In defense of Krugman

The New York Times trashes "The Conscience of a Liberal." Alert the econoblogosphere!

Published October 22, 2007 2:39PM (EDT)

As someone who reviewed Paul Krugman's "The Conscience of a Liberal" a week ago, I could not ignore Stanford historian David Kennedy's trashing of the book in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday.

Like several others who didn't like "Conscience," Kennedy resorts to a "but the Democrats did bad things too" line of attack, which is a convenient way of ignoring the meat of the book documenting, step by step, the contributions of Republican "movement conservatism" to growing inequality in the United States. None of these critics acknowledge that Democrats hardly come off unscarred from Krugman, either, if you count the pro-business Bourbon Democrats of the late 19th century and the outright racist Southern Democrats who were a major force in the party for most of the 20th century.

I was getting all geared up to trash the trasher, but while working up the appropriate head of steam, I was also scrolling through my economics blogroll to catch up on the morning's economic chatter. And I discovered that Krugman needs little additional defending.

Brad DeLong rounds up the first wave of critical reaction to Kennedy's criticism here, in "A Gathering of the Clans," and launches a hurtful assault on Kennedy's historical accuracy here.

Krugman, meanwhile, has his own blog, in which he defends himself no less than three times, here, here and here.

A taste: Kennedy says Krugman errs by calling Kansas the birthplace of Prohibition. Krugman's response:

Oh, and when Kennedy says, to illustrate my alleged factual problems, that

Kansas, whatever its other crimes and misdemeanors, is not customarily regarded as the birthplace of Prohibition

you have to ask who's got the factual problems. I don't know what "customarily regarded" means, but Carrie Nation wielded her ax in Kansas -- and Kansas was the first state to ban alcohol in its constitution.

One last note. Kennedy calls "The Conscience of a Liberal" a "shrill polemic." Let's concede that a compelling argument, supported by a wealth of facts, never sounds a dulcet tone in the ears of listeners who prefer to believe otherwise. But if Krugman is shrill, then it is a wonder that there are any human beings still existing on this planet, because the sounds that emanate from, say, Ann Coulter, should already have driven all sentient life to self-induced extinction, just to stop the supersonic pain.

By Andrew Leonard

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

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Globalization How The World Works Paul Krugman