who commits repeated felonies and engages a prostitution ring in office hasn’t disqualified himself from the public trust is anm irrational fool. I cited 7 other rationalizations (he didn’t really say that just Spoitzer should be allowed another chance to betray the public trust—he said that anyone in his position should. That’s not the King’s Pass—that’s irrational and foolish.) that Krugman endorsed. Or do you think it’s ratioanl and wise to vote someone with Spitzer’s record into the second most powerful post in New York?

                  • I don’t think that one’s judgement on an ethical matter is necessarily reflective of one’s judgement on economic matters.

                    I do not believe that everyone who believes that a governor who behaves like Spitzer should be disqualified from holding office is an “irrational fool”. Apparently Spitzer is leading in the polls. I do not think that a majority of New Yorkers are irrational fools, otherwise that state would collapse. What I do think is that those voters would prefer what they perceive to be competence to ethics or that those voters do not consider Spitzer’s ethical transgressions to be as serious as you think they are. This is not that irrational thinking, just a different value judgement. You and I can disagree with that judgement, but that does not make it irrational.

                    • Everybody does it? Ethics by poll? I have no trouble at all concluding that if a majority of voters in NY opt to send Spitzer (or Weiner) back into office, then the majority of Ny voters are, indeed, irrational fools, just as Ward 8 in DC, which keeps electing Marion Barry, is likewise afflicted. Fool me once? The bulk of human wisdom, history and experience is on my side, here.

                    • No, my point is that it is not always irrational (from the personal point of view) to choose someone who is unethical. Think about it this way. Imagine you are on trial and can choose between two different lawyers. One is known to be competent (you have observed him or her in court before and was impressed) and has never lost a trial. Unfortunately, he or she also cheats on his or her spouse. The other is incompetent (by which I mean that he or she is not good at getting acquittals, even for clients that probably should have been acquitted), but has no other known moral failings (he or she does everything that is required of a lawyer under the ethics rules, doesn’t miss filing dates, etc.). Would you always choose the incompetent lawyer over the competent one?

  3. “I happen to know and like Spitzer personally; also, at least some of the talks I’ve given at the 92nd Street Y were sponsored by the Spitzer family.”

    Nice work Paul, maybe you could add, “And hey, he went to Harvard and he’s from New York. Just like I am. So of course he’s better than anyone else.”


    • And Paul might also add, “And of course the fact his family is super wealthy has had nothing to do with what schools he got into or what elections he won. He’s smart. He’s not a moron like George Bush.”

    • The more painful implication of “I happen to know and like Spitzer personally; also, at least some of the talks I’ve given at the 92nd Street Y were sponsored by the Spitzer family.” is:

      “Several things I’ve done have been financially bankrolled by him, so of course I’ll write positive things about him and completely ignore the negatives.”

  4. And I’m sure this piece was solicited, if not commissioned by, Spitzer’s “people,” doubtless with the pre-approval of the NYTimes editors.

  5. Here’s how jaded I am. I saw Spitzer’s Democratic challenger (I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t recall his name) give an interview on Morning Joe. The challenger wouldn’t discuss Spitzer’s personal issues at all and instead wanted to talk about who had the best qualifications and record for the job. A normal person (not me) might say, “Wow, what a stand up guy! He didn’t go for the easy, let’s focus on the fact that Spitzer is a hypocrite.” Nope. I walked away thinking, “Yep. That guy must have skeletons in his closet too.” I hope I’m wrong, but I wonder if that’s why Spitzer chose that particular race to segue back into politics.

  6. He uses more contemptuous language to describe governor Jindal (the one person out of those named in or authoring this article who hasn’t disgraced himself) than he did for the politicians who break the law. (Crushed like bug? Really?) The word “hater” should be reserved for people like Krugman.

  7. “Contemptuous.” Great word. These guys are also “arrogant” and “entitled” and “condescending.” They drive me nuts. But instead of being muzzled, they are given all sorts of platforms. Ugh.

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