Paul Krugman: Of Cockroaches and Commissioners


 

Kevin O’Rourke points me to the FT’s Brussels blog, which passes on the news that various officials at the European Commission are issuing outraged tweets against yours truly. You see, I’ve been mean to Olli Rehn.

And the EC response perfectly illustrates why I do what I do.

What you would never grasp from those outraged tweets is that all my criticisms have been substantive. I never asserted that Mr. Rehn’s mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries; I pointed out that he has been promising good results from austerity for years, without changing his rhetoric a bit despite ever-rising unemployment, and that his response to studies suggesting larger adverse effects from austerity than he and his colleagues had allowed for was to complain that such studies undermine confidence.

It’s telling that what the Brussels blog calls a “particularly nasty attack” was in fact a summary of Paul DeGrauwe’s work indicating that European austerity has been deeply wrong-headed, in the course of which I quoted Mr. Rehn asserting, once again, that old-time austerian faith.

Now, it’s true that I use picturesque language — but I do that for a reason. “Words ought to be a little wild”, said John Maynard Keynes, “for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.” Exactly.

Kevin O’Rourke refers to the “cocooned elites in Brussels”, which gets to the heart of the matter. The dignity of office can be a terrible thing for intellectual clarity: you can spend years standing behind a lectern or sitting around a conference table drinking bottled water, delivering the same sententious remarks again and again, and never have anyone point out how utterly wrong you have been at every stage of the game. Those of us on the outside need to do whatever we can to break through that cocoon — and ridicule is surely one useful technique.

There’s an especially telling tweet in there about how “unimpressive” I was when visiting the Commission in 2009. No doubt; I’m not an imposing guy. (I’ve had the experience of being overlooked by the people who were supposed to meet me at the airport, and eventually being told, “We expected you to be taller”). And for the life of me I can’t remember a thing about the Commission visit. Still, you can see what these people consider important: never mind whether you have actually proved right or wrong about the impacts of economic policy, what matters is whether you come across as impressive.

And let’s be clear: this stuff matters. The European economy is in disastrous shape; so, increasingly, is the European political project. You might think that eurocrats would worry mainly about that reality; instead, they’re focused on defending their dignity from sharp-tongued economists.

Of Cockroaches and Commissioners – NYTimes.com

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