Willful Stupidity

Today’s non-news is that the right side of the Web has been jeering at something Paul Krugman said, except that he didn’t say it. But in their derision, many of them revealed how willfully stupid they are.

Yesterday someone tweeted of the earthquake something to the effect of “Krugman said it should have been bigger.” Witty. But then someone on a Google+ account posing as Krugman said, “People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.” And the hoots began.

The fellow who created the fake Krugman quote has come forward. Krugman says he doesn’t have a Google+ account. So there’s no question this is a fake quote. Dave Weigel repeats some of the responses to the fake quote and suggests people should have fact checked first.

But this brings us back to the Right’s willful refusal to understand Keyensian economics. Wingnuts think Keynes said just starting wars or just running up government budget deficits somehow stimulates the economy, which of course is absurd. Read through some of the comments at Hot Air, for example.

I infer from some of these comments that the new explanation for the end of the Great Depression was that the economy righted itself magically after the war ended. So we’ve gone from “it wasn’t the New Deal that ended the Great Depression; it was World War II,” to “it wasn’t the New Deal or World War II that ended the Great Depression, it was the end of the New Deal.” Or something. I started googling and found all kinds of “studies” from places like the von Mises institute claiming that government investment in building up the military during World War II had nothing whatsoever to do with stimulating economic growth and ending the Depression.

Yes, they are literally rewriting history, because the facts don’t fit their ideology.


Krugman and Matt Yglesias both address this argument today. Matt says,

The fact that breaking windows would make a society poorer (fewer windows) is precisely why nobody ever proposes stimulating the economy by deliberately smashing windows. But the way the dialogue works is that first a Keynesian observes that fiscal stimulus can increase growth in a depressed economy. Second, as an attempted reductio, a conservative says “if that was true, then you could increase growth by breaking a bunch of windows.” Third, the Keynesian accurately points out that you could, in fact, increase growth by breaking windows. Fourth, the conservative accuses Keynesians of wanting to break windows or believing that window-breaking increases wealth. But nobody ever said that! The point is that we have very good reasons to think smashing windows would be a bad idea–there’s more to life than full employment–and that’s why Keynesians generally want to boost employment by having people do something useful like renovate schools or repair bridges.

Putting it even more simply, if a bunch of windows get broken that’s a loss to the nation’s wealth. However, if new windows are ordered to replace them, this stimulates window manufacturing. We’d have to be talking about a lot of windows, of course.

But if the windows are merely boarded up, then it’s just a loss and doesn’t stimulate anything. So merely breaking windows does nothing to help the economy. It’s the subsequent investment of new windows that ought to help.

And suggesting that we break some windows to encourage the manufacturing of new windows is absurd when we’ve got plenty of things that are worn or broken already that could be fixed.

As one of Matt’s readers said, “Persistent, intentional misunderstandings of basic terminology are a pretty common feature of conservative argument.”

11 thoughts on “Willful Stupidity

  1. Straw doesn’t bite back, HG. So of course conservatives prefer going after strawmen rather than confronting their targets directly. Duh.

    On my own blog I mentioned the fact that there was a severe recession (more severe than the current one, as in, greater than 10% GDP drop) in 1946-1947, and that it took four more years *after* that for GDP to reach 1944 levels again. Six years of economic difficulty and recovery are exactly what Keynesians predicted would happen with a collapse of government spending after WW2, and are exactly what happened. It wasn’t until the Cold War buildup and massive infrastructure investments (err… Interstate Highway System… hrrrm?) started ramping up government spending again in the 1950’s that the economy started taking off again. But I forget, that’s what happened in *this* reality, as vs. the fictitious reality the RWNJ’s live in, where unicorns are pink, cotton candy grows on trees, and there was no 1946-1947 recession. Alrighty, then!

    – Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  2. The righties use strawmen and ad hominem (and ad feminam) attacks because they are not able to defend their professed principles without them.

  3. “Yes, they are literally rewriting history, because the facts don’t fit their ideology.”

    I’m getting worried.
    We become that which we hate.
    They so hated the Soviet Union, that, even when it went down, they still needed, wanted, that level of fear and hatred, and thrashed about until they could find it.
    And in the meantime, they think like the old Soviets, who denied basic facts about nature because it wouldn’t conform to their ideology. One of the results was a series of 5 Year Plans that had zero chance of being accomplished, sending countless people to gulag’s and/or to their deaths.
    The Soviet’s also used to air-brush people out of photographs. Has anyone seen any pictures of W lately? Oh, don’t worry, he’ll be back. When the next Republican becomes President, they will laud him – and it’s Obama who they’ll try to make disappear.
    And sure, that worries me.
    But my biggest worry is that, since I really do hate them, that I’m starting to become a narrowminded, hateful, and stupid asshole – just like them.

  4. This is OT, but does tie in with Willful Stupidity:
    From my daughter’s Facebook page in superconservative Carroll County MD –

    The county commissioners rejected the latest master plan. They have released a set of recommendations for developing a new plan. They must be crazy, because the recommendations include references to “Agenda 21” and also deletion of the phrase “climate change”. Beam me up now, please.

  5. I read that Satan will be having a book signing at the Reagan Library, and I’ve been tempted to crash it, I don’t live that far away. I wonder if the dark force will be powerful enough to suck me in? What is it like to be in the presence of pure evil?

    • What is it like to be in the presence of pure evil?

      I don’t know, but keep some garlic with you to be safe. Just in case.

  6. moonbat,
    WTF are you thinking?
    DON’T DO IT!
    His evil will create a gravitational vortex on goodness, like a Black Hole, that, while it may leave other evil people alone, would suck in all of the nice ones, never to seen or heard from again – and wouldn’t even burp!

    The shortest autobiography ever?
    “Dick Cheney – The Countries I Wouldn’t Bomb!”

    And a childrens version – ala Dr. Seuss:
    “Dick Cheney – Oh, The Places I’d Bomb, The People I’d Kill!”

Comments are closed.