Paul Krugman on the DC Earthquake

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 24, 2011

No, the following is not a typo:

People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.

Of course, this argument is of a piece with one made in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks:

These aftershocks need not be major. Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack — like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression — could even do some economic good. . . .

Yeah, I know that a whole bunch of people point this out in the Google+ comments, but it really is worth emphasizing that Krugman’s arguments on this issue are answered by Bastiat:

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier’s trade is encouraged to the amount of six francs; this is that which is seen. If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker’s trade (or some other) would have been encouraged to the amount of six francs; this is that which is not seen.

And if that which is not seen is taken into consideration, because it is a negative fact, as well as that which is seen, because it is a positive fact, it will be understood that neither industry in general, nor the sum total of national labour, is affected, whether windows are broken or not.

Now let us consider James B. himself. In the former supposition, that of the window being broken, he spends six francs, and has neither more nor less than he had before, the enjoyment of a window.

In the second, where we suppose the window not to have been broken, he would have spent six francs on shoes, and would have had at the same time the enjoyment of a pair of shoes and of a window.

Now, as James B. forms a part of society, we must come to the conclusion, that, taking it altogether, and making an estimate of its enjoyments and its labours, it has lost the value of the broken window.

When we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed;” and we must assent to a maxim which will make the hair of protectionists stand on end – To break, to spoil, to waste, is not to encourage national labour; or, more briefly, “destruction is not profit.”

Expect Krugman to denounce Bastiat as one of the Very Serious People, to whom we supposedly need pay no attention whatsoever.

UPDATE: Krugman’s Google+ profile has been taken down, it seems. A pity; I followed him because I want to know what the other side is saying. I don’t know whether someone issued some kind of threat to Krugman, causing him to take down the profile. I hope that’s not the case, and it would be appalling if anyone did that. However, if he just decided to take the profile down himself in order to pretend that his status update never happened, his actions would merit the adjective “cowardly.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Krugman claims that the Google+ page was not his. Great; I consider it a relief that he didn’t actually want the earthquake to be bigger, though it certainly was amusing to see all of the Krugmanites who appeared in comments to defend the idea that we would have gotten more economic growth if only the earthquake scored higher on the Richter scale. Of course, it was never unreasonable to think that the Google+ page was Krugman’s; it faithfully cataloged his blog posts, and Krugman has a Google Reader account (which I have incorporated in my own Google Reader account in order to get a sense of what Krugman’s information sources are, and what they tell him. As I wrote above, I like knowing what the other side is saying). Additionally, as linked to in the post, Krugman most certainly did write an article in which he said that the 9/11 terror attacks “could even do some economic good.” Perhaps it is the existence of past articles like this one that made it easy for people to believe that Krugman actually did want the earthquake to be bigger.

A (HOPEFULLY FINAL) UPDATE: I see that Paul Krugman is busy denigrating the intellects of anyone who could have believed the Google+ page in question was his. Of course, Paul Krugman wouldn’t be who he is without denigrating the intellects of people with whom he disagrees, but to reinforce the point I made above, the quote he made in relation to 9/11 made the comment issued in his name about the DC earthquake all too believable. Indeed, the fake quote attributed to Krugman, and the economic policy point it puts forth differs not a whit in from the the argument being made in Krugman’s actual quote regarding 9/11. I won’t call the Google+ page quote “fake but accurate,” but I will call it “fake, but a flawless imitation of the real thing.”

Relatedly, the culprit behind the fake Google+ page has outed himself (presumably, this isn’t an effort to punk others). I don’t endorse the ethics behind his action, but I do hope that it can be educational and instructive. To quote him directly:

On March 15, 2011 Paul Krugman wrote this on his blog.

And yes, this does mean that the nuclear catastrophe could end up being expansionary, if not for Japan then at least for the world as a whole. If this sounds crazy, well, liquidity-trap economics is like that — remember, World War II ended the Great Depression.

Three days after the 9/11 tragedy Paul Krugman had this to say.

Nonetheless, we must ask about the economic aftershocks from Tuesday’s horror.These aftershocks need not be major. Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack — like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression — could even do some economic good.

If you showed any disgust at my fake comment written on Google+, I expect you would show equal antipathy for the two quotes above. For too long now, Krugman along with other Keynesian economists such as Nouriel Roubini have supported Keynesian policies which advocate for more taxation of the job creating private sector to contribute to the job destroying public sector. While he public sector has “created” jobs, one must remember and take into account the opportunity cost of taxing the private sector.

I am not ashamed of what I have said in Paul Krugman’s name on Google+. It is but an example of the many misguided beliefs that Paul Krugman holds, defends, and espouses on a daily basis. It is a shame that based on Paul Krugman’s reputation, I can write a statement about the East Coast earthquake as I did above and many of Krugman’s supporters would defend it and share it with others.

If Paul Krugman is wondering how and why so many people–myself included–could have been taken in by the fake Google+ page put up in his name, all he needs to do is to go back over his previous writings. The last word belongs to Justin Wolfers, who describes Krugman rather well in light of his public behavior on this issue.

  • sford528

    ” — like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression — ”

    So Krugman admitted that theFDR was a pathetic failure, and all the Keynsian stimulus, that the New Deal, the makework, the wealth transfers, the government fiats didn’t end the Great Depression?

  • http://profiles.google.com/markarkleiman Mark A.R. Kleiman

    Pejman, you’ve always been beneath contempt, but this is beneath even your usual low standards. You “don’t endorse the ethics” of an action that was a gross breach of common decency, if not a crime. But you’re happy to ally yourself with the perpetrator against the victim. Now, I ‘m quite happy to believe that you’re stupid enough to think that your caricature of Krugman’s perfectly straightforward economic observation (that in a situation far from full employment, anything that puts people back to work is beneficial) is correct. But the extent of your moral – as opposed to intellectual – blindness is really surprising.

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      I didn’t “ally” myself with the perpetrator. I wrote that his critique of Krugman’s economic philosophy was on target. Learn to read before slinging out your typical dimwitted insults, Mark.

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