If you have "no place to go," come here!

Another category error from Krugman

Rarely does a Krugman column pin my Bogometer. But this one sure does:

As I see it, policy makers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there’s nothing they could do. And those of us who know better should be doing all we can to break that vicious circle.

Oh, please. Obama's car czar, Steven Rattner, let the cat out of the bag on this just last week. Permanently high DISemployment is the preferred policy of the Versailles policy elite, supported by both parties and Obama on a fully bipartisan basis. Why? DISemployment lowers wages, because people are desperate for work, and they'll take anything that's offered rather than slip into the permanently DISemployed underclass. And people who do have jobs will take any amount of abuse to keep them. Do try to keep up, professor.

Of course, "do try to keep up" may contain a category error all its own, eh?

Because Krugman also perverts the learned helplessness metaphor. Here's the study (OK, Wikipedia):

In part one of Seligman and Steve Maier's experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group One dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. Groups Two and Three consisted of "yoked pairs." A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in parallel with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever didn't stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently "inescapable." Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.

In part two of the Seligman and Maier experiment, these three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus, in which the dogs could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition. For the most part, the Group 3 dogs, who had previously "learned" that nothing they did had any effect on the shocks, simply lay down passively and whined. Even though they could have easily escaped the shocks, the dogs didn't try.

OK, straight outta Shock Doctrine, right? The elite control the electrical apparatus, wire the rest of us up, and then we get the shocks.

But in Krugman's fable, he reverses the roles: Since when were the policy elite the dogs in harness, receiving shocks, and not giving them? And why enable the policy elite by framing them as passive actors?

UPDATE DISemployment is the policy objective. Even at FDL, David Dayen (paraphrasing Jared Bernstein) understands this:

Bernstein explicitly says it was the White House, not Republicans, who had no appetite for direct, public job creation during the first term. Bernstein says he made the arguments about public works jobs inside the White House, but he was clearly outvoted. He doesn’t give the arguments made in response, tantalizingly alluding to “interesting” reasons that he will “speak to another day.” But he says very clearly that the reason we did all of this hoops-jumping and nudging in the stimulus package rather than just paying people to work at jobs that needed to be done was a philosophical decision inside the White House. In a sense we already knew this, but it’s important that a former White House insider re-emphasized it.

In other words, the Rs were right: Porkulus. Nothing to do with creating jobs at all. As events have borne out.

No votes yet


Submitted by Anne on

I got a lecture from several at TL yesterday for calling Krugman out on the crocodile tears he shed on his own behalf for not being more vocal on the jobs situation. Apparently, I need to better understand that Krugman is one of the good guys, that my standards are too high, and picking on Krugman is kind of like eating one’s own…sure, whatever. Let’s just keep lowering our standards – isn’t that the best way to deal with expectations? If you don’t ever ask for much, it’s hard to complain when you don’t get much.

People seem to have forgotten – or have decided it doesn’t matter - that after Obama had Krugman to the WH for lunch, Krugman very compliantly backed off – and stayed off for quite a long time. He has been more critical of late, but I don’t expect that to last long; can’t have Krugman being critical in the lead-up to the next election, can we?

I find myself increasingly irritable and cranky about things – maybe some of that is the heat, but I think most of it is because I’m sick of being played.


Submitted by lambert on

I mean, as soon as I saw Krugman had compared the policy elite to helpless dogs...

* * *

And agree with you on "sick of being played."

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

that the financial elite lusted for high unemployment, and he pointed out that whenever the numbers went up, so did the stock market.