Thursday, March 03, 2011

Very nice takedown

I usually read Iowahawk for the laughs, but in this quite serious piece he absolutely takes Paul Krugman apart, and in the process provides a very good lesson to people who haven't taken statistics, about the general inadvisability of paying attention to any statistic quoted by a partisan hack.

Now, granted, he is slicing and dicing Paul Krugman, which is about the equivalent of my kicking Steven Hawking's butt in a boxing match -- there are few people who better illustrate the gap between the self-regard of modern American "intellectuals" and their actual intellectual competence than does Krugman, and if you can't refute a Paul Krugman op-ed then you must never have made it out of eighth-grade debate class. But even though any refutation of a Krugman statistic is necessarily a Day-One-Of-Stats-101-level elementary lesson, still many people have never had even a Lesson One in how statistics work, and Iowahawk gives an extremely good Lesson One here.

And yes, I know Krugman has a Nobel Prize. So does Yasser Arafat. So do Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Al Gore. More to the point, so does Friedrich Hayek -- and since Hayek and Krugman disagree on every possible question of economic theory and practice, any organization that awards a prize in economics to both of them is an organization whose prizes are of no value whatsoever. You would be able to understand if I awarded a Pierce Service To Humanity Prize to Irena Sendler, and you would probably agree with me. You would have an explanation if I were to award a Pierce Service to Humanity Prize to Adolph Hitler: the explanation would quite obviously be that I was a thoroughly evil fascist anti-Semite. But if I were to award Pierce Service To Humanity Prizes to both Irena Sendler and Adolph Hitler, your only possible conclusion would be that I knew nothing whatsoever about twentieth-century European history, and that the Pierce Service to Humanity Prize was utterly meaningless. And any organization that awards prizes in economics to both Friedrich Hayek and Paul Krugman...well, while you're at it, why not declare that the Nobel Prize for Holiness this year will be shared by co-winners Jesus Christ and Satan, Prince of Darkness?

The really funny thing about Krugman's writings (which are consistenly off the charts in unintentional comedy) is that the man is absolutely hopeless with statistics -- and yet his entire approach to economics is an approach that goes all-in, on every hand, on statistical reasoning. It's as though you had a guy who had been claiming to be a professional stock-car driver for forty years but still couldn't remember which pedal was for making the car go and which pedal was for making it stop. Any person capable, for example, of committing (a word I use advisedly) to publication the paragraph Iowahawk obliterates, is one of the following:

  • As stupid as a bag of bricks.

  • Completely statistically illiterate (which makes Krugman's line in the next paragraph about how "they, ahem, got the numbers wrong" a great example of the unintentional comedy I referred to a paragraph ago, especially given Krugman's chosen line of work).

  • Alternatively, you could argue that he is smart enough, and well-educated enough, to know the difference between valid statistics and statistics used with shameless dishonesty...but that he figures you don't know the difference and is happy to impose on your gullibility by quoting bogus statistics to create an impression he knows to be the exact opposite of the truth.

I don't know whether Krugman would prefer to be considered a fool, an ignoramus, or a liar; I would be happy to honor his preference if I knew it. But those are pretty much the only three choices.

By the way, my friend Tina gets a hat tip for this one.


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