In defense of Krugman defending Summers

When the forces of anti-Keynesianism attack, old feuds vanish before the common enemy

Published August 3, 2009 1:43PM (EDT)

In a Friday night blog post "In Defense of Larry Summers," Paul Krugman declared that a blistering attack on Larry Summers launched by the economist Willem Buiter last week was "nuts." Buiter, writing for the Financial Times, has long established himself as the most caustic voice in the econoblogosphere, but even by his own standards, his denunciation of Summers as the "arch-typical quick and dirty partial equilibrium man, full of clever isolated micro-insights, but incapable of grasping the whole. His macroeconomics stalled at the Keynesian cross" was brutal. I half expected to see Summers sending his second to present Buiter with a white glove. Choose your macroeconomic model, sir -- we will meet at dawn on the White House lawn!

But maybe the most interesting thing about Krugman's blog post is how strongly a significant number of Krugman's own readers rejected any defense at all of Larry Summers, to the point of, at times, spilling over into denunciations of Krugman.

My favorite:

By all accounts Summers is not dull. But perhaps that is beside the point. Right now the problem with the administration is that it seems hopelessly co-opted. Summers is at the center of this problem, with his director fees and speaker fees from all manner of financial players. Frankly, the only way to make sense of Obama's economic policy is simply to assume he caters to the interests of the the rich and powerful of the financial sector.

On this point, Professor, you seem willfully blind.

How shallow of a reader do you have to be to accuse Krugman of being "willfully blind" to the accusation that Obama caters too much to the interests of the financial sector? When he has been, in fact, one of Obama's strongest critics? Reading Krugman's readers, one is once again reminded that is difficult to seek a path of nuance in the wilderness of the Web. Too often, the discourse demands that you are with us or against us, and any deviation is an excuse for immediate witch-burning.

Which is not to say that there weren't some great comments by Krugman's readers, too.

My favorite:

"His macroeconomics stalled at the Keynesian cross."

Buiter says that like it's a bad thing.

Which gets to the heart of the matter: Buiter has consistently opposed Keynesian economic stimulus as a strategy for addressing U.S. economic problems. Say what you will about Summers, but he has been, and remains, a support of a strong stimulus, (witness his response to some really clueless questioning from David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday morning.) That's where Summers and Krugman stand together, and that may be the real reason Krugman came to his defense last Friday.

By Andrew Leonard

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

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Economics How The World Works Paul Krugman U.s. Economy