Monday, February 27, 2012

Putin, Krugman and Michael Milken on Stage Together

This is a strange one. FT's Gideon Rachman reports:
Vladimir Putin’s public appearances are always interestingly theatrical. His performance yesterday at the Russia Forum, here in Moscow, was characteristically peculiar. At times, Putin was all swagger. At other times, he seemed rather uncertain. At one agonising point, he lost his place in his notes. I was told later that this only lasted for ten seconds. It felt like ten minutes.
What was most interesting, however, was his interaction with the foreign visitors, who had the dubious privilege of sharing the stage with him. (I was in the audience.) Putin was clearly keen to show off his intellect. He argued at length that the world’s economic problems were a crisis of over-production. This sounded to me like re-heated Leninism. Paul Krugman, the Princeton economics professor, sharing the stage with him, fairly politely refuted the “over-production” argument – which I’m not sure you are meant to do, when the Tsar is outlining how the world works.

But the best example of foreigners not knowing how to behave, came when it was Michael Milken’s turn to speak. (It was a fairly bizarre panel.) Milken came equipped with a Powerpoint presentation, and by God he was determined to plough his way through his slides. Under normal circumstances, I think I would have found Milken’s charts mildly interesting. There was a good one on the relative rankings of world universities. (Cambridge and Oxford at two and three.)

But this was not a regular business conference. So the main question in my mind – watching Milken’s single-minded trudge through his Powerpoint (which went on for at least 20 minutes, maybe half an hour) – was how long is Putin going to sit still for? Would he get up and walk out? Or interrupt? After all, the main purpose of the event – as far as I could see – was to focus attention on the commanding presence of the former and future president. Not for him to sit through an interesting lecture by a former junk-bond king and jailbird – turned philanthropist.

In the event, Putin sat the whole way through – and engaged in some light banter with both Milken and the audience, afterwards. But it was a peculiar and tense moment.
OMG, Rachman doesn't give us enough detail, so it's not clear how Krugman countered Putin's overproduction theory. But as Henry Hazlitt reminds us:
Keynes's "greatest achievement," according to his admirers, was his famous "refutation" of Say's law of markets... Say's law was merely the denial of the possibility of a general overproduction of all goods and services.
Thus with this mad crew on stage, you have Keynesian Krugman attacking a key Keynesian tenet behind general economic downturns brought to the front by Putin.

It's also important to note that Ludwig von Mises destroyed the overproduction theory decades ago, before Putin or Krugman were even born.

1 comment:

  1. Strange grouping of people.

    All they need now is Mr T and Kim Kardashian to fill out the panel and then have Oprah lead the discussion.