The NY Times review of The Conscience of a Liberal starts off with a brief resume of its author – Paul Krugman.
This is followed by a really stupid statement:
And yet maybe Krugman is not really an economist – at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who wrote that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.” Most modern economists continue to celebrate Walker’s orthodoxy, and behind it, the classical doctrines of Adam Smith, whose fabled “invisible hand” regularly works wonders of production, distribution, innovation and efficiency, provided it is kept free of the meddlesome “nanny state.” Against the constant threat of encroachment from that benighted quarter the free-market faithful are ever vigilant.
Who is Mr. Kennedy thinking of when he says “most modern economist”? The know-nothing nitwits over at the National Review? They religiously believe in laissez faire. This is followed by attacks not only on the book but also the author. Paul calmly rebuts by noting the facts that Mr. Kennedy just skips. Mark Thoma provides a longer rebuttal:
When you start, as David Kennedy does, with the premise that “maybe Krugman is not really an economist” because he believes that sometimes government intervention is necessary to correct market failures, you have to wonder if it’s worth reading on. It’s not “anti-economist” as Kennedy suggests to believe markets sometimes need to be corrected. The suggestion that it is “anti-economist” displays the reviewer’s ignorance about basic economics. Also, if you are going to have an historian rather than an economist or political scientist review Paul Krugman’s work, it ought to be one who at least gets history right … More to the point, where’s a decent reviewer when we need him? As Krugman notes in his response, David Kennedy is wrong about the history of prohibition, and the other “error” is a pretty trivial slip of writing 1964 instead of 1965. If those are the best examples of Krugman’s errors Kennedy (as an historian himself) can come up with, then you have to conclude that Krugman is on pretty solid ground with the historical story he tells. The review also ignores a lot of evidence from political scientist Larry Bartels on values voting that supports Krugman’s position on the influence of racial politics. The values voting conclusions aren’t things Krugman simply asserts – as you might conclude from the review – Krugman reviews solid evidence before coming to this conclusion. So when Kennedy launches into other reasons why voters may have supported Republicans, it does nothing to undermine Krugman’s thesis that a large amount of the change arises from racial politics. The Bartels evidence is still there, nothing is presented in the review to counter it, and it paints a clear picture.The author also takes issue with the statement that “Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” but once again he does not tell us about nor bother to try to rebut the careful, detailed discussion of right-wing institutions and their common funding sources that comes before this statement. Krugman’s statement is a summary of this evidence, and to focus on the summary statement rather than than the evidence that supports it is not much of a rebuttal. It’s too bad that Kennedy chose to argue that, in essence, “Democrats have problems too” – as though that somehow excuses Republicans for issues like racial politics – rather than dealing with the evidence Krugman presents concerning the political and economic changes that produced the New Gilded Age.
Maybe the NY Times should ask someone qualified to write a real review of this book. In the meantime, maybe Mr. Kennedy should apologize to the readers of the NY Times for such a worthless rant.