The good professor, lack of agency, and pain
Krugman's column today ends:
More and more, conventional wisdom says that the responsible thing is to make the unemployed suffer. And while the benefits from inflicting pain are an illusion, the pain itself will be all too real.
Come on. Bang, meet whimper. "Conventional wisdom" never made anybody suffer. It's people who do that. Who's suffering the pain? Who's inflicting it? Let me search through Krugman's column, looking for agency....
Here's an extract, marked up as follows: Passive, agency-free verbiage; abstract agents, like ideas; and named institutional agents. There are no human agents in Krugman's column, so there's no markup for them.
But what I currently find most ominous is the spread of a destructive idea... [D]emands that governments switch from supporting their economies to punishing them have been proliferating... [T]he idea that what depressed economies really need is even more suffering seems to be the new conventional wisdom... The extent to which inflicting economic pain has become the accepted thing... And what the O.E.C.D. is saying right now is that policy makers should stop promoting economic recovery and instead begin raising interest rates and slashing spending. [Here is a sentence with an agent! And another one--] ... [T]he organization believes [No, only people do that!] that we [who?] must worry about the chance that markets might start expecting inflation, even though they shouldn’t and currently don’t.... A similar argument is used to justify fiscal austerity. ...
Put that way, it [that is, the conventional wisdom] sounds crazy*. And it is**. Yet it’s a view that’s spreading. ... [More agency coming up!] Last week conservative members of the House, invoking the new deficit fears, scaled back a bill extending aid to the long-term unemployed — and the Senate left town without acting on even the inadequate measures that remained. [And finally--] [C]onventional wisdom says that the responsible thing is to make the unemployed suffer.
Sad, sad, sad. I understand that one deformation professionelle in the professariat is treating the Idea as a driver, but Krugman's column is just ridiculous. Can Krugman truly believe that the creators of the "conventional wisdom" are House conservatives and the OECD -- the only agents he names in his column? If Krugman does, then his column is, to say the least, analytically impoverished; and if he does not, it's obfuscatory. And since the "official style," with its passive constructions and flaccid verbs, is designed to obfuscate, I have to say I'm choosing Door #2.
In a different, better world, a liberal lion like Krugman would have used his bully pulpit at Izvestia to call out accounting control fraud -- which, by definition, happens at the elite, CEO level -- and call for the prosecution of those who brought down the financial system. I can't help but feel that if the country had seen a few CEOs in orange jumpsuits doing the perp walk, we'd be suffering less pain today, since the elite would have understood that they cannot act with impunity. Today, as we see, through acts of commission and omission by many -- including, alas, Nobelist Krugman -- the elite are all too clear in their own minds that they have created the banana Republic of which they have long dreamed; to them, their ability to act with impunity must seem complete. The strong do what they will; the weak suffer as they must. Or, possibly, not.
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NOTE * Notice how Krugman, who is quite the prose stylist, actually begins a paragraph with a sentence whose subject is an unclear referent. The obfuscation goes that deep.
NOTE ** And why would the "crazy" be, one wonders? At this point, it's very hard to believe that it's an accident that Congress left for their paid vacation without extending unemployment benefits. The best working theory I can come up with -- like Krugman -- is that the elite, as a class (and not a "caucus") really do hate the rest of us, and they really do want us to suffer and die. HCR (Higher Corporate Returns) shows that clearly enough, as 40,000 deaths a year are an acceptable cost for bailing out the insurance companies with a program that's going to be cut back anyhow. (Thanks, "progressives"! You really helped advance the discourse!)
The challenge is to end the elite's hate without infecting ourselves and entering a new cycle of hate. Eh?
UPDATE *** Welcome, readers, to the blog that everybody hates and nobody reads! Unfortunately, RL for me today demands that I (a) finish cleaning the garage and (b) put in the remaining winter squash and beans (no corn, so no Three Sisters, but corn is a racoon magnet), so, under some worst case scenarios, I can eat this coming winter. Jeebus, it's after Memorial Day, and everything's not planted!
So I don't have time to read, or respond to Professor Krugman's link to this post as I should, immediately. Let me say that I honor Professor Krugman -- and no snark intended here, either by the verb or by the use of academic rank -- for the work he did during the Bush administration. When the number of people who would call bullshit on the crazy could, quite literally, be counted on one hand, Krugman was in that number. (In fact, I found Atrios through one of Krugman's columns!) That was then. This is now.
Suffice then, to say, for now, that to unterbussen like myself, the similarities between the Obama administration and the Bush administration are far more evident than the differences (except where Obama's made matters worse, say by normalizing torture). So I'm not understanding why Krugman doesn't bring a similar level and nature of the Shrill now, as he brought so effectively then. The "official style" is not appropriate today!
(To clarify, there was a level of irony in both "the good professor" and "the professariat." In general, however, I deprecate attacks on academics qua academics. Hopefully, the light touch went almost unnoticed.)