Inconsiderate Mr. Krugman

by Don Boudreaux on October 11, 2014

in Budget Issues, Debt and Deficits, Environment, Hubris and humility, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Paul Krugman suggests that “deficit scolds” ignore two important facts: first, any net harm to human well-being generated by government deficits are “uncertain”; second, even if such harm does materialize, it won’t do so for many years (“Secret Deficit Lovers,” Oct. 10).

Whether or not Mr. Krugman is correct in his fiscal analysis, it’s striking that in other of his writings he sides aggressively with those who we might call “carbon scolds” – people who ignore two important facts: first, any net harm to human well-being generated by climate change is uncertain; second, even if such harm does materialize, it won’t do so for many years.

Perhaps it’s true that the concern over deficit spending really isn’t justified while the concern over climate change really is.  But the similarity between these two concerns ought at least to temper the scorn that Mr. Krugman infamously pours on those who assess the risks of both deficit spending and of climate change differently than he assesses these risks.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

UPDATE: A commenter’s remarks prompted me to change the title of this post from “Inconsistent Mr. Krugman” to “Inconsiderate Mr. Krugman.”  The latter title is closer to the point of my letter-to-the-editor – that point being that Krugman seems not to consider carefully enough the parallels between the fears of “deficit scolds” and those of “carbon scolds.”  Like too many “Progressives,” Krugman treats the prospect of harm from climate change to be far more certain – its reality far more firmly established by science – than it is in fact.  And he simultaneously dismisses too readily concerns that attempts to use the force of the state to combat climate change might well generate harms that are greater and graver than are those harms that those attempts are meant to mitigate.

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