Thursday, August 27, 2009

Krugmania Revisited

Tibor R. Machan

Princeton University Nobel Laureate economist and regular pundit
at The New York Times, along with many other contemporary defenders of
mercantilism--the idea that the state is the most suitable agent for
making economic decisions in society--is fundamentally opposed to a
principled public policy that rests on the renunciation of coercion among
human beings. Indeed he repeatedly ridicules those who do renounce
coercion. He considers them ideologues, people wedded to a mindless dogma.

At first inspection Krugman`s fierce opposition to principled free
market public policies may appear sound. He makes such thinking appear to
be mindless, dogmatic, unchecked by experience or history, merely a matter
of churning out some slogans. Yet, Krugman is on remarkably weak footing
in his stance. This is because principled thinking about public and
indeed any policies is the hallmark of intelligent and civilized human
approaches to problem solving--from engineering, farming, psychiatry, all
the way to epistemology (the theory of knowledge), ethics or politics. The
scientific method, for example, deploys principled thinking in
distinguishing between sound and pseudo-science. In law it is also
remarkable how procedures depend upon principled thinking, due process!

But to illustrate the pervasiveness and significance of
principled thinking, consider the nearly universal opposition to rape by
decent people. This opposition rests squarely on the principle that sex
with anyone must be voluntary, uncoerced (thus those unable to give
consent must not be sexually approached). There is no exception to this
idea, however tempting it may be to breach it. The fiercest commitment is
required of all, a commitment that according to Krugmania amounts to
ideology. By his view of what kind of thinking must go into the forging
of policies, public or private, in human affairs, each case of rape would
need to be considered individually, divorced from any
fundamental--opposition to rape on principle!

Those whom Krugman ridicules for holding to principles thinking in
public policy decisions, especially pertaining to economic affairs, hold
that the principle of voluntariness also applies to economic relations
among people, not just to sexual ones. This approach is, indeed, not
different from the common sense idea that under no circumstances is it
permissible to use people and what belongs to them without their consent.
This is what free market economics stresses, ultimately. And this is what
Professor Krugman considers infantile, ideological.

Now ideological thinking is often denounced without really
understanding it at all. In some cases there is nothing at all wrong with
using a well examined ideology to guide one in making decisions, including
in public policies. It merely means that there are general ideas that
apply and not every single action one takes has to be treated as a brand
new one. In other contexts ideological thinking amounts to something
insidious. This is when someone desires to do something and invents a set
of phony ideas to justify it, post facto. This is the kind of ideological
thinking that most serious scholars and researchers consider fallacious,

For Professor Krugman, however, all principled thinking amounts to
ideology. This spares him the trouble of having to actually examine the
principles being deployed--they can just be dismissed out of hand, never
mind any arguments in support of this dismissal. Yet, as already noted, a
great deal of the thinking done by human beings--be this thinking what
guides one`s driving or cooking or child raising--involves using
principles that have been tested and found sound and useful.

That, in fact, is what prompts many people to oppose not government
per se but the use of government`s major tool, namely, coercive force, as
the economy is dealt with. Governments use force because their role, as
the American Founders made clear, is to secure the rights of all citizens.
That is why governments exist, not for all the reasons so many statists,
mercantilists--in short, meddlers in human affairs--keep brining up.
This, at least, is the idea behind preferring public policies that follow
free market principles rather than interventionist ones. And it will not
due, however much Professor Krugman keeps repeating the idea, to dismiss
such thinking as some kind of blind fundamentalism.

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