In defence of Krugman: choice of targets
Source Jurriaan Bendien
Date 03/10/31/11:37

Alexander Cockburn, whom I traditionally respect and admire, now writes:

"Krugman is a press agent, a busker, for Clintonomics. For him as for so
many others on the liberal side, the world only went bad in January, 2001.
If a Democrat, pretty much any Democrat conventional enough to win Wall
Street's approval, takes over again, maybe in 2005, the world will get
better again."

The question that needs to be asked is what we achieve by polemically
writing off Krugman and calling him nasty names. Krugman is a very learned
left-liberal economist capable of very good critical inquiry into the US
economy and suggesting positive alternatives. I personally believe we should
aim to attract people like that to the socialist movement, rather than vent
abuse language against them. By doing so, we just shoot ourselves in the
foot more than anything else.

If you look at most American economists, rightwing economists vastly
outnumber leftwing economists, and incompetent leftwing economists vastly
outnumber competent leftwing economists. This being the case, and given the
policy of the US government to encourage barbarism across the planet, I
think we should be doing everything possible to attract good people like
that to our side. This does not mean that we shouldn't criticise them, but
rather that we should criticise them with a purpose, namely to bring them
over to our side.
There is nothing specifically radical in these ad hominem attacks against
individuals, and it convinces only the converted in your own camp.

I could for example go and say things like "Joseph Stigler is a nasty
such-and-such" but this achieves nothing other than that Stigler would get
disgusted with socialist people and their puberal behaviour, whereas if I
advance a cogent knock-down argument which proves Stigler is mistaken in
some point of economics, or alternatively show why Stigler is correct on
some issue, then Stigler would be more interested in me, and I might be able
to persuade him of something more, perhaps even win him to my side of the
argument in particular cases. Then I have a new friend, instead of a new

As long as leftism remains at the level of ad hominem attacks which aim to
prove how nasty other leftists, liberals or conservatives are, we will never
get anywhere. Our criticism should be aimed at what people actually do, and
not at the spirit or integrity of the people who do it. The principle here
is to accept the the person, and criticise/change the behaviour, so that we
show superior insight and humanity, rather than demonstrating our superior
ability to substitute swearing for cogent argument and criticism.

This is correct, because socialists are no more good or bad people than
anybody else. Stupid polemics and ad hominem attacks is one of the main
reason why the Left fails, because most people reject this "cultural habit"
and find it unpleasant. The Socialist Party of the Netherlands therefore had
adopted it as a norm of conduct that we do not engage in direct ad hominem
attacks in public politics (you might curse somebody in private or among
friends, workingclass people can do that at times, but that is another
story). We want to concentrate on better ideas and on what people actually
do, rather than on their personal failings, and thus we show a constructive

Personally, I have very good reason to feel extreme hostility towards quite
a few people who intervened in my adult life without my consent in violation
of my civil and human rights, nearly driving me to suicide sevral times. But
constantly verbalising this hostility does not get me anywhere, and is not
conducive to anything or restoring my own sense of joie de vivre or dignity,
it does not benefit me, nor anybody else. I am better off avoiding or
ignoring those who do me harm and concentrating on what I positively have to
do, making good, cogent arguments and criticisms and, trying as I am able,
to show a better way of doing things. And I recommend the attitude which I
have described to Alexander Cockburn and everybody else on our side, because
that is the only way we will succeed in the long term.

I might add that I consider a lot of leftwing discussion and criticism as
myopic in the sense of attesting a warped world view. Instead of targeting
the people who are the most influential, and the most dangerous people from
the point of view of human progress, the people that could do that target
their own people, and they target people who are small fry anyhow or who,
although they differ from us, could be won to our side. And on that basis,
you can never hope to succeed politically. I also admit I do not always get
it correct myself, but I know what my norm is in this area, as I have
explained. Refer also Karl Marx: sectarians always emphasise how they differ
from other progressive people in order to prove that they are more radical,
instead of radicalising other progressive people more, they seek to
distinguish themselves from the movement instead of constructing it.

This doesn't mean that I am a "Clintonite" myself, but that I consider
myself no better or worse as a moral subject than Clinton, and consequently
can have respect for him even if I absolutely disagree with his politics on
many, many scores. To argue that this attitude is just a "liberal" attitude
is just nonsense. It is not. What is liberal or not liberal is defined not
by what somebody says, but by what somebody does. And even in criticising
what somebody does, we ought to keep the purpose of why we are criticising
in mind. Long ago, Karl Marx ridiculed "critical criticism", among other
things on the ground that being critical for the sake of being critical is
useless and should not be confused with a genuinely radical stance.

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