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Why Paul Krugman Should Not Debate Robert Murphy

Gary North
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Sept. 28, 2012

In 2011, free-market economist Robert Murphy got a very good idea. He challenged Keynesian economist, Princeton University professor, and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman to a public debate. Krugman is also a columnist for the New York Times, and as such, is the reigning spokesman for the Keynesian world among non-economists who read the New York Times.

Not being a complete idiot, Krugman has refused to acknowledge the challenge. Murphy had a plan to deal with this likely outcome. He attached a public relations stink bomb. He went to supporters and asked them to pledge money to be paid to the poor if Krugman actually shows up for the debate. So far, donations totaling almost $80,000 have been pledged. ( The longer that Krugman delays in responding, the more money is pledged. The longer he delays, the more that donors are convinced that he is not going to take the challenge, so they feel confident in making a pledge. It is safe money.

I strongly recommend that Krugman not accept the challenge. I think he is a rational man, so I think he can understand the following arguments.

First, Murphy is a nobody, and Krugman is a somebody. The fact that he would even acknowledge Murphy's existence would be an advantage to Murphy. This is always the case when a challenger who is unknown challenges a champion, who is known widely. The challenger has almost nothing to lose, except possibly the debate. But the good publicity from having made the challenge is worth risking a loss. I call this the Bobby Riggs strategy.

Second, Murphy is outside of academia, and Krugman is up to his eyeballs in it. Therefore, Krugman is an object of intense envy. There is no group more envious than a bunch of academics, and economists are probably the most envious of the lot. There is only one thing that pleases an academic more than seeing a famous academic taken down a notch: seeing a famous academic taken down two notches. The academics within the big shot's own discipline are most delighted when this happens, because all of them know that they are far more qualified than the big shot, and they resent the fact that the big shot is so big. If the big shot academic also has access to the media, which means that nonspecialists are actually paying attention to him, the envy is intense beyond anything that the normal person would be familiar with.

Third, Krugman would be regarded as Goliath, and Murphy would be regarded as David. Krugman is all over the Internet all the time, as if he were 9 feet tall, challenging all non-Keynesians, or soft-core Keynesians, calling for ever greater federal deficits and an ever larger Federal Reserve balance sheet. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Fourth, Krugman has spent his entire career in academia, which means he has spent his entire career lecturing to students. He can flunk them if they give him any flak. Students are smart enough not to call the bluff of a professor, especially a tenured professor. There is no positive sanction for making a fool of the man in full public view, and the negative sanctions are horrendous. Krugman teaches at Princeton University, which charges over $38,000 a year tuition, plus room, board, and textbooks. Any student who risks getting an F in that environment had better have parents with very deep pockets. So, Krugman is without any experience in public debate. He has been able to get away with conceptual murder in the classroom for his entire career. This is why academics usually are lousy debaters.

Fifth, Krugman suffers from a degree of shyness greater than most academics ever experience. He really is stuck for an answer in an elevator if somebody says "hello." This is not a man to take on a challenger in a public forum which is going to be captured on video and posted on YouTube within 20 minutes after the debate is over.

Sixth, Krugman is a Keynesian. Keynesianism is incoherent in its original form, as proven by John Maynard Keynes in his classic book, which is totally unreadable, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936). To this original incoherence has been added 70 years of arcane formulas, which only economists even pretend to understand, and not more than about 30% of them really do understand. Therefore, a Keynesian is virtually defenseless in the presence of an Austrian school economist in a public debate forum. Austrian school economists learn very easily to speak in common language, and to explain terminology, causes, and effects in terms of categories understood by anybody with a high school education. The Keynesian cannot appeal to his arcane formulas in such a setting, and the Austrian has no arcane formulas to appeal to.

Seventh, Krugman faces an economy with over 8% unemployment, while his colleague from Princeton, Ben Bernanke, has been unable to get the unemployment rate below 8%, despite the fact that Bernanke and his colleagues have counterfeited $2 trillion and spent them into circulation, as Keynesians are supposed to do. Bernanke has recently said that there must be at least another $1 trillion of counterfeiting over the next two years in order to get the rate of unemployment down. But the president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank has said that even after two years and another trillion dollars, the unemployment rate is still going to be over 7%. This is what Krugman would have to defend in full public view. In other words, the Keynesian joint miracle of deficit spending and fiat money creation isn't working anymore. Murphy, as an Austrian school economist, went public four years ago saying why it wouldn't work, and now he is going to remind Krugman of the fact that virtually every Austrian school economist said the same thing.

Eighth, Murphy is really good in front of a crowd. Krugman cannot even work an audience in an elevator.

Ninth, Krugman doesn't lose anything by not debating. Poor people will lose about $80,000 worth of food, but when you're a full professor at Princeton, and you have been awarded a Nobel Prize, you don't know any poor people. You have no understanding of what they're facing. Besides, when push comes to shove, you're a liberal, and the liberals only care about helping poor people with money that has been taxed from rich people.

In conclusion, Krugman would be a fool to debate Murphy. Krugman is no fool. Krugman is a self-interested, rationally calculating, totally economic man. That's why he thinks formulas apply to the rest of this. It is not in his self-interest to get in front of a video camera and let Bob Murphy take him down three notches in full public view, and then see the video on YouTube an hour later.

Silence is golden. You only think it's yellow because you're color blind.

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