How Paul Krugman broke a Wikipedia page on economics

An "edit war" breaks out over the Nobel Prize-winner's critique of ultra-conservative Austrian economics

Topics: Paul Krugman, wikipedia, Austrian school, austrian economics, Inflation, hyperinflation, ,

How Paul Krugman broke a Wikipedia page on economics (Credit: Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

There’s a lockdown on the Wikipedia page for Austrian economics and wouldn’t you know it, one or way or another, it all seems to be Paul Krugman’s fault.

Broadly speaking, Austrian economics, for those who have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced, are characterized by an extreme distrust of state intervention in markets, a distaste for statistical modeling and a general confidence that markets, left to their own devices, will avoid booms and busts and nasty things like inflation. From a political perspective, Austrian economics tends to lurk to the right of even such conservative icons as Milton Friedman.

For more detail, you can go, of course, to the Wikipedia page for Austrian economics. But until at least Feb. 28, if you do so, you will find that the page “is currently protected from editing.” An “edit war” has been raging behind the scenes. Two factions were repeatedly deleting and replacing a section of text that had to do with a description of a critique of Austrian economics made by economist Paul Krugman.

The closer you look, the more the whole affair appears at first to be a demonstration of Sayre’s Law, which holds that “in any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” One side, which seems from the Talk page chronicling the argument to  be just one very stubborn person, is objecting to the inclusion of Krugman’s critique on the grounds that what Krugman describes as Austrian economics doesn’t actually represent the reality of Austrian economics. In other words, it’s as if Krugman was saying “the problem with blue is that it is red.” Therefore, his views should not be included as an example of a valid critique. The other side is basically saying that Krugman is Nobel Prize-winning economist whose opinion is well worth including according to the standards of Wikipedia. So there. And back and forth the argument went, with lots of torturous discursions into the process weeds of Wikipedia editing policies, until it got too heated and provoked a lockdown.



On one level, it is amusing that Paul Krugman, a man whose Nobel award (technically, “the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”) was lambasted by one Austrian school acolyte as “the worst decision in the history of the prize” and caused another to sigh “that those of us who believe in liberty are in for a long time in the intellectual wilderness,” is indirectly responsible for a Wikipedia Austrian meltdown. But there’s also a serious issue at stake.

The Krugman critique in question pointed out that many self-styled Austrians had declared that a dire, disastrous, Zimbabean/Weimar Germany outbreak of hyperinflation would be the inevitable consequence of the stimulus spending and other federal policies expanding access to credit in the wake of the financial crash. But that didn’t happen. One can argue that just because some people who are affiliated with the Austrian school made terrible economic predictions doesn’t mean that Austrian economics are wrong. Financial writer John Carney makes exactly such an argument at CNBC, going so far as to argue that Austrian economics actually predicted exactly what ended up happening since the financial crash. And sure, such reasoning seems to be at the heart of the Wikipedia dispute — Krugman, argues the leading dissident, is wrongly characterizing Austrian economics as guaranteeing high inflation after a big credit expansion.

Personally, I would have been quite surprised to see Austrian economists explain in 2009, that, as Carney puts it, it would have been “entirely in keeping with the Austrian approach to economics … [for] … a combination of a growing fiscal deficit and an accommodative monetary policy … [to help] prevent the housing slump and financial crisis from depressing prices generally.” I certainly can’t imagine any of the founding fathers of Austrian economics, such as Ludwig von Mises, saying such a thing.

For five years conservatives, including many Austrians, warned that stimulus spending and expanded credit would lead to disaster. But hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen, and the economy is slowly recovering. Paul Krugman was right. No wonder there’s trouble in Austrian-school-Wikipedia land.

I asked Krugman if he was paying attention to the Wiki-kerfuffle, and the dispute over whether his characterization of Austrian economics was correct. He declined to plunge in too deep, but did say this: “That is my experience with the Austrians: whenever you try to pin them down, they insist that you fail to understand their profound ideas. And they have indeed been predicting runaway inflation for years now; it’s interesting that they can neither explain why they were wrong nor admit that this poses a problem.”

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>