Thursday, August 21, 2014

Another Paul Krugman 'He hates these cans!!!' Moment

By Jason Pierce

A recent blog by New York Times columnist and Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman is entitled “Libertarian Fantasies: No, we’re not living in an Ayn Rand novel”. Now, I don’t know any libertarian who indeed believes we’re “living in an Ayn Rand novel.” But most every libertarian I do know would agree that we are living under the thumb of an abusive and unaccountable federal government. Our government, for starters, has run up a nearly $18 trillion national debt (with an additional tens-to-hundreds of trillions in unfunded liabilities); snoops on our phone calls, emails, and text messages in clear violation of the 4thamendment of the Constitution; monitors our banking activities; bullies and punishes -- with the hammer of the IRS -- those of us who oppose the policies of the current administration in the White House; has forced us into a devastatingly unsustainable healthcare system; and is executed by a president who has granted himself the power to suspend habeus corpus and who has killed, thus far, four American citizens without charges and trial. Again, this is only for starters. The list of abuses by the federal government is long. But the primary point here is to understand libertarianism. Such an understanding, at the core, hinges on making the distinction between force and freedom. More on this later

Now, back to Paul Krugman. Krugman’s latest attack on libertarianism is as surrealistically unbelievable as The Jerk’s misguided notion that his would-be-murderer, shooting at him but missing, hitting oil-can after oil-can instead, was motivated by the would-be-murderer’s hatred of the oil-cans, not The Jerk himself. The Jerk, ridiculously deduces: “He hates these cans!!!” ( As such, “Libertarian Fantasies” is another of Paul Krugman’s “He Hates These Cans!!!” moments, in which he ridiculously attempts to distract, distort, and derisively dismiss the underlying truth and reality of whatever situation or issue at hand he apparently deems to be of some sort of threat to himself, his legacy, and the State in general. Is he fooling himself? Does he actually believe the stuff he writes? Who exactly is fantastical here?    

Each of Krugman’s assertions could be addressed point-by-point, as many already have (including Per Byland at and Robert Wenzel But I will focus on Krugman’s general avoidance of the libertarian distinction between force and freedom. Sifting through his typical rancor and hyperbole, Krugman asserts that “libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don’t have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine.” One of the “problems” Krugman is referring to here is the libertarian critique of what he calls the “cost of bureaucracy.” The “cost of bureaucracy” is indeed a “problem,” to be sure. But what is most telling is Krugman’s avoidance of the reality of some of the more deeply serious governmental abuse “problems” cited at the top of this column. These are not “imagined problems.” In this deficiency is the realization that Krugman curiously fails to exhibit any hint or glimmer that he possesses any understanding of libertarianism beyond the glib and superficial. Surely Krugman knows better. Surely he is aware of the libertarian distinction between force and freedom. This distinction is best embodied by the Nonaggression Axiom, as articulated by Murray Rothbard: 
“The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.
 At the core, then, the frame through which many libertarians view government policy, and the world in general, is  freedom.  How free are we? How much freedom have we lost? How freeare we from the force of government? Again, surely, Krugman must know that these questions reflect the heart of libertarianism – the distinction between force and freedom. Yet, he chooses to characterize libertarianism as a “crusade against problems we don’t have,” deflecting and distracting from the true thrust of libertarianism:  freedom from government aggression -- the Nonaggression Axiom. 

If Krugman does understand libertarianism to be embodied, essentially, by the Nonaggression Axiom, why doesn’t he acknowledge as much? If libertarianism is so wacky, or so living-in-Ayn-Rand-fantasy-world, or so inconsequential to begin with (as he also implies), what does Krugman have to fear? Why even address or attempt to mischaracterize libertarianism? We can only speculate. It is true that Krugman has recently endured turbulence in his professional life (here), what with his presumably rocky departure from Princeton (and here), and the attacks from his peers in academia, such as Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, and the charges of Krugman’s “spectacularly uncivil” behavior from economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. Perhaps Krugman’s attacks on libertarians stem from a culmination of all of the aforementioned. Or, because he is often characterized by libertarians as a state apologist and “court intellectual.” Perhaps an examination of the meaning of “court intellectual” provides a deeper insight into the psyche of Krugman:
“…the intellectual’s livelihood in the free market is never too secure; for the intellectual must depend on the values and choices of the masses of his fellow men, and it is precisely characteristic of the masses that they are generally uninterested in intellectual matters. The State, on the other hand, is willing to offer the intellectuals a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus; and thus secure income and the panoply of prestige. For the intellectuals will be handsomely rewarded for the important function they perform for the state rulers, of which group they now become a part.”  (For the record, “unscrupulous” and “uninhibited” court intellectual-types are also expertly examined in Chapter 10 of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Why the Worst Get on Top.

To the point, again, we can only speculate as to Krugman’s motivations and intentions. Krugman also asserts that there is no emerging “libertarian movement.” This may or may not be true. Time will tell. But it is true that the last thing a man like Krugman might want, given his writings and the nature and arc of his career, which in every way stands wholly opposed to any notion of a society grounded in freedom and the Nonaggression Axiom, is for people to start framing issues of policy and government withfreedom. Krugman has essentially stood opposed to freedom throughout his entire public life, whether while cheering on former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to create the housing bubble which triggered the Great Recession (as expertly documented by Daniel Sanchez), or while espousing on camera,for the world to see, the necessity of “death panels” for Obamacare to function into the future.

Whatever the case, Krugman’s failure to identify freedom, embodied by the essence of the Nonaggression Axiom, as the heart of libertarianism, shows how little regard Krugman has for freedom itself.

 In short, Krugman surely knows it’s not about Ayn Rand. It’s about our government violently exerting more and more force on we the people while rolling back more and more of our freedoms. It is indeed all about freedom.
5)     Murray Rothbard. For A New Liberty, pg. 27.
10)  Murray Rothbard. The Anatomy of the State,


  1. But I will focus on Krugman’s general avoidance of the libertarian distinction between force and freedom.

    All non-libertarians seems to purposefully avoid the distinction between force and freedom even when explicitly pressed by precise cross examination. Similarly, all non-Austrians appear unable or unwilling to differentiate a voluntary from an involuntary transactions and refuse to understand the concepts of economic calculation, prices as information and distorted prices as the cause of economic problems. Since they refuse to understand these relatively simply basic concepts, they certainly cannot begin to understand a more complex application of these concepts to something like the ABCT.

    I think we should stop being surprised by this universal [chickensh*t?] response to our ideas.

    1. Excellent points Bob. I agree, the focus and frame should always be on force/freedom and voluntary/involuntary. The Socratic Method is useful when rebutted: "So, you are anti-freedom? You think it's better to force, coerce, and bully?"

  2. >>Krugman also asserts that there is no emerging “libertarian movement.” <<

    Why make the point over and over again of deriding the libertarian movement if he believes it doesn't exist?

    >>shows how little regard Krugman has for freedom itself.<<

    Most of the time, Krugman seems content to be a well-groomed slave.

    1. Considering our opponents' self evident abject fear of our ideas and their truly pathetic inability/refusal to directly engage our ideas, I submit that this suggests we are right (and that our opponents probably suspect this).

      Since almost everyone in the USA has adopted some form of the religious belief that the government has magical powers to solve problems (liberals in domestic affairs, Neocons in foreign affairs), apparently no one can bear the thought that not only have they been wrong their entire lives, but that they are the source of these problems. That is basically what we are saying.

  3. That's another great point: Yes, Krugman seems to be content with his status. I find it hard to believe, for many reasons, that the content is deeply rooted. This may explain his "spectacularly uncivil" nature.

  4. That's another interesting point Bob. I think it flows from the value-free aspect of Austrian Economics. Logic and hence perspective is deductive from such a starting point.